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Gender Conditioning in Children

Gender is a pretty well understood concept, at least in the way that society in general views it. Girls and women are soft and sweet, emotional and caring, and powerful but in a very feminine way. Boys and men are strong, not emotional unless it is anger or vague happiness. Parents pass this understanding to their children, children pass it to their peers, and teens subvert it until they give in as adults.

Ask anyone who was assigned female at birth and they will tell you at least one thing they wish they had been allowed to do but couldn’t because it was a ‘boy thing’. If you talk to anyone who was assigned male at birth they can tell you something they wanted to do but couldn’t. For most cis men, this is something emotional, like being allowed to cry when they were sad or express joy when they felt it. Gender conditioning in children is harmful whether or not those children are transgender. 

Of course, trans people are harmed by this far more and in a very specific way. Binary trans people need to simultaneously unlearn the roles and rules of gender they were taught and learn those associated with their true gender. On top of this, to avoid further pain, they need to learn how to subvert those gender roles within themselves. For nonbinary people, binary gender is a whole can of worms they need to work through before even understanding themselves and their identity.

Nonbinary people may not even realize that gender outside of the binary exists or that gender isn’t a prerequisite of being a person. Once they are introduced to the idea of nonbinary gender, they need to work through the internalized binary thinking and transphobia that comes from being raised as a specific binary gender.

All this to say, raising children as a binary gender, with all the roles and rules that come with them, is deeply harmful whether or not they identify with that gender as adults. The response I usually get when I make this claim is “Well, we can’t just raise them without gender, how will we know what pronouns to use? What toys and clothes to buy? And what if they are cis, then they won’t know what they are?” The simple answer is that a child should be allowed to play with, wear, and do what they as an individual want regardless of their gender. As for pronouns, they/them pronouns are just not as difficult as cis people try to make them.  When it comes to a child growing up and understanding themselves and their gender, why not allow them to decide what kind of understanding they come to, what kind of learning they do? 

Whether they are trans or not, every child needs to discover gender and wrestle with it before understanding their identity. Why not make that process easier for them and remove the first barrier blocking them from understanding themselves?

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