Gender Confusion?

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-16-2013
Gender Confusion?
Wed, 02-20-2013 - 2:18pm

Hi All,

I mostly lurk but could really use some advice. A few weeks ago, I noticed my 13 year old son had some of my nail polish, bras, etc in his room. I decided to check the Safari browser history on his iPod to see if I could figure out what was going on. To my surprise, I saw that he had been googling things like "how to know if you're transgender?" and "I'm not gay, I like women but I feel like a girl". This came as quite a shock because he has NEVER mentioned anything like this before- never wanted to wear dresses when he was little or told people he was a girl and not a boy, etc.

So now I'm wondering how on earth do I go about approaching this with him? And how possible is it that this is some sort of confusion brought on my puberty instead of life-long change he is considering making? My husband and I are pretty open-minded people, we'll love him no matter what but it's stressful to think about how much this could complicate life for him.



iVillage Member
Registered: 02-14-2000
Thu, 02-21-2013 - 9:32am

Hi and welcome. I don't have any btdt advice but there is a mom that posts here that does (or at least she used to before they made all these changes and brought things to a screeching halt). She has a transgendered son who is now about 20 and was born a female. I believe in her ds's case it was kind of something he always knew/felt. I hope she still checks this board and can give you some advice. She also posts on another board that I post on - I'll go over there now and see if I can 'find her'.

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-16-2013
Fri, 02-22-2013 - 12:00pm

Thank you! I would love to hear from someone who has BDTD.

Although I was secretly hoping for a lot of "oh, my teen went through this, it's a totally normal PHASE" type replies....

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Sat, 02-23-2013 - 11:08am

I am not experienced with the transgender issue but my son is gay.  I would not really think this is a typical phase for kids to go through but I imagine you could do research on that.  I surely don't know whether my opinion is right or wrong on this, but I do not think you should bring up to him that you looked through his browser history.  I do think you could tell him not to take your personal things into his room without asking you--I assume you were in there putting away his laundry or something & not snooping around.  You certainly have a right to your private things not being taken without your permission.  My son is 17 and just came out to us last year but he said he knew he was gay since 5th grade. I'm divorced and wondered how my ex would take this even though I know he is not homophobic at all, but it's a little different when it's your child.  But when I was talking to my ex, he said that at times in the past, he asked our son if he was gay & he denied it, so I think from that info, I think the child really has to be ready to tell you.  right now he's probably going through a wondering stage and maybe he's not even sure, and it might turn out that he's not.  I think one good thing for your son is to know that you are open minded to everyone so that if/when he's ready to tell you, he'll be pretty sure that he won't be rejected.  Can you even imagine that there are some parents who will totally reject their kids/throw them out of the house for being gay?  I couldn't imagine that, but it happens a lot.  I think that my son was much more comfortable telling me because my (deceased) brother was gay & he knows I have gay male friends.  

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Mon, 02-25-2013 - 11:16am

I don't think gender confusion is a typical phase, so this may be something he needs to discuss with you at one point.  To make him feel okay talking about it, you might try saying something like, "I noticed you borrowed my bra without asking. You are welcome to borrow my things, but please ask first, and I'll do the same if I want to borrow something of yours."

This will let him know that you know what he did and are open to anything he wants to discuss with you. He may not just yet, but at least he will know you don't think he's weird. On second thought, all 13 year olds are weird, whether straight, gay, or transgender, but they do grow up!

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Mon, 02-25-2013 - 3:35pm

Hi there, I'm the mom on this board with the transgender kid.  Sorry I didn't see your post earlier, but I check the boards less frequently because there's hardly anyone here anymore, thanks to iVillage's technology screwups.

Gender confusion is not a phase or a typical adolescent experience.  Sexual orientation is something that some kids question, but gender identity is different.  Gender identity is a person's experience of how they associate themselves with (in our culture) being male or female. It is not typical to question one's gender identity.

Gender dysphoria is the sense that overall you don't feel like your physical gender fits the way you experience yourself.  It is not, as I've learned, necessarily the feeling that you are "a boy trapped in a girl's body" or vice versa.  It is a sense that the body doesn't match the person somehow, which *may* mean that the person identifies strongly with the opposite sex, but it also may not.

Sexual orientation OTOH is who you're attracted to.  Some transgender people are attracted to both sexes, others mainly to one.  Sometimes a transgender person will consider themselves gay at first before recognizing that it's really their gender identity that's the primary source of dissonance. 

My oldest child was born female and in some ways was as girly as anyone would expect - she wanted to be a ballerina at age 4, played with dolls, loved princess movies, etc.  She was also sort of freakishly brilliant (in 3rd grade she could read at college level and do 9th grade math) and had a huge amount of physical energy that needed to be worked off through climbing trees, sprinting, and full-contact karate 5 days a week.  In other words, she was not a normal kid to begin with.

