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how to talk about genders with pre-teens

(33 Posts)
polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 14:12:44

I am not sure whether this is the right section to post about this, but here goes:

I have been hearing a lot about the many genders theory (the one with the genderbread person). Quite frankly, I disagree with it but then it could be that I don't completely understand it - so I keep an open mind. Recently I decided to probe what my DD (who is 11) knows about it and it turns out that they have already talked about it at school in lessons, I don't know how much and in what form (she won't tell me anything specific). She knows the definitions of bigender, non-binary etc and when she asked me my opinion I told her that I don't support that theory.

She then asked me how I can not support gender theory but support gay and trans rights (which I do). In her head, it is mutually exclusive.

I really don't know how to explain this to her. I have never been very good in social sciences and everything that has to do with psychology/sociology, mine is the exact sciences domain.
I tried to say things like "it is a fundamental human right to be happy" and gay people cannot be happy if they cannot live the life they want. She then retorted that same applies to non-binary/bigender/transgender etc people. She also asked why I think it is ok to be transgender and change your sex (with hormones and/or surgically), but it is not ok to identify as bigender.

In my head, I reject the many genders theory because it is based on unjustified stereotypes that are made up and blown out of proportion.
I support gay and transgender rights because homosexuality and gender dysphoria are real, whereas those stereotypes are not.

Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I confused?
Any advice from more experienced gender critics is most welcome! (but please be gentle... as I said social sciences are like a foreign language to me. I can fit a weighted linear regression to any set of data but I don't understand human interactions... I guess this actually would make me male, according to that theory hmm)

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ArabellaScott Thu 18-Feb-21 14:20:15

I think perhaps it's useful to explain very clearly the difference between 'gender' and 'sex'?

'Gender' is really just social stereotypes applied to sex - by that token, it can indeed be limitless, there can be unlimited numbers of personalities. So long as this is clear, and it's not conflated with biological sex, there shouldn't be too many issues, I think. The problems arise when people try to blur the distinctions or mix up the two terms.

(Sex is very simple and straightforward - we are a dimorphic species, with two sexes).

I have no idea what 'bigender' is. This seems a somewhat arcane term for an 11 year old to be discussing?!

polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 14:23:40

Thanks Arabella

Bigender is someone who identifies with both a female and a male gender, I think?

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SorryPleaseTryAgain Thu 18-Feb-21 14:28:51

I am dreading having these conversations with DC in future!

Could you draw parallels to religion?
E.g my DC knows that I am an atheist and when we talk about RE and different religions we talk about how some people believe in Allah, others in Jesus etc. Then I might say what I believe and ask what she believes etc.

Could you say that you support the right for people to have different beliefs and that no one should be oppressed for their beliefs. E.g that you are opposed to Islamophobia and supportive of muslims having the right to practice their religion free from persecution, but that you also don't believe in Allah, aren't a muslim and might not agree with the premises of the Quran. Equally you support the right of people to be transgender, you understand that some people have a gender identity (gendered soul/spirit) and this is an important part of their life and beliefs. You support their right to have those beliefs, to live their lives in peace and express who they are. But that you personally don't believe in gendered souls/spirits and believe more in science.

Obviously adapt according to your own religious beliefs!

nauticant Thu 18-Feb-21 14:43:37

Bigender is someone who identifies with both a female and a male gender, I think?

That would be someone who embraces masculine and feminine aspects of their personality. This became mainstream by the 80s but now has become revolutionary.

People can believe they have a gender identity, although it seems to be meaningless when someone with a gender identity tries to explain what it is, but the problem comes when this is supposed to be like a soul that they are born with, supposedly having some kind of physical underpinning, such as being born with a pink brain.

Beamur Thu 18-Feb-21 14:45:06

I'd go back to basics and look at exactly what the words mean. Sex and gender have different meanings.
Gender as a way to describe and define yourself has pro's and con's but not everyone has an innate sense of themselves in that way. Plus it's hard to seperate those ideas from sex stereotyping which is reductive and limiting.
Take it in small steps and encourage your DD to think around topics (not just this one) and not take everything at face value.

Chimeraforce Thu 18-Feb-21 14:49:59

Probably won't make a blind bit of difference if your child is that way, then they're that way.

sleepyhead Thu 18-Feb-21 14:54:18

"She also asked why I think it is ok to be transgender and change your sex (with hormones and/or surgically), but it is not ok to identify as bigender."

The issue is conflating gender and sex. A person can't change their sex via hormones and surgery. It's not possible. They can modify their body to match more closely what they feel they should look like, ie they can change their gendered presentation, where gendered refers to stereotypes (e.g. long hair, smooth skin, breasts for a woman - a female with none of these things is still a woman).

Some people believe that they have a gender - the person who likened it to a soul has it spot on I reckon. That's fine.

It stops being fine when they impose that belief on other people who don't feel they have a gender, and don't believe that a man literally turns into a woman.

I don't believe that the communion wafer literally turns into the body of Christ but it doesn't affect my life in any way that other people do.

I don't believe that a male can become a female, but it does affect my life when they insist on access to single sex spaces based on their feeling of gender.

