TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: THE GENDER VARIANT CHILD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Child Health & Development
George Washington University
The Center for Neuroscience and Behavioral Medicine
Children’s National Medical Center
Q: Dr. Bussing: Dr. Menvielle, what should a parent do if they feel like their child is acting too much like the opposite sex?
A: Dr. Menvielle: Well, first we would look at the age. We would say if it’s a young child, (say 4 or 5 or 6) talk to their pediatrician and get some input from the pediatrician. Parents should also understand that it’s not abnormal for children to like things that are not considered typical for their gender and it’s likely to evolve over time, but differently for different people. The bottom line is that it’s not something the parents should consider as abnormal or punish or try to suppress. They should give the child some space and if the child needs to be private then it should be private, but there should be some space within the home where they can feel free to play how they like and choose the toys they want to choose.
Q: Dr. Bussing: What if parents are wondering what the difference is between children being gay, transgender, or being gender non-conforming?
A: Dr. Menvielle: Well, both children that are going to grow up to be gay and/or transgender could be gender non-conforming when they are children, meaning that they are different than the average child in terms of their gender interest and expression, but the difference of course is something that we cannot tell for sure while the child is young. What we do know is the statistics show that most children who are gender non-conforming are going to likely be gay or lesbian. Although some girls can also be heterosexual, where as transgender outcomes are rarer, but could also happen. The only issue is the parents are not going to know that for sure, until the child goes into puberty or beyond.
Q: Dr. Bussing: Now what should parents do if they are concerned, but the adolescent doesn’t want to talk to them about their thoughts or feelings regarding gender and sexuality?
A: Dr. Menvielle: What the parents need to do is to demonstrate to the child that they would be ok with whatever the child is experiencing, so for example, if the parents are suspecting that their daughter might be a lesbian or their son might be transgender they should not ask the questions in a negative way and should convey the message that they are interested in knowing because they want to be helpful; they want to be loving and they are going to love the child no matter what. They will make it more likely that the child will open up.
Q: Dr. Bussing: What if the child is getting bullied at school about their gender variant behavior what’s the best thing for a parent to do about that?
A: Dr. Menvielle: The best thing for the parent to do is talk to the schools, be active in their involvement with the schools, so that the school understands these parents are not going away until something is done about the problem. Sometimes it can happen the schools do the bare minimum and that might not be enough, or they don’t do anything. If the schools are not held accountable then bullying could go on and then the parents need to be in the school talking to people, asking for interventions to be made so their children can go to school and feel safe while they are there.
Q: Dr. Bussing: Are there some examples of things schools could do for a child in that situation?
A: Dr. Menvielle: They can identify the particular bullies and they can sanction them, give consequences to them and put them on notice and let them know that this is not going be allowed; they could do a lot of things if they wanted to.