In a society that treasures the gender binary and constantly questions the bodies of those who aren't cisgender, growing up queer or trans isn't easy. It's even more difficult when you're not blessed with a set of body positive parents. It's important to recognize that if our generation still finds it difficult to wrap its head around the idea of gender nonconforming and transgender identities, it's bound to be even trickier for those of an older generation. But for parents who are willing to learn, and for younger parents or those expecting a child, knowing how to create a safe and body positive space at home is inarguably important.
My parents have made the effort over the past year to understand my genderqueer identity, through asking me questions and taking care to use proper pronouns when referring to me. However, before I had the words to express how I was feeling in my body, they certainly enforced certain aspects of the gender binary. I was encouraged to dress in a feminine way, to get rid of my body hair, and not to pass gas since it wasn't "ladylike."
These kinds of reinforcements can be damaging, even for cisgender children. Creating foundations of understanding and body positivity should help kids discovering their own gender identities feel safer, and not make coming out later in life quite as painful or confusing. We need more parents saying, "Hey, you were assigned male a birth, you love wearing dresses, and that's OK." Here are some ways be more body positive towards your children, especially when it comes to gender nonconforming or trans kids.
1. Don't Enforce The Gender Binary
Young children are often encouraged to stay within the confines of the gender they were assigned at birth, while being taught distinctions between boys and girls. Boys wear blue and love sports and cars. Girls wear pink and love dolls and makeup.
I don't believe that teaching your child to differentiate between genders (specifically the two genders reflected in the binary) at such a young age is healthy. Gender can be oppressive to a lot of people, even if your child isn't necessarily queer or trans. Try not to limit your child by placing them in a "boy" or "girl" box. Let them choose and sculpt their identity for themselves, and be free to explore other options. Perhaps even consider introducing them to The Genderbread Person to give them a wider understanding of gender.
2. Let Them Wear What They Want
If your child was assigned male at birth but loves wearing dresses to school, let them! Many times, even the most tolerant parent will fight back on this one based on their fear of their kid being bullied or injured. This is completely valid, since transphobia is a daily reality for some, and schools often seem to reinforce the gender binary even further. But the problem here is social norms, not your child.
Letting your son go to school in a dress might feel like a gamble, but it's certainly the more accepting option. Otherwise, your kid will learn not to feel body positive in the clothes that they want to wear, and likely attempt to suppress their identity instead. It's your job to make your kid feel great, and if they happen to encounter a schoolyard bully who says otherwise, you can be there to remind them of how beautiful they look in their dress.
Additionally, try not to force your kids to wear things they don't like or enjoy. My mom used to force me to wear dresses for every special occasion and holiday, despite being met with my cries of protest. Having femininity shoved down my throat, especially as someone who doesn't identify as a girl or woman, was not fun.
3. Respect Their Pronouns And Chosen Name
When your child is older, they may start requesting different gender pronouns, and may even like to change their name or title. Ideally, home should be a safe and body positive, space free of being misgendered or feeling invisible in their own skin. Being that you, the parent, have known your child for their entire life, it may be the most difficult for you to adjust to calling them by a different name or pronoun. Be patient with yourself, and correct yourself when you slip up, but allow for discussions to be had.
There are parents out there who have no problem using different pronouns or a different name for their kid, like my own. But also like my parents, these very people may also be nervous about using these changed pronouns around certain family members or friends. There may be some people in your life who don't understand, and there may even be those who pass judgment about the topic of gender identity. However, as I stated earlier, the ignorance of others isn't your kid's problem. Try to remain an advocate for their body positivity.
4. Make Body Positive Compliments As You Would With Your Cis Child
It's OK to bring positive comments on your child's outfit, makeup, or appearance, as long as they're comfortable with that sort of attention. Since the style choices of gender nonconforming and trans people are sometimes seen as alternative or subversive, it may feel as though ignoring these parts of your kid is better for everyone's comfort. But that is not necessarily the case. Try to get beyond "tolerating" your child's presentation, and actively compliment their flowing dress or their snazzy tie.
I know I feel amazing whenever someone acknowledges a good outfit I'm wearing, especially when they're pointing out that I look masculine. I wish that my parents could feel comfortable paying these kinds of body positive compliments, since they are so affirming to who I am.
5. Support Their Decisions To Bind Or Alter Their Bodies
Whenever your child wants to make a big change in their life, making the necessary adjustments on a parent's end might feel a little difficult. However, if your kid decides they want to start hormone therapy or buy a chest binder, try not to shut down. Instead, read up on gender identity and research how your child can get access to these things.
You can participate in this part of your child's life in other ways, too, like doing each other's makeup or watching a documentary about gender together. I can't imagine there being anything more validating than my mother buying me a chest binder, which would signify that she truly sees me for me, and doesn't want me to hide from my truth.
6. Don't Ask Them To Dress Differently Around Certain People
As with the pronouns, your child's gender presentation may not go over well with every human in the room at every given event or moment. But if your child wants to dress a certain way, or has come out about their identity, try not to discourage them from living their lives authentically. Screw the judgment of others, relax a little, and let your kid shine in exactly the way they want to.
7. Ask Questions
If you're cisgender, don't have a lot of education on gender, or are from an older generation, you may not know a lot about trans and gender nonconforming identities. And that's completely OK! But don't be afraid to ask questions. It may feel like a taboo topic for you, but this is who your child is. More likely than not, they will be thrilled to answer any questions you might have about their gender identity.
Having more open communication with your child about these subjects should allow you to develop a greater understanding for your child, as well as give them the feeling of being heard by you. It might feel scary sometimes, but visibility is arguably the most empowering and body positive thing out there. By choosing to see your children and everything about them, you can help them love themselves at least a little bit more.
Want more gender enlightenment? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle's YouTube page for more inspo!
Image: Meg Zulch (1)