Gender issues in a 2nd grader?

I had an interesting conversation with my 8YO daughter today, that left me wondering. . .

Today, as a reward for doing well in something-or-other, her whole elementary school is having a “disco dance” (don’t ask; I only know she’s excited about it). As I was helping her get ready for school this morning, she asked me to fix her hair special because she’s “dancing with a boy. But don’t worry mom, we’re just friends!” Ummm, OK. Then: “His name is Sarah”. I said “That’s an unusual name for a boy”, and she said “Well, I think he’s a boy. He wears his hair like a boy and dresses and acts like a boy, but Sarah’s a girls name.” I said “Well, names aren’t always that simple. Sometimes names that usually belong to one gender are used for the other”, and I thought the discussion was over. Until she said “Well, I’ve asked. . .him, I guess” and I said “Asked him what?” “Whether he’s a boy or a girl” and I said “And he says he’s a boy?” (Thinking, if that’s what the kid says, that’s good enough for me), and here’s the part that got me: my daughter said “He doesn’t know”. I repeated that back: “He doesn’t know?” “Yeah, he doesn’t know if he’s a boy or a girl”.

Now, I can’t imagine a child reaching 8YO without knowing what gender they are. So, maybe it’s a girl who really identifies as a boy, but hasn’t decided quite how to say that yet, so when asked about gender answers “I don’t know”, or maybe there are issues with the parents.

I just don’t know what to make of all this. And I’ll admit I don’t know very much about transgenderism.

How common would it be for a 2nd grader to have these feelings?

S(he) could be a hermaphrodite - or transgendered. 2nd grade is not too young. There are a couple folks on the boards who know a lot more than I do…

I worked with a guy, who for all intents and purposes was named John. However, after working with him for a while I found out he was actually Gail. He’s very candid about it and he’s got a handlebar moustache and everything. He says he knew from the start of gender issues that he was not a girl, but a boy. It happens.

Hmm. I hadn’t even thought of that, though of course I know it happens.

Obviously, what I would impress upon my daughter in regards to this, is that kids like this get a hard time from other kids sometimes, but that’s because sometimes other kids are jerks. From my daughter, I still expect her to treat her friend with love, respect and courtesy.

Did your daughter’s friend actually say, “I don’t know” or was that your daughter’s interpretation? It’s possible that this is an issue of transgenderism, but this could also just be a kid who’s a bit tomboyish and sick of being asked/teased about it. I was really boyish as a kid (short hair, preferred sports and more physical play, gender nonspecific clothing) and by the time I was that age, I’d perfected a steely glare in response to questions about whether I was a boy or a girl. I found it freaking annoying that people asked that.

Personally, I would go with your general message of love & respect, but I wouldn’t broach the subject of transgenderism unless you’re sure that’s what’s going on.

I agree, go with your basic approach of love, respect and let it play from there. 8 year olds tend to switch topics quickly and transgendered may be a word that’s tought o get out anyway for an 8 year old.

There was a show recently about children that age who clearly don’t like their gender, and the parents having to figure out whether they are going to let their son act/dress like a girl and vice versa. Not extremely common, but not rare either. It was really sad, there was one boy whose parents were trying to make him be like a boy and got him boy Christmas presents and he was miserable, and he was playing with his sisters girl toys. Finally I think they let him “be” a girl and he was thrilled. A bit odd though to see a kid is a one piece girls bathing suit with a bulge though.

It was pretty clear that my daughter asked the question twice, and both times got the answer “I don’t know”.

As for approaching the subject of transgenderism, I won’t do it until she asks about it. This is how I handle all aspects of human sexuality with her. But if she mentions other kids in school picking on Sarah, I would explain that maybe it’s because they’re not sure if Sarah’s a boy or a girl, and sometimes in those situations, kids aren’t very nice. But that doesn’t excuse her from being nice.

Ditto. Actually in my case replace “steely glare” with “shut up.” I really didn’t see why it was anybody’s business, and was rather resentful about having been born a girl (as an adult I’ve come to terms with it and it’s fine–I’m not transgender, it’s just that being a girl was kind of lame and no fun).

Which bathroom does Sarah use at school?

Maybe you could give your daughter a ride to school and see for yourself. I’m not sure if this would be stepping outside the bounds of what’s appropriate, but if you’re concerned, you may want to talk to your daughter’s teacher about it and see if she can give any insight. It may even be something the teacher or, even worse, his/her parents are unaware of.

Wouldn’t that be a breach of the student’s right to privacy to discuss any possible personal/health issues?

If I were Sarah’s parent and found out that the teacher had discussed that information with another parent without my consent I would be livid.

