What is gender identity?

Gender identity is a deep-rooted sense of self. Having a sense of identity is important for our mental health and wellbeing. Gender is different from sex and sexual orientation. While sex refers to a person's biology, gender is a social construct.

The oxford dictionary defines being transgender (trans) as a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. Being non-binary is defined as gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍. 

You may have clues that your child is questioning or struggling with their gender identity without them telling you. This could be through a dislike to their name, not being interested in ‘gendered’ activities, certain bathroom behaviour, like standing up to urinate, or the clothes and underwear they choose to wear. It’s important not to label your child, over time they will tell you what feels right.

Many parents feel their child’s gender expressions are ‘just a phase’. While for some this may be true, for many this isn't the case and treating it as such can cause disagreements and emotional distance as the child experiences their parent being dismissive of their authentic self.

Questioning of gender may be something that you are not familiar with, that doesn't mean it is any less real for your child. Being transgender is not a choice and can make many aspects of everyday life and self-development difficult.


What does this mean for my child?

If your child is feeling like they may identify as another gender or as non-binary, they may want to start taking the steps to live as their true self. They may have already done some of these without you realising.

These steps usually start with basic changes like wearing clothing or changing their hairstyle to match the gender they identify with. They may also ask you to refer to them using different pronouns (she/ he/ they etc.) and with a different name. They may start to present to the outside world as a different gender to the one they were born as and may begin or continue to behave accordingly.

Your child may at some point wish to visit their doctor. Many (but not all) trans people choose to take hormones to alter some of their physical characteristics and stop certain processes like menstruation. Some (but not all) trans people also choose to have surgery.

This can be overwhelming for a parent to hear, but it’s important not to get ahead of yourself. Every trans person’s journey is different, the most important thing is to support them at each step of their journey.

Being transgender can be very challenging and upsetting at times. Your child may feel overly critical of themselves and their body, they may be bullied, isolated and experience stigma in many areas of their life so your support is crucial.


How can I support them?

There are many changes that you can take to help support your child who is questioning their gender. We have listed some of the key ways to show support to your child below: 

  • Respect their pronouns. This can be difficult to get used to and it’s okay to make mistakes while you adapt. It will help your child to feel respected and supported.
  • Normalising gender diversity in your home will likely have a positive impact on your child. This could be through buying books or watching films together with LGBTQIA+ characters. It will be empowering for them to see that you are open to engaging with others like them.
  • Trust what your child says about their gender identity and allow them to tell you things in their own time. Being a patient, understanding and supportive figure will allow your child to feel more trusting and be open with you. Doing the opposite will likely only push them away from you.
  • Be sure to support your child in public places or at family events. You may worry about feeling uncomfortable yourself; imagine what your child feels. They will really appreciate the support.
  • Try to gather as much information as you can about the local and national support available for both you and your child. If they feel comfortable your child may appreciate you having some of the difficult conversations for them, for example informing their school.

That being said, being supportive of your child exploring their gender doesn't necessarily mean always being involved. It is important your child sees a professional if their feelings persist and make sure your child gets the support that they need. As this can be overwhelming, they may be required to talk about things they aren't yet comfortable saying in front of you, it may be respectful to offer them the space to go into appointments without you. 

Be sure to keep an eye on your child’s behaviour and any signs that may show they are struggling with their mental health. This could be through isolating themselves, seeming quiet or expressing suicidal thoughts. If this does happen or you are worried about your child, reach out for professional advice from your doctor.