This isn’t the same thing as pretending your child is a dog

I want to address some common questions or arguments that I see frequently when the topic of transgender children gets brought up.  There’s been a lot of media coverage this week on transgender children and while I know better than to read the comments, I sometimes can’t help myself. I was really happy to see a lot of supportive comments but I saw several versions of the same few questions being brought up and thought I’d give our response.

My child tells me they are a dog. Does that mean I should start letting them eat out of a dog food bowl and go to the bathroom outside?

I actually see this kind of thing with my 4 year-old nephew all the time. Except, he’s a Transformer. Or a rock. I love it when he decides to be a rock. Even better is when he transforms into a rock. And, sometimes I’ll call him Optimus Prime or Bumblebee. My own child also went through a phase where she wanted to be Mater from the Cars movie. She also wanted to be Dora the Explorer for awhile. My son was Superman, Batman, Captain America, and a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. Hell, my husband tells me he’s a ninja on a near-weekly basis. These were fun little exchanges that passed in a reasonable amount of time (except my husband really is convinced that he’s a ninja).  It never caused distress, and my kids seemed to understand that they weren’t actually these characters.

There were several differences between my daughter telling me she was Mater, and my daughter telling me she was really a girl. Looking back, we saw evidence from about 18 months of age that Conner identified as a girl. At the time, we just thought she loved pretty sparkly things. At two years old and in daycare, I remember the teacher laughing because Conner ALWAYS wore the mommy costumes in dress-up. At three, when Conner realized that girls and boys had different body parts, she quizzed everyone for months about what pieces and parts they had that distinguished them into the categories of “boy” and “girl.” Then, EVERYDAY, for MONTHS, Conner asked when her penis would go away and she would wake up and be a girl. As we explained day after day that she was a boy, she became more and more withdrawn, more distressed, more anxious. When she decided to try to cut her penis off, we knew we had to intervene. This was not a quick decision based off of a few days of fantasy on Conner’s part. She had consistently told us that she was a girl. She was very persistent despite our multiple (MULTIPLE) conversations that she wasn’t a girl. And, over time, she developed a significant amount of distress at being told she was a boy. When we started the process of allowing her to transition, it was either put her on medication, or put her in a dress. We did it under the direction of a therapist and with the support of our pediatrician.

Isn’t 4 years of age too young to make these kinds of decisions?

My child didn’t make a decision to be a girl any more than you are making a decision to be a man or a woman. Could I convince you that you were a different gender? Even if I told you every day for months that you were a different gender, you would argue and tell me that you weren’t.

Gender identity is formed by around the age of 3 and concrete before the age of 5. Our society strongly conforms to a gender of either boy or girl, and our kids are bombarded with those messages from the moment they are out of the womb and placed in pink or blue onesies.


There are still many social taboos that steer our children away from enjoying opposite gender items. Just take a stroll down the pink aisle at your nearest toy store. Give a boy a doll when he’s standing with a bunch of dads and see what happens. If a child is telling you persistently over a span of time that they are a different gender, then you should listen because that child is overcoming countless social values that have taught them that it’s not okay to like opposite gendered items.

I also strongly believe that every family needs to evaluate their particular set of circumstances. As I discussed in an earlier post, we follow guidelines established by a mental health professional. Again, they are:

1. First, do no harm.
2. Everyone has the right to be who they are.
3. Make as small of changes as possible to bring your child out of distress

For us, that meant a full transition because our child was in extreme distress. We started with the occasional girl’s t-shirt and telling her that it was okay for boys to like dresses. When that wasn’t enough, we slowly added articles of clothing until she made it clear that we needed to change the pronouns we used to address her. We went as slowly as we could to evaluate how she was responding. Just because one family on NBC Nightly News needed to transition their child doesn’t mean another child will need a full transition. It’s an intervention that needs to be individualized to the child. I am fully supportive of transitioning a child as early as necessary if they are showing signs of distress or discomfort. I give my child Tylenol for pain, and when the pain stemmed from gender dysphoria, then I gave her the appropriate intervention as dictated by medical professionals.

Another important point is that none of the interventions done for a young child are permanent. Hair can be cut or grown out, clothes can be donated and purchased. Hormone blockers aren’t brought into the equation until puberty (Tanner Stage 2 for my medical professional friends) and all they do is halt puberty. If a child’s brain and body become aligned, then medication is stopped and natural puberty takes over. There is NOTHING irreversible until the individual is well into their teenage years.

What if they change their mind later?