Some infants are born with what are now called “ambiguous” genitals. Until recently, the default thing to do was surgically assign a gender and raise the kid that way. Now, many doctors are simply leaving them alone. The parents can decide to raise the child as one gender or another, but as emotional development happens, the child and parents will get a clearer picture which way to go, physically. In the old way, sometimes the surgeon made the wrong flip of the coin, resulting in, for example, an unhappy young woman with no way to get her clitoris back.

I don’t think it was that way round… I’m pretty certain the default was to assign intersex babies as girls (outwardly fully functioning, don’t know about fertility).

That would be an interesting question. Not sure I want to ask my daughter, though. At this point, she seems totally unconcerned with Sarah’s ambiguous gender, and I don’t want to press the point and give her the idea that there’s something to be concerned about.

I certainly would not invade the kid’s privacy enough to speak to the teacher about it.

Could you do what I would do in any other situation of my kid making a friend, and having their name come up regularly as someone they play with at school - invite the kid for a playdate at your house?

If that is a normal thing that you do in your town (it seems to vary by area…) then there’s nothing odd about it - you are extending friendship to your kid’s friends, and you’ll meet kid and mum too. Maybe you could invite mum for coffee (again, depending on if that is normal in your area…)

If Sarah does have gender issues, it could be that Mum and Sarah are feeling isolated and maybe don’t have a great social life - either because they themselves want to avoid questions or because other kids and mothers don’t wasnt to get involved with the weirdo.

It may be that if you get to be good friends with them, they maybe will explain the situation. It may be that they never do explain but you and your daughter will have gained new friends anyway. Or it may turn out that the kids have a spat over something and the friendship dwindles…

If I were Sarah’s parent, I’d have had a long chat with the teacher about Sarah’s situation and told her exactly what was okay to say and what wasn’t. And if I was Sarah’s teacher and Sarah’s parent hadn’t done that, I’d simply say, “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss that.”

Depends on exactly what equipment was originally south of the equator. But, generally speaking, “it’s easier to dig a hole than build a pole” and becoming aesthetically and hormonally female is easier than becoming aesthetically and hormonally male.

If I’m remembering correctly from my Sociology of Gender (Dr. Gonzalez, if you’re out there somewhere, please don’t hate me when I inevitably get something wrong!), between seven and ten years of age is the time frame around which boys and girls (and those of the “other” category) begin to transcend the “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” games and can process the idea that sex and gender are not the same thing.

The dominant sociological paradigm is that gender exists not as two distinct points, but on a continuum between 100% Male and 100% Female. Also, it’s important to note that gender and sex aren’t the same thing by any means – although, especially in our society, they’re commonly conflated. It could be that Sarah, biologically, is fully male or female, but identifies as a 50/50 gender split (which I believe is referred to as “socially trans-gendered,” but there’s a huge chance that I just dreamed that).

In any event, issues of gender and sex are extremely touchy things at that age, and I would echo the other posters in this thread who have said that it’s best to let curiosity lay idle and not try to speak with anyone else about it. It very well could be that Sarah had a botched circumcision and identifies as a male-gendered person, but doesn’t have the appropriate genitalia. It could be that Sarah was abused at an early age and has internally confused his/her gender. Or it could be something altogether innocuous – my point is that it’s a potential hornet’s nest.

Might be that we’re making things overly complicated with our adult perspective. Kids sometimes do play around with their identify just in the process of trying to understand who they are, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the kid is transgender in the way adults think of it.
I remember when I was around that age I had an inexplicable fascination with neckties (as a girl), but now that I’m an adult I’m not a crossdresser. :slight_smile:

:slight_smile: My, how times change – time was (and still is in many many quarters), if the kid did know that their gender wasn’t what was assigned, that was what people couldn’t imagine. And there are people who are still working on their gender identity when they’re forty.

Maybe Sarah is trans. Maybe Sarah’s a masculine girl. Maybe she’s just exploring part of herself. What I’m impressed by is that either Sarah naturally feels comfortable sharing that with your daughter, or else your daughter makes her feel comfortable; either way, it’s cool.

At any rate, I like what the other folks said – try fostering the friendship, to the extent possible; your being cool about it will be a good message for your daughter, and it may be a kindness to someone who might be having a hard time of it.

Insufficient information, in light of the the “boy, girl, boy, girl” designation applied to grammar school urinals—cruelly and arbitrarily, often in mid-stream, assuming my hazy, long-buried and painful memories still serve.

“Gender confusion,” even in those sepia-splotched days, was already a fearsome weapon in the playground bully’s arsenal.