Bigender, trigender, pi-gender - all good. Dye your hair blue and wave a flag. Be happy, but don't compel me to share your belief system.

polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 15:02:15

I agree with you completely regarding imposing these beliefs on others. I would go even further and say that I don't want these beliefs to be imposed/fed as facts to my DD. I think it is dangerous and confusing at this fragile age where she is just starting out to figuring out her place in the world. It is just a gut feeling - I cannot really explain to myself why I think this is not a good idea.

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polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 15:06:43

@SorryPleaseTryAgain Thanks for this, this is a really good explanation.

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sleepyhead Thu 18-Feb-21 15:09:50

I completely agree that it's dangerous.

I don't send my children to a religious school because I'm not inclined for them to be indoctrinated in a particular belief system.

I see gender as a belief system and I also don't want them indoctrinated in that - particularly as there is no attempt to include any level of admission that this is about belief, not established science. It's a whole load of dishonesty and misogyny varnished with rainbows and "be kind".

And I hate, hate, hate that the beautiful gender-non-conforming little children who just want to wear what they want to wear, have their hair how they want it, play with the toys that they want to, like the colours that they want to, just get another label foisted on them.

nauticant Thu 18-Feb-21 15:12:16

A big problem is that you can only start to find your way out of the thicket of gender identity ideology by examining critically its key terms and tenets. What is "sex", what is "gender", what is "gender identity"? You have to move past thinking like "I believe in gender identity because people would be upset if I didn't". This kind of thinking doesn't come easily to children who want to think in terms of good vs bad, fair vs unfair, nice vs nasty, etc.

FossilisedFanny Thu 18-Feb-21 15:16:23

I explained to my dd that there are two sexes , male and female and either sex can choose to be in a relationship with a person of the same sex or opposite sex and sometimes people have relationships with both sexes.

SorryPleaseTryAgain Thu 18-Feb-21 15:48:03

I have always told my DD that all toys/clothes/colours/hairstyles/jobs are for all people, nothing is "for boys" or "for girls". I have also told her that the main difference between boys and girls is just what genitals we have, girls get boobs, can carry babies and be pregnant. Pretty much everything else is just personal preferences and personality. She has completely internalised this and will notice and point out when something is marketed as "for girls" or any other inequalities she notices.

A while ago I touched on the subject of trans (can't remember how it came up). I said that some people believe that being a boy or girl is not about what genitals you have, they believe that it is about what things/colours you like and that they believe that you can switch from boy to girl and vice versa. That if you are a boy who likes pink and dolls you are actually a girl on the inside. She looked very puzzled.
I explained that I don't believe that, and reiterated I believe that all things and interests are for both boys and girls. She completely agreed with me. She is still only 9 though, so hasn't been exposed to any of this elsewhere. But I I'm hoping to sew some seeds and pre-empt any future genderbread situations!

SorryPleaseTryAgain Thu 18-Feb-21 15:55:08

And I agree with sleepyhead re imposing your beliefs on others.

Again, I am against islamophobia and I fully respect the rights of muslims to practice their religion. However I don't believe I should be compelled to pretend that I also believe in Allah in order to Bekind. If the laws in the UK were being changed to reflect the beliefs in Quran I would be fighting against that.

It should not be considered Islamophobic for me to respectfully state that I do not believe that Allah exists. That does not mean that I am denying that muslims exist.

polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 16:08:53

@SorryPleaseTryAgain : I have also told her that the main difference between boys and girls is just what genitals we have, girls get boobs, can carry babies and be pregnant. Pretty much everything else is just personal preferences and personality - well put!

However, That if you are a boy who likes pink and dolls you are actually a girl on the inside - how do you explain about those with gender dysphoria and people who actually go on to have surgery etc and then live their entire life in the opposite gender? They must have somehow concluded that they are in "a wrong body" type of thing. So they actually are a man outside but a woman on the inside, or vice versa?

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sleepyhead Thu 18-Feb-21 16:17:39

how do you explain about those with gender dysphoria and people who actually go on to have surgery etc and then live their entire life in the opposite gender? They must have somehow concluded that they are in "a wrong body" type of thing. So they actually are a man outside but a woman on the inside, or vice versa?
I'm sure they genuinely and truly believe that and have come to that strongly held conclusion and conviction.

People do all sorts of things because they have a strongly held belief. Devoutly religious people occasionally mortify their flesh, or cloister themselves, give themselves over to a life of celibacy due to strongly held beliefs.

They claim to have seen angels, saints, Mary, Jesus, God. I think they really, truly believe that they have seen those things.

nauticant Thu 18-Feb-21 16:19:59

Gender dysphoria is complex and not well understood. However, you should have in mind that the prevalence of gender dysphoria is stated to be 0.005–0.014% for adult natal males and 0.002-0.003% for adult natal females. If 1% of the population is transgender*, then you get a clearer sense of there being something else going on if you realise that only a tiny percentage of transgender people have gender dysphoria (in terms of it being a condition causing considerable distress).