This is a valid concern because it does happen.  If a child changes their mind, then they go back to appearing as their biological gender. It’s as simple as that. And, if their gender identity and biological sex match up, then you simply explain that to questioning friends and family. “Hey, everything aligned. Phew. Guess I won’t have to buy him boobs for his high school graduation present.” Sometimes the body and brain do seem to connect and then life goes on. And, by allowing your child to express themselves naturally, you’ve shown them unconditional love and acceptance. How can that be bad?

Some children are gender fluid and may want to wear traditionally accepted boy’s clothes one day, girl’s clothes the next, or a combination of those items daily. I think it’s much harder to be a gender fluid individual (and that child’s parent) because our American culture is so focused on binary gender roles, meaning either a boy or a girl. Our society gets uncomfortable when we can’t figure it out, as evidenced by the Saturday Night Live skit with Pat, the androgynous office worker. If that’s you or your child, then I’m sending you an extra ounce of love and courage because your skin certainly does have to be thicker. Might I recommend the blog, Accepting Dad, to you where he talks about his gender-variant child with grace and humor.

Why would I allow my child to transition now? Shouldn’t I wait until they are older?

That depends on your specific situation as I mentioned above. Maybe you can get away with telling your child that it’s okay to be a boy and like dresses. I’d definitely start with that. Maybe your daughter looks cute with a super short haircut and it’s enough to satisfy her. You’ll have to work with your therapist and pediatrician to evaluate if your child’s level of distress is enough to warrant making more changes. I want a happy healthy child. If that means dresses, then so be it. Again, we measured transition based on level of distress. We got away with baby steps for a few days, maybe a week, and then we had to move to the next stage of transition.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Your child was born a boy and he will always be a boy.

I’m not religious. I was raised religious and I’ve read the bible probably more than most Christians I know. I’ve even taken a Comparative Religions course because it was important to me to understand the history of Christianity. I occasionally go to my parent’s church because I love the beautiful community of believer’s there who love and support us. Religious beliefs should be something that gives you comfort.  I’m not sure why some people get so offended by transgender or gender-variant children and believe that they are an affront to God or that their parents are doing something wrong. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be used as a weapon against others, and certainly not against children. I’m not sure what I believe about God, but I don’t believe he made a mistake in the case of my daughter. I believe she is beautifully made just as she is: transgender.

Clearly, these parents aren’t setting any kinds of boundaries with their children.

My kids wish! We have rules just like any other family. My kids have been trying to talk us out of the “no screen time until the weekend” rule since they started school. They’ve gotten off easy as we’re homeschooling the rest of the year due to a recent move. But, I fully expect the usual freak out in late August when that rule goes back into effect. Even with the transition, we didn’t let our daughter change her name to Lisa Tinkerbell. We have very strict rules about play dates, sleepovers, and personal behavior. Why in the world do people think we don’t set boundaries? With twins? Are you crazy??

A child wouldn’t come up with this on their own. The parent is telling them they are a different gender.

I almost didn’t put this one on here because it irritates me the most, it’s clearly written by people without children, and it’s almost too ridiculous to warrant a response.

I have pretty much been fruitless in my endeavors to convince my children of anything. Here’s a list of things I can’t convince them of:

1. Deodorant is a necessary part of personal hygiene
2. Vegetables taste great
3. Underwear should be changed daily
4. Bathing should occur multiple times a week
5. Swords aren’t to be played with in the house
6. Getting caught playing Minecraft after bedtime is not worth getting grounded over
7. Asking me a million times to get a cell phone is not a good way to change my mind
8. That child you met for 30 seconds at the park is not your best friend
9. That stranger we met at McDonald’s does not want to hear about when I had my gallbladder removed
10. Hot dogs are not a health food

Do you really think I could convince my child to change genders? Really?

20 thoughts on “This isn’t the same thing as pretending your child is a dog

  1. patti bruns

    regarding #3 about changing underwear. Just tell them that if you do a 7 day load of laundry and there aren’t 7 pair of underwear from each kid, you will hang a banner on the school (or front of your house or someplace equally embarrassing) saying that “child’s name” does not change his/her underwear. Worked for us–x4.

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      My husband and I just had a conversation TODAY about how our son never has dirty underwear in the laundry. We have to go looking for it. I may have to try your tactic.

  2. Rachel Anderson

    I love the way you addressed these questions- so matter of fact and to the point but with your characteristic humor.

    I also remember the struggle to get your son to put on clean underwear when I would overnight babysit. Like herding cats!

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      It’s worse now. I have to ask him everyday if he’s changed his underwear. We may move to a star chart or something.

