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.



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: 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!

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: 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: 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'.