At 15, she told me she was bisexual, which was quite a surprise to me.  Shortly after her 18th birthday, she told DH & me that she was transgender.  This however was not a surprise - in fact, it explained many things, such as her aversion to clothes shopping, a dislike of her figure, and a disgust about her period that bordered on the extreme.  She said she had realized at age 9 that she was not like the other girls - she didn't want to grow breasts and do girly things.  She hated it when girls at school thought she was a lesbian (you have to be female to be a lesbian and she didn't consider herself female), hated being referred to by teachers as a young woman, and was irritated by prom dress shopping (she wanted to wear a tux but her Catholic school wouldn't allow it).  When she told us that she was transgender, DH & I said, "Well, that's really not a surprise" - and she was so relieved that we were OK with it.

It did take time for her to get to disclosure with us.  We are very open-minded and accepting people, but no one expects their kid to be transgender, therefore it was very hard for her to say.  We told him (I'll switch to the male pronoun now because this was the point where we started using the male pronoun) that we were going to have to learn a lot and we would make mistakes, but he needed to be patient with us because we were always well-intentioned, just in need of education. 

It's now almost three years since he told us he was transgender.  The first thing he did was start using a male name (he picked one that we had considered for his sister if she'd been a boy).  Since he was going off to college, this was not a big deal.  He roomed his first year with another female-to-male (FtM) transgender person.  The summer after his freshman year, he changed his name legally.  During his sophomore year, he had chest surgery.  The following summer, he began hormone therapy. 

This is nothing I would wish on anyone, not because it is shameful but because it makes life so much harder for my child.  I am amazed at the obstacles he overcomes every day.  He no longer considers himself bisexual but gay (i.e. he likes guys though his friends are mostly lesbians).  I'm happy that he lives in an age where young people are less structured in their thinking about gender and sexuality, but the odds of him meeting someone he can be happy with in a romantic relationship are vastly less than most people's (if you doubt that, ask yourself what your own response would be if you found out the man you were dating didn't have male parts).  There are many people who would be violent to him simply because of who he is, if they found out.  Heck, he can't even use a restroom like 99.5% of the rest of the population.

I suggest you try to find out as much info as you can from PFLAG, web sites, and so on.  The NY Times had an article not long ago called "Generation LGBTQIA" which you can search for on their web site.  You might want to talk to a therapist who specializes in transgender issues, especially with children.  There's a book called "The Lives of Transgender People" which is rather academic but gives an idea of the range of what "transgender" means.  I'm sure it will feel overwhelming at first, and probably disheartening, but be gentle with yourself and your own feelings.  Remember that your child is *your* child, not a stereotype.  Experimenting with lipstick and bras doesn't mean he's going to be the next Ru Paul. :)  Just as every teenager isn't a sullen, angry, disrespectful problem child, so every transgender person is not wild, crazy, or weird.

I think our oldest felt safe coming out to us because my uncle was a vivid member of the gay scene in NYC 50 years ago and among the first to die of AIDS, and he knew I remember him with nothing but fondness.  Plus, DS knows that we don't rush to judgment about people or dismiss them with comments like, "Whaddya expect, he's a bum" or "All Jews/Italians/Asians/pick-your-ethnic-group do that."  Even so, it's been an eye-opening experience.  You never know what subtle prejudices you have, however open-minded you think you are, until you're confronted with them.  We have had to learn a lot - more than our now-18yo DD or 12yo DS have.

Feel free to PM me if you want to talk more.

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-08-2009
Mon, 02-25-2013 - 10:11pm

Several, very well thought out and well written posts above.

I never fail to be amazed by the things I learn from reading the other posters here. Thank you all for giving me perspective on the issue
I believe a parent must always Always ALWAYS be in their kids’ corner, protecting them, helping them find themselves, etcetera--like Musiclover and Mahopac are.

Like you Musiclover, I could never turn out my child from our home and that includes the SILs. The only possible exception would be if it was necessary to get them into a drug rehabilitation program.

Jeansforme, welcome to our corner of the village. I have NO BTDT experience on this subject, but as I drove around these thoughts came to my mind.

I think all is fair in love, war, and especially parenting. And often parenting can feel like a combination of war and love. This fairness includes all types of snooping. I think looking at browser histories is fair game. You want to make sure your teen is not involved with high risk activities like face to face meetings with strangers they met on the web, trafficking in drugs, looking for ways to commit crimes, commit suicide, etcetera. I would never let the kid know I was checking up as it will deprive you of future information.