  3. shannon

    THANK YOU!! Every on of these has been asked in our situation. The last one pisses me off so much. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m an ally for LGBT rights…ooookkkk?! This is one of my favorite posts of yours! Much love!

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      Thank you so much, Shannon. We’ve been on the receiving end of several of these, both well-intentioned and not. I know there are a lot of transgender parents in the spotlight right now with all the media coverage this week.

  4. Lauren Reed

    Very proud of my cousin Conner, and even prouder of her mum (Also my cousin) Melissa and her husband Mike! You’re doing an amazing job guys. NEVER give up!

    Love to you, Conner and Murphy


  5. Paul

    I’ve blogged about the “God doesn’t make mistakes” point, as has Lori Duron. I’m with you. God didn’t make a mistake when God created Connor. God made her transgender. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it, haters, and don’t demean God’s name by attributing your prejudice to the almighty. You are not almighty. Live with it.

    I think our nine-year-old is just about getting the hang of underwear, although we do have to ask him every morning if he’s wearing a clean pair. The fun part is making sure son number 2 is wearing briefs under his dress and not boxers, because we don’t need him to be flashing everything when he indulges his passion for cartwheels.

    Thanks for your blog. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in the world.

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      The underwear thing baffles me. At almost 10 years of age, I feel I shouldn’t need to check up on brushing teeth and changing underwear yet it’s a daily conversation. And yes, the worst thing you could tell a child is that God made a mistake when they formed them. What a terrible message that sends to a child. It somehow doesn’t fit in with the Jesus I was taught in Sunday School.

  6. shannon mu

    this was so wonderfully written. informative and entertaining! INFOTAINMENT!

    re: religion. like you, i’m also not religious but my 89 yo grandma sure is. and when I recently told her that my kid is transgender, she replied “god doesn’t make mistakes”. AND SHE MEANT IT IN THE GOOD WAY. like, god made my kid trans, and that’s not a mistake. I was completely blown away.

    I wrote a bit about it here:

    thank you for your voice!

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      Thanks, Shannon! I can’t wait to read your story. And, your grandma is my kind of lady.

  7. Gina

    Brilli ant, especially the list of things you can’t convince the children of and the no boundaries thing. Respectfully listening to and helping an individual child is so different to that.

  8. Mary Ann

    I’ve just found your blog and will be following it for sure! I’m a transgender woman who didn’t start transition until her mid-late 40s (I’m 49 now), so I find heartening to see parents becoming more and more supportive of the their trans and gender-diverse kids. Thank you.

    Regarding the “God doesn’t make mistakes” people, I just wanted to say that I am myself a person of faith and have experienced nothing but support from my own church community, from the youngest and hippest members to the most ancient of church ladies. To them, I’m just more evidence of the beautiful diversity of creation.

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      Mary Ann, I’m so glad to have you here! And, I agree that there is a lot of love to be found in the hearts of many people of faith. I’m glad that you’ve found a supportive community. You ARE evidence of the beautiful diversity of creation!

  9. Melissa

    I can’t tell you how finding your blog is helping. I hope you continue to update it. My son who is 4 is starting to make my husband and I question his identity. It’s not easy, he’s 1 of 2 boys so the theory oh it’s just his sister’s influence is out. He’s been into all things girl since he was 2.5, wearing my high heels, putting on make up with me, wearing my dresses etc (and I rarely wear those things). I thought it was a phase but at 4.5 he’s still very into them though he’s extremely happy with the dresses we have and has never taken a serious stance on his gender being that of a girls. He wants to be a girl because girls are princesses and wear dresses, love pink and purple, etc. I’m trying to convey the same thing you did that boys can love those colors and wear dresses. He seems happy with that and I too have taken a firm stance that he’s not a girl but we can always pretend. We only wear dresses inside because he gets heat rash and falls all the time because they’re too long. He was also getting obsessive over them. That NEED to wear them has died down and he knows that he can’t go outside to play if he has his dress on. I do think I’m going to start letting him go grocery shopping and wearing whatever he wants even if it’s a dress. It seems like we’ve found that ‘just enough’ that you were talking about. I feel guilty for not buying more girl clothes or pink shorts for summer because I know he’d like them but he’s not un-happy without them so I think we’ve found our middle ground. Honestly I hope it doesn’t go another direction but I’m starting to prepare myself for it. Thank you for so honestly putting your story for others to read.

    1. Melissa McLaren Post author

      Hi! I’m glad you found our blog. Finding the “just enough” is a huge victory. Your child will let you know if the “just enough” needs to change into something more. But the best answer is always to show your child unconditional love and support which it sounds like you’ve got down to a science. Take care!


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