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EL CERRITO, Calif. (AP) — How can a parent know if their child is transgender? What separates a young boy who might be transgender from one with a vivid imagination who likes to dress up in his sister’s dresses? What do you do if your daughter tells you she’s a boy?

The Associated Press spoke to gender experts to answer some of parents’ most commonly asked questions.



“My answer is, we don’t know,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist, director of mental health at the University of California, San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center and author of “The Gender Creative Child.”

“What we know is, you have a son who likes princess dresses. I would say get him the dresses. Have your child feel free to choose. Maybe they’ll stop wearing dresses. Maybe they’ll grow up to be gay.”

Transgender children will be insistent, consistent and persistent about their gender dysphoria, she says.

“It’s not something the child says one time and it goes away.”

For critics who question whether preschool-age kids should be allowed to “socially transition,” Ehrensaft says: “We expect a 2-year-old to know ‘I am boy. I am girl.’ So why can’t that also apply to transgender children?”



“If I’m a kid who occasionally wants to put on my mom’s high-heeled shoes or wear my mom’s princess dress, I’m not the kid who wants to live as a girl. I’m the boy who occasionally wants to wear girl’s clothes,” says Johanna Olson-Kennedy, medical director of The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

The important thing to ask is whether your child is in distress.

“Are you having daily battles about clothing before school?” Olson-Kennedy says. “There are some things that are pretty universal. Is this the kid that everyone is trying to give Mutant Ninja Turtles to, and what they really want is the gifts their sisters are getting?”

Using a child’s happiness and health as a guide is critical, she says.



It can also help for parents to get away somewhere with their child and allow the child to call the shots in terms of their gender, such as letting them use a different pronoun or wear a dress or other clothing of their choice, Olson-Kennedy says.

“Do it somewhere where you’re not going to see people you know, if that’s an issue for you,” she says. “Do a weekend as a different gender, and see what you learn.

“People have said this over and over again: ‘Oh, my God. I saw a side of my child I had never seen before.'”



Though there are no set rules, Ehrensaft says some early signals can provide information about whether a child is transgender. They include:

— Certain actions at a very young age, such as toddlers pulling barrettes from their hair, grabbing for their sister’s dress and dolls, or throwing away their trucks.

— The use of verbs regarding gender. Instead of “I wish I was a girl,” a transgender child will say, “I am a girl.”

— Frustration over their genitals. By around age 3, children understand “penis equals boy, and vagina equals girl,” Ehrensaft said. “Often those are the kids who cry out, ‘Why did God get it wrong? Mommy, can you put me back inside so I can come out like my sister?'”

— Taking “gender expansion play” seriously. Many young boys like to play dress-up in their sisters’ princess costumes, twirling around and then moving on to other toys, Ehrensaft said.

A transgender child “also wants to get into his sister’s closet, but he’s not going to go for the princess dress — he’s going to go for her school uniform,” she says. “He’s going to put on her everyday clothes because he wants to be a regular girl, not a pretend princess.”


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15 thoughts on “Is Your Child Transgender? Experts Explain How To Know For Sure

  1. African American Woman on said:

    With all these nonsense fads and trends out here, I’m not even sure this is really a thing…my little brother used to swear he was Batman…should my mom have had wings sewn on? The line has to stop somewhere.

  2. African American Woman on said:

    I didn’t say anything about turning my back on anyone. What I am saying is that as a parent, I would not jump on getting my child’s gender changed because they felt like they should be the other sex. I’m a parent, not a BFF. If that’s how they truly feel, they can take care of it when they become of age.

    • Most parents don’t want to see their children suffer. NO child gets genital surgery. There are things that can be done to help their dysphoria in the interim, and I would imagine if your child were one of those rare suffering souls, you would want to help. Or maybe not. That’s not being a BFF; that’s just having a heart.

  3. True transgender cases are rare, but have occurred throughout human history, like hermaphrodites, who are born with both male and female sex organs. I have met and talked with a number of transgendered people, one of whom I worked with at WFIR AM960 Radio in Roanoke, VA. This person was undergoing counseling, hormone therapy and considering surgery at the famous clinic of Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins. Most psychiatrists feel that fluctuations in maternal hormone levels during pregnancy cause slight abnormalities in brain development of the baby, which show up after birth and can be observed in their behavior. In extreme cases, people are “transgender,” they have a deep feeling that they are the “opposite sex” from the sex indicated by their body. In other cases, they may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, “tomboys,” etc. These phenomena also occur in animals. The sexual orientation of sheep, for example, can be almost precisely determined by injecting hormones into the mother at key stages in the embryo’s brain development.

  4. This is getting out of hand. Do you remember when we were kids in the 70’s and 80’s? If we told our parents we wanted to be a dog, a cat or a plane, our parents didn’t make us sleep outside, in a kennel or threw us off the building saying, “fly baby fly!” They sat us down, told us, you are a girl or a boy. Now go outside and play! End of story.

  5. African American Woman on said:

    Every body in my,house keeps the genitalia they came into the world with…you wanna change it, don’t look at me, lol

  6. specialt757 on said:

    I never imagine that this would ever have been an issue period. I know people who say “I knew he was “funny” when he was a kid” that’s one thing, but the “I want to be a girl or boy” and you’re the opposite, is crazy to me. My child would not have had a choice.

    • African American Woman on said:

      Every body in my,house keeps the genitalia they came into the world with…you wanna change it, don’t look at me, lol

  7. Jacqueline on said:

    This is a tough one. I don’t know what I would do. I guess I would wait before doing anything that means long term change.

  8. African American Woman on said:

    If my kid told me that they wanted to be the other gender-its noy happening! If it’s for real, they will feel the same way when they are old enough to make their own decisions and pay for their own surgery.

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