This 3-year-old knows more about gender than you do

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Gender Reveal party cupcakes
Photo by Meringue Bake Shop / Kristin Ausk, used by Creative Commons license.

I love this blog post about children who have a better grasp on the nuances of transgender issues identity than most adults:

“Hi I’m Alec, are you the babysitter? Mommy said that we can go to the park if you want to and feed the ducks. Do you like legos?”

“Yep, hi, my name is Andy.” I said, kneeling down, “Let me talk to one of your parents first, ok?”

While I was saying this, Alec was looking me up and down.

“Yeah ok, hey, Andy, do you use boy words or girl words, or the other words but I can’t really ‘amember them?”

I looked curiously at his mom, Amelia, who was busy tiding up the table.

“Oh,” she said, “he can’t remember the word ‘pronouns.'”

“Ah,” it clicked, “I use boy words. What about you?”

“I use boy words, too. Do you like legos?”

“Of course I do!”

In that 45 second exchange Alec showed me that he knew more about gender than most adults I’ve met in my 23 years on this planet. [Read the full post.]

Andy shares some great perspectives on how children with transgender parents learn to deal with questions about gender: you ask. As he says, “You don’t guess or dance around the subject or hope somebody else clues you in or wait for another person to use a pronoun so you can use the same one. You ASK.” Unlike many of us adults who stumble around trying to read cues from other people, stressing over using the wrong words, kids learn to just ask: “Should I use boy words, girl words, or something else to describe you?”

Comments on This 3-year-old knows more about gender than you do

  1. In the words of Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt : here’s why this one is hard.

    It’s difficult to judge a person’s intent when he or she dressed themselves that morning. Is she transgendered and prefers male pronouns? Or does she adopt male dress but still views herself as female? Although the first person would welcome a “what pronouns do you prefer?” question, the second person might be incredibly offended.

    To complicate matters, in most cases this is all taking place in front of other people so there’s potential for an even larger embarrassment, both for you and the other person.

    I wish it were otherwise. I wish asking somebody for their preferred gender was as simple and as “unloaded” as asking for his or her name.

    Does anybody have a slick solution for this sticky social situation?

    • This question came up in the comments on the original post, and I liked the author’s response:

      We don’t need to ask in every instance, ever. I don’t even correct people in those situations. I just buy my sandwich and go on with my life.
      I am talking about situations where there is the likelihood for continued contact. Babysitting, friendships, college classes, etc.

    • I think asking can be awkward, but if you say ‘what pronouns do you prefer’ instead of ‘are you a guy or a girl’ it goes a long way towards easing any insult. If you’re in front of other people and want to avoid asking in that situation, you can use the person’s name, or use the plural ‘they’. It might be a little weird, but at least it’s not the wrong pronoun, and then you can ask privately later.

    • My friends and I try to counter this by introducing it into the conversation when we introduce ourselves, ie “Hi, I’m Maz and I prefer gender neutral pronouns such as ze and hir.”

  2. People would think I was a teenage boy all the time when I was in college. I think it was more embarassing to them to find out I wasn’t, than it was to me for my gender to be mistaken. I think if they would have felt comfortable asking, it would have eased their embarassment (it happened to me so often I was immune).

  3. I’m really confused by this post. Can’t you just tell if somene is a boy or a girl? And if you don’t know just dont use any pronouns until you watch them go into the boys or girls washroom.

    • Hi Leah,

      It certainly can be confusing, and the washroom trick could work sometimes, but the trouble is that it’s not always going to be that simple. For some trans folks, having to pick one gendered restroom over another is a difficult process, and so they may be forced to use the one they don’t actually identify with due to fear or safety issues, or opt not to use gender-specific public restrooms at all. The idea here is for the person being asked to be afforded a certain respect and consideration, rather than saving the asker from embarrassment.

  4. I think that this article, more than anything else, shows hope for a more understanding future generation. I feel like letting kids know that there are people who identify in ways that aren’t “the norm” can only be a good thing. Yay 🙂

  5. kids and gender issues are pretty interesting, eh? i think one of the things that i like about kids and one of the reasons i like this blog post is that it shows (yet again) that kids aren’t bogged down by complex social rules. they are learning about the world and learning how to compartmentalize information (stereotyping, which is actually useful for the brain to quickly process information). i have in the past had very short hair at a time when i worked with a lot of young kids. i was occasionally asked by kids if i was a boy or girl, and i’m pretty sure i even overheard parents confirming my gender to their children. i remember one kid who asked me, so i asked what they thought (have no recollection of whether it was a little boy or girl). even though i was wearing feminine clothing and look quite feminine, they child said they thought i was a boy because i had short hair like a boy. i wasn’t bothered at all and drew attention to the fact that i was wearing a skirt, but i guess the kid didn’t think that clothing choice was a permanent enough gender identifier. the mom was very embarrassed and tried to explain that the child was into gender stereotypes and had recently decided that a boy with long eyelashes was a girl because girls are supposed to have long eyelashes.

  6. this is another fantastic example of how kids are more okay with gender than adults. my friend’s five year old son had very long hair, and was mistaken often enough for a girl that he was comfortable correcting people. we were out to eat, and a waitress asked me “what would she like for lunch?” sam piped right in, “hi. i’m a boy and i would like chicken soup and apple juice.” the waitress apologized, and sam said, “it’s okay, it happens all the time.”

    that kid destroys me with his cuteness.

    • My son grew his hair out to donate to Locks for Love and had the same thing happen to him all the time. When it first started happening he would get offended but eventually he got over it and just corrected people. It caused more embarrassment for the mistaken adult than him, especially when he told him he was doing it for kids with cancer.

  7. In junior high, I had short hair and a stick figure, and I got the disdainful “are you a boy or a girl” question more than once (I always thought I was pretty feminine, but people can be dense). It was always shitty because there was judgment inherent in the question: something was obviously wrong because my hair and body and dress didn’t announce my gender instantly. When a 3-year-old asks matter-of-factly, there’s no judgment attached to the question. I think sometimes adults are reluctant to just ask because they don’t want to seem like they’re attaching a value to your answer.

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