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Planned Parenthood: Gender based on Feeling

How do I know if my child is transgender or gender nonconforming?

Transgender means you identify with a different gender from the one you were assigned at birth. Gender nonconforming means your gender identity or expression doesn’t go along with traditional ideas of just male or female — it could mean you identify with words like non-binary, genderqueer, or something else. Some adults use words like “gender expansive” or “gender creative” to describe children with non-binary gender expressions. While we don’t know for sure how many people are transgender, recent research shows that about 1% of people in the U.S. identify as transgender, more than 1.5 million people. Read more about gender identity.


So how do you know if your kid is trying to tell you that they’re transgender or gender nonconforming, rather than just playing around?


Experts say that transgender kids tell you what their gender identity is in a way that’s very definitive. Trans and gender nonconforming kids are:

Consistent: They don’t go back and forth about their gender — they clearly identify with one particular gender identity.


Insistent: They feel very strongly about their identity, and get upset when they’re told that they’re not the gender they say they are.


Persistent: How they identity themselves stays over time.

So just because your little girl likes Bob the Builder better than Elsa from Frozen, or your little boy wants to wear a pink Dora the Explorer backpack, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re transgender (and it doesn’t mean they’re gay, either). No matter what, the best thing you can do is support your little one in the way they want to express themselves and help them feel safe no matter what.


If you think your child might be transgender but don’t know what to do, talking with a counselor or therapist who’s familiar and supportive of LGBTQ identities is a good idea. Talking with other families with trans or gender nonconforming kids can be helpful, too — for both you and your child. There are community groups like PFLAG which may be in your area, and there are also lots of parenting groups online.


It’s also a good idea to talk to your child directly about their gender if you think they might be transgender or gender expansive. Ask them if they’re a boy or a girl, and how they know that to be true. If they are transgender, giving them the power to wear what they want, have the haircut they want, and even use a name that reflects their gender are all going to be really important for them to feel safe, especially once they start going to school. For help talking to your child about this stuff, Gender Spectrum is a good place to start.


Trying to steer your kid toward a more typical gender expression if that’s not their instinct does more harm than good. Being told that it’s bad for boys to play with dolls or do ballet, for example, can make your kid feel ashamed and rejected. Over time, LGBTQ children who aren’t supported by their parents tend to take greater risks with their health and suffer from mental health conditions at higher rates than children of supportive parents — so your love and understanding on these issues will be extremely important as your child grows up.