SorryPleaseTryAgain Thu 18-Feb-21 16:26:31


I would explain that they strongly hold those beliefs and have chosen to live their lives according to their beliefs, but that I personally don't believe that anyone can actually be born in the wrong body.

I believe that if we lived in some utopian society where gender roles didn't exist, then no one would choose to go through surgeries and hormone treatment in order to "live as" the opposite sex. However, sadly, we do still live in a society where we have gender roles and different expectations on men and women. I can fully empathise with the fact that for someone who is very gender non conforming it could be very traumatic, excruciating, even.

I understand that transitioning and living as the opposite sex would feel like only way that you could be yourself. I fully empathise with that and wish them no harm.

But I still don't believe that they have actually become the opposite sex, as that is biologically impossible.

As I don't believe in souls or spirits I also don't believe that they are a soul trapped in the wrong body.

I am not sure what you mean by the last sentence, do you mean that a male that transitions to becoming a transwoman is a woman on the outside, but still man on the inside? Or do you mean that he is a woman on the inside trapped in a mans body? Just to clarify!

polyjuicepotion Thu 18-Feb-21 17:07:38

@SorryPleaseTryAgain in this example I think they would be a woman trapped in a man's body first, and then after transition they would be in the "correct" body. Sorry for the confusion! I can see what you are saying about it, that they may do that because they are strongly gender non-conforming. Also interesting what nauticant says about gender dysphoria.

@nauticant thanks for the reference link! So then, only some of transgender people have dysphoria. What does this mean? That the others are not the stereotypical "trapped in the wrong sexed body" ? But then, what makes them transgender? They don't mind to be in a man's body while identifying as a woman? Or vice versa?

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nauticant Thu 18-Feb-21 17:21:19

What does this mean?

It means that transgender people come in 3 main groupings:

1) What used to be referred to as transsexuals, those having classic gender dysphoria, who either go ahead with gender reassignment surgery or would like to but something is holding them back. At the time the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was passed it was estimated that there were 5000 of these people, and it was passed for their benefit.

2) Young people with (often temporary) identity problems, often co-morbid with mental health problems.

3) Middle-aged men who are motivated to have a latter life transition. This grouping includes cross-dressers/transvestites.

Since grouping 1) is tiny in the context of Stonewall's estimated 500,000+ transgender people, you're looking at hundreds of thousands in groupings 2) and 3). Unfortunately openly discussing this in the public domain is a very unwise thing to do and so this doesn't happen apart from in quiet corners.

OhHolyJesus Thu 18-Feb-21 17:27:31

Just adding my two pennies worth, though you have lots of useful advice already...

I'd break it down further into

Gender identity

Just to be expressly clear in their meaning and how they are separate and without giving the middle one too much weight or substance.

SorryPleaseTryAgain Thu 18-Feb-21 17:30:24

Thanks for clarifying.

Again, it depends if you truly believe that we have souls that are somehow floating separately to our bodies and that a persons soul can end up be trapped in the wrong body. That is not a very science based and a very spiritual belief.

Or if you believe (as I do) that you actually are your body, then your brain is a part of your body, just like all other body parts. So a brain that is located inside a male body is a male brain, regardless if that brain has a personality that likes things that are generally considered girly or not.

Brains can tell us other of incorrect and distressing things that aren't objectively true, hence anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder.
Especially when we live in a society with lots of socially constructed, restrictive rules about how we should look and behave.

Gender dysphoria really only means that someone feels discomfort and distress as they feel their gender identity doesn't match their sexed body. Again, as gender identity is very much linked to gender roles and expectations, I can certainly see why a very gender non conforming person would experience those feelings. The feelings are valid and I am sure very real. But they certainly don't prove that the person has a cosmic gendered soul that has ended up the wrong body.

An anorexic person can feel and believe that they are fat to the point that they actually starve themselves to death. That's how real the feelings of incongruence are between how they perceive their bodies to how their bodies objectively are. In no way does that prove that they are actually a fat person trapped in a thin body.

XXSex Fri 19-Feb-21 22:50:01

Bookmarking to read later. Thanks

EdgeOfACoin Sat 20-Feb-21 11:20:04


As PPs have said, there are indeed people who have strong gender dysphoria and who feel uncomfortable with their biological sex. They wish to live and 'pass' as members of the opposite sex. They are usually 'registered male at birth' (to use the current parlance) and wish to transition to living as a woman. Blaire White is a YouTube who is probably a good example of this sort of transitioner.

There is a growing number of teenagers who were 'registered female at birth' who are now identifying as men. A good book to read on this subject is Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier. If you can get hold of a copy, I strongly recommend it, particularly if you have preteens. Alternatively, Shrier has done a number of podcast interviews that can be found on YouTube, which you can check out for yourself.

Finally, it is very difficult to talk about the last set of transitioners, as it is a controversial topic and there is a concerted effort from certain quarters to prevent open discussion on the topic. I would suggest looking up Dr Ray Blanchard on Google and the work he has done with various transitioners who were registered male at birth. However, this is not really a suitable topic for preteens - it is more for your own information. Unfortunately, we're unlikely to be able to get into a more detailed discussion about Blanchard's theory on this board, so I won't say any more on this subject.

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