Dear Carolyn: Our granddaughter’s behavior is causing our family a great concern and anxiety. She is 8, attends an all-girls school. She is very athletic and enjoys taking part in only boys’ sports, such as martial arts. She likes to wear only boys’ clothes and cuts her hair very short like a boy.
Our question is whether she has a problem identifying her gender. Will she outgrow the problem and act like a girl? Are we paranoid over something we should not be worrying about? – Ohio
I have a great concern about your great concern and anxiety, which can do her actual harm where her choices simply won’t.
Martial arts are not “boys’ sports,” they’re sports, and very short hair is not a boy’s haircut, it’s a haircut, and pants and shirts are “boys’ clothes” only because she’s finding them in the boys’ department; the moment they’re on her body, they’re a girl’s clothes.
That is, assuming your granddaughter identifies female and just likes sportier things. That’s certainly quite common and a strong possibility, the best answer to which is to shut up and love her as-is – and let her shop in whatever department she pleases.
Also possible is that she identifies male and feels as if she’s in the wrong body. That’s far, far less common, and also a much more difficult, anxiety-inducing path for sure, especially for her – “him” would be appropriate then – but also for the family.
Your granddaughter, just by the odds, is probably not transgender, but acceptance is the only answer regardless. Conveying the message that there’s something wrong with the unchangeable, inside properties of a child risks lasting damage to the child’s self-worth.
Your granddaughter’s gender story is going to write itself the way it wants to no matter what any of you says or does. So, be one of the heroes who banishes expectations and gender assumptions, and instead is loving, kind and supportive of who, and whoever, she is.