Hi Dr. Meg,
I just finished listening to your episodes on gender identity and was hoping you might be able to clarify something for me. I have a strong-willed, four-year-old boy, an only child. He enjoys playing pretend and dress-up, including dressing up in dresses and pretending to be a girl/princess/queen. I did buy him a dress specifically for him, and we frame it as just that, a dress for dress-up. It stays with his other dress-up clothes (not hanging in the closet), and he wears it over his regular clothes. His father does not like him wearing it, but I don’t really see much harm in it. He also likes to wear one of my dresses, my shoes, and my bag and pretends he’s going to work. Sometimes when I am getting ready in the morning he wants to play with my make-up (specifically my powder brush). My question is, did I do the right thing getting him a dress and letting him wear it? Primarily he wears this only at home, but I have let him wear it in the car, and once (over his regular pants and shirt) to school on dress-down day (just like I’ve let him wear his spider-man costume to school). He still is “George the boy,” and doesn’t seem to have any real internal conflict – he goes back and forth with boy/girl personality (which I think is something you mentioned in the podcast, that these concepts are very fluid with kids this age). I would really appreciate your insight on this.
Dear Seeking Advice,
I think your son is just fine. Many boys like to pretend they are girls for a bit and vice versa. You are smart to tell him that wearing dresses, etc., is just for play and that they should only be worn at home. He will grow out of this phase within the next year and it is not uncommon.
One of the worst things that we parents can do to our kids is over read their behaviors and feelings when they are young. Your son is playing. Period. He isn’t conveying a deep internal conflict. Sadly, because of the hype about transgenderism, many parents conclude that any opposite gender play or activity means that the child is transgender. Or, that by allowing the child to experiment with his dress means that he has internal conflict about being his assigned gender.
The reality is, the overwhelming majority of children who cross-dress when they are young are doing just that: playing. Your son is imitating you – probably because he spends more time with you. Long before we had so much publicity about transgenderism, physicians and parents routinely saw children mimicking the opposite gender.
My own daughter went to a barber when she was 11 y/o and had her hair cut short, bought a spit gun and put a border of planes around her bedroom. This lasted about a year and now as a grown woman, she is very feminine.
So, let your son be who he is. Don’t overreact. If he is truly struggling with transgender issues, these will come out over the next number of years. But letting him wear dresses now certainly won’t cause him to be transgender.