Is K old enough to recognize that she is not the gender that we assigned her at birth? This is a question that our family is frequently asked. My response is simple. If you have ever had a child, how old were they when they told you that they were a boy or a girl? 3? Maybe even 2? If your child responded with the gender that matched their assigned birth gender, you would immediately assume that your child knew their gender. If it is accepted that a cis-gendered child is old enough to know their gender by 3, then why would my transgender child be any different?
This week I was catching up with one of my college professors. She was asking about the kids and I explained K’s transition to her. She responded by using male pronouns and K’s dead name. It hurt. She also pulled the age card saying, “He’s so young…” This was the first negative response that I have personally gotten (Ben dealt with his family because I knew the negative response that we would be getting there.) This response hurt for a number of reasons, the first being the disrespect that she showed K by not using the correct terms in speaking about her. I was also very upset because I expected more from my professor. This is a woman who taught at one of the most liberal colleges in the country. She was a psychology professor who very well would accept that a 3-year-old, cis-gendered child could be aware of their gender identity. She was also my statistics professor, someone that you would expect logic and research to guide her decisions, rather than an inner feeling that my child is simply too young to understand that they do not fit the mold we tried to put them in.
I have been reading a lot of books and studies on transgender children since K came out to us. What I have noticed (and the books have mentioned as well) is that early childhood is a very common time for transgender children to come out to their parents. Around the age of 4 or 5 children begin to understand what the gender label means and how the genders differ between one another in a social context. Because of that, children around this age begin to realize that there is something different about them; they do not feel like they fit into the labels that they have been given. Many children cannot figure out what this difference is, but they feel it. They feel wrong somehow. It may take until puberty when big changes start to happen for a child to really start to piece it together, others take longer. Sometimes children and teenagers will experiment with their sexual identity rather than their gender identity because they think that is the cause of their “difference.” Until they are exposed to the concept of “transgender” they may have no way to describe what is different about them. Regardless of when someone transitions however, it is not uncommon to hear individuals say they knew since early childhood that they were different somehow.
As the term “transgender” is being talked about more in the media and in real life, children are being exposed to the concept earlier than they ever have been. Children are seeing people like Caityln Jenner and Laverne Cox on magazine covers, social media, and TV. I have heard people claim that transgender children are a fad, something trendy for children and parents to experiment with. They claim that the number of transgender people (especially children) is exploding and they argue that it is caused by the media. From what I have read, the numbers aren’t increasing but the age at which people are coming out is decreasing. The simple explanation for this is that people are learning about what transgender is at a younger age and are able to identify themselves as fitting that description earlier than they have in the past. Another explanation is that as being transgender becomes more socially acceptable, transgender individuals are not as afraid to come out and parents are better able to recognize when their child does not fit the gender mold.
Is K young? Absolutely, but she knows who she is and I have no reason to doubt her.