Hubby and I live with two daughters, 21 and soon to be 20, and SILs the same ages as them. How quickly life passes; it seems like only last week that we brought the youngest DD home from the delivery room. (I am an OLD LADY! LOL And thinks to the youngest couple a grandmother!!!!)

Most of what I know about boys is what I learned from observing the two SILs from the time they arrived, with their mothers who were chaperoning at the school that night, to pick up the girls for a school dance when they were all 12 and 13. (None of us saw this as a meeting of future in-laws. LOL Wish I had taken pictures! Fortunately, there are a few pictures taken at the dance.)

That first dance was arranged by the older couple because the older boy did not want to dump his best pal while he went off to the dance with our oldest daughter. I’m not sure that any one of the four knew what they were doing that night, other than acting older, and I’m positive the youngest boy was totally clueless. (Hubby and I have often laughed with his parents about the youngest boy stepping onto the “flypaper of love” without having a clue. His dad chuckles and says, “Some guys get really LUCKY in life and Butch is one of them!)

I was like 14 when I had my first period. Oldest daughter was just shy of turning 12; youngest had just turned 11 when it happened a few months later. Youngest has always been in a rush to catch up with her older sister. With guys you don’t get as certain a signal that things are a changing. On average boys mature later than the girls. Guys typically are behind the girls by a year and sometimes two years. Therein is a reason that many girls look for older guys, I think.

Teens are very reluctant to discuss any area of their sexuality with parents. Ours could have let us know that they were having sex, but I had to discover it when I came home from work early one afternoon and found each DD in bed with her BF of 2½ years. Even after that they did not want to discuss things in detail. There are things I am curious about (not in a salacious way), but not willing to ask questions about. And GOD knows that I would not want to discuss my teenage activities with my mother or hear about her and dad. I think you have to wait on the teen to want to discuss such issues. And that ain’t easy.

Hubby’s brother has three sons. When oldest was 14 and the twins were 12 his wife told the brother in law to have “THE TALK” with them about where babies come from. When he finished one of the twins said something about “maybe they will have a machine to do that for me by the time I get that old.” This is the twin who got his best friends little sister pregnant on a July 4th and two months later drove home from his first year at big state U to marry her. Obviously, he changed opinions about the “machine” stuff along the way. (The good news is that with their parents help these two idiots are doing well. Both idiots are attending night classes together at local state U.)

I don’t doubt those who say they “knew their sexual orientation” as children before puberty, but gosh I don’t know how that could be when I consider the above illustrated cluelessness about the sex subject before puberty.

One of the older guy cousins in our generation of cousins played with dolls until he was in high school. He married after college and they have a daughter between their two boys. The daughter loved getting her dad’s collection of dolls. As Ashmama posted, 13 is a weird age. (And I miss having the kids in those weird years.)

Jeansforme, maybe your son’s actions are important clues, maybe not. Maybe your son is just curious about what girls wear, etcetra. Maybe he is practicing how to unhook a bra—a useful skill for future Playboys. (Hubby admits to having practiced that skill in his teens.)

In the circle of friends is a guy that is around 45, who claimed he was gay, and lived with a male partner for some period of time while they were attending law school together. Then he up and married some gal he met there in law school. They have three kids like 14, 16, and 18. (I wonder what ever became of his male partner.)

Without sounding homophobic, I thought and still think that is a risky situation for his wife, but they appear to be doing very well together on the home front. I’m not sure what to make of this situation. Did he go gay and come back to straight? And I have a few dozen other questions that I have no clue about, nor will those questions ever be asked or answered. (In his defense, let me say this, hubby and I were two really screwed up straight people when we married and it took about a decade to work our way through the baggage we each brought into our marriage with us. People can and sometimes do make major changes.)

I don’t care how tough a person seems, we are all very fragile--especially teens. And that is the reason that every kid needs the UNQUALIFIED LOVE AND BACKING OF THEIR PARENTS.

An example of this fragility that comes to my mind is the college freshman who’s roommate secretly videoed him having sex with another man and posted it on the net. The event was so traumatic that the victim killed himself within a few days. Choices often come with consequences that we would never choose. Be careful with our choices. My guess is that this is and will be traumatic for the fellow who videoed it for the rest of his life.

Another example is a girl from our circle of family and friends who came up pregnant her senior year in high school. One tough kid, but she could not reconcile herself to an abortion or disgracing her minister father. She was plotting her death (a form of abortion) when a friend from school tipped off the school nurse and councilor who quickly intervened and brought her parents into the story. That’s the type of friend you can’t have enough of--for sure! She would not have only killed herself and her baby and left a devastated BF and family; she would have killed three eggs that she and her idiot BF would have three more children with. The oldest is now 23 and she is still married to the BF. This also gave her father a common touch with other parents and teens.

