Thursday 19 July 2018

Dear Emily: My son likes to wear dresses, what should I do?

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Q I have an amazing, clever, loving and creative boy of 10. He's always loved dressing up in his sister's clothes, having his hair done and putting on make-up. We've always allowed this at home but not beyond. Now, he wants to wear girlie clothes and grow his hair, and only play with girls - all the time.

Mornings are becoming battles as we fight over what he'll wear. We don't want him to get bullied and want to encourage him to get past this phase so he fits in. How can we help him?

A This is a great question as it becomes more common for people of all ages to express themselves in non-binary ways. The old binary explanation of gender (everyone has to be either male or female) is outdated and unhelpful. As science and medicine slowly begin to acknowledge what many ancient civilisations have always known: gender is how a person feels, and may not be dictated by their genitals.

It sounds like you've given your son a wonderful opportunity to be himself so far and that he really enjoys the freedom. And while for some kids, dressing differently from the norm is a phase, for others, it's the start of a genuine expression of who they are.

The first thing is to figure out how you feel about your son continuing to dress how he wants. He may grow out of it, but if he's insisting on dressing his own way, when it's causing arguments, there may be more to it. Either way, learning all you can about all the possibilities, and then figuring out how you feel yourself, will help you to understand how best to support him.

Have several short talks with him about how he feels and why he likes his choice of clothes. Take him seriously and don't diminish how he's feeling. That in itself will mean a lot. Tell him how much you love him and how proud of him you are, and give him space to explore his feelings with you without being judged.

The website teni.ie has some good resources to help people understand transgender issues which may feel a bit full on at this stage. But as I'm writing this response, I realise I don't know of any good resource for parents of children who like dressing in a non-binary way, without it meaning the child may be transgender.

I wish you well and if you want to mail me personally for any ongoing advice you're very welcome.

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