Last week I saw Sally Field being interviewed. She was like 18 when she starred on her first TV show, Gidget—before my time. In the show, there was some young guy named Peter Duel, who later killed himself. As the interview unfolded, she expressed with anger how wonderful he was and that she wished he would not have done that and that she never knew what a troubled person he was. Our lives touch other lives in ways that we never know. I wondered if maybe she had a crush on him or even something more romantic. In any event, it illustrated the pain that such actions cause others—and for the rest of their lives. Forty plus years after his death, Sally is still very much bothered by it.

My point in these dark tales is to illustrate how important it is for the kid to ALWAYS ALWAYS HAVE THE UNQUALIFIED LOVE AND BACKING OF THEIR PARENTS. Sometimes you have to do it like the African father who sends his young son out into the wild to spend the night alone among the wild animals and thereby become a man. What the boy does not know and will not know for many years is that all night long dad is standing guard on the hill behind with his bow loaded with an arrow.

Musiclover and Mahopac, you’re standing on the hill with the bow loaded with an arrow. You're heros for sure!

Jeansforme, come back from time to time and let us know how things go.

Avatar for sabrtooth
iVillage Member
Registered: 12-03-1999
Tue, 02-26-2013 - 10:09am

Today, Tues 2/26, on ABC at 3 EST, Katie Couric is doing a program on Transgender Youth.  Might help.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Tue, 02-26-2013 - 2:27pm

Thanks, Kimmy, but I don't feel like a hero.  I figure if this is the biggest thing I have to go through w/ my son, I'm so lucky.  Here's a kid who took extra classes that he didn't have to take, including 2 AP classes last semester cause he wants to make sure he gets into a good college (he got almost all A's--one B).  He works part time, doesn't use drugs, doesn't drink (as far as I know) and generally he's very responsible.  I think that many times, straight guys have peer pressure to do thinks like drink, have sex, drive fast, etc. to prove how manly they are and going along with the crowd to be popular--of course not everybody does this, but it's probably there more w/ straight guys.  Since practically all of my sons' close friends are girls, I never had to worry about that stuff.  I think it's harder on my exH who probably wanted a more traditional son.  I think he accepted a while ago that DS had no interest in sports (a major interest of exH, but luckily for him, he got a DD who likes sports) but I think we tend to identify a little more w/ the child of the same sex.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Tue, 02-26-2013 - 3:18pm

That's how I feel, too, Music.  This is my kid, we're going to deal with whatever we have to deal with.  We got a whole bagful of fun with DS - transgender being only one thing in that bag - but he's smart, hard-working, stays close with his family, doesn't use illegal substances, doesn't take advantage of people, has a strong internal moral compass, and succeeds every day despite all his obstacles.  When I think of all the things that can go wrong for teens and young adults, I consider myself blessed in abundance.

Avatar for deenow17
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-12-2004
Wed, 02-27-2013 - 12:46pm
Hi there, jeansforme. LIke you I mostly lurk these days as my kids have grown. You have gotten amazing advice esp in the btdt area. I just wanted to add my thoughts re: discussing this with your DS. Kids are so sensitive & I feel it's best to leave things for them to bring forward by just letting them know that there is nothing you can't talk about or won't talk about. I was always honest with my kids when telling them this. I admitted that I may react incorrectly at first but once I have time to think, I will listen. I'm not perfect believe me. I freaked when I found out my DD was having sex at 15 1/2 even though we had all the talks. I just found it was hard to accept my baby was doing this even though I had been the same age. Once I calmed down, I was thrilled to learn that she had followed all the things I had recommended she do whenever we talked about her having sex. My DS is queer which is his preference in terms. My BIL is gay & loves the drag queen scene. My other BIL is gay. My SIL is bisexual which leaves DH & his eldest SIL as straight. So in DH's family it's works out to be about 50/50 gay vs straight through out his family. You would think this was a very safe environment for a child to come out in but DS didn't until he was 25. I have to admit that I always knew. It's hard to describe how because he isn't feminine. I swear I'm the only mother of a gay son who isn't into fashion/decorating/etc.. I'm joking of course but I tease him about this constantly. I asked him why he waited so long to tell us & he just felt that he needed to be ready to share this part of his life with his family. He knew it wouldn't be an issue. He had been very active in working with queer kids for years & seen some of the negative reactions family & friends had when these kids came out. It is a hard life style to choose. Society has come a long way but it's still an issue in many areas of life. My DS has always worked with kids & when working he must not let it be known that he is gay. He has created a separate identity & name he uses in the queer community to protect his working life. I find this sad & frustrating because I was a diversity leader for a large corporation where we took a firm stand against any form of discrimination. But he is in a smaller work environment & choses to remain "in the closet" while working. Good luck, Dee