19 answers

Does My Son Have Gender Identity Disorder?

My 4.5 year old son has been showing an increasing preference for "girl" stuff. He wants to wear dresses, jewelry, high heels, and have his nails painted. I am not a "girlie" mom by any means, so I do not think he only wants to be like me (his father is also a very involved father with masculine qualities). My son does also have fun playing with trucks, power rangers, and swords, but he loves mermaids, snow white, and cinderella just as much if not more. When he is with boy-friends, he plays with boy stuff, but he also enjoys the girls stuff when he is playing with girl-friends (especially if they have dress up clothes). He is begging to be a fairy princess for Halloween this year and I am really struggling to find out if this is a real problem I should seek help for and how to allow him to be who he is but also prevent him from getting ridiculed. He recently told me that he wants to be a girl so he can wear all of the pretty things instead of just shorts and shirts. Has anyone had this problem, and if so, should I be worried or seek professional help?

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

I really appreciate all of the great advice and I am relieved to know that my son is not "different" from a lot of other boys. Many of you shared very personal and supportive information and I am going to wait this out and take a suportive approach to his exploration of the world and all the beautiful things. We will see how his last year of preschool and kindergarten go......Ironically, yYesterday he wanted to play in his old batman costume all day and was pretending to use his wolverine claw to go to battle. Now he wants to be Darth Vader for Halloween!

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I am having the same situation. I am @ a loss myself. I've been told it's normal @ this age but I still worry.

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My husband played the same things when he was little--dress up, jewelry, heels. I am a woman and I played farmer, truck driver, race car driver, as as well as mermaid, princess, tea party, etc. I wouldn't worry. Just enjoy and support his interests--no matter what they are.

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He sounds amazing! I am so sad thinking he may be hauled to a shrink if he has a turbo feminine side-but then again, I would be one hundred percent fine if my son was straight, gay, identifying with both genders, whatever.

Your son could be the next Marc Jacobs with that flair for clothes and you could be sitting pretty living the good life as his pampered mom who always loved as supported him. Or he could be the next Calvin Klein. Not all designers are gay. Or this could pass entirely and he could end up driving monster trucks while eating big steaks and shooting big guns.

Whatever it is, BE CAREFUL. Do not make him feel like something is wrong with him. Which is implied with doctor visits for any "DISORDER". If he is gay or straight, if you instill a sense of shame and doubt in him or even a "need to change" to suit your own ideas of what he should be fundamentally, he could end up very very depressed and self destructive rather than becoming the best of whoever he is. And there goes your payday on the beaches of St Barts and your front row seat at Fashion Week next to Anna Wintour. Instead, you may have a very sad son who feels his parents don't love him for how he is unconditionally, and the ramifications of that are boundless. I don't hear you saying anything is medically wrong with him. Keep him the heck away from the professionals.

By all means, be honest with him about the fact that not everyone will be nice to him if he wears girl's clothes, because some people are mean to people for all sorts of reasons. People are superficial and hateful and it's not always their fault, they've been taught to judge. Tell him you're not going to let him be Glenda the Good Witch for Halloween because he won't have fun since other people are jerks and you don't want to deal with their wrath, so he'll have to do that on his own when he's old enough to handle himself.

As an ex fashion designer form NY, I have had countless gay friends. Not saying your son is gay, he's probably not. But just saying. The difference in the spirit of the people with supportive loving parents and the ones whose parents tried to change them and take them to shrinks throughout their childhoods is astounding. Don't hurt your son, cherish him and his quirks.

His appreciating pretty clothes is not a problem. Certainly not a medical one. Whoever your son is going to be, he will be that person-either happy or sad. Be his ally. Don't make him sad because of you. Tell him the truth about the perception of others and what could happen, and don't try to change him. Let him know that to you, he is perfect.

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D.,

It sounds to me like your son is healthily attuned to both his feminine and masculine sides. At this age, I would not be too anxious about it. If you respond negatively, he will be hurt to his core, and confused, because he knows you to love him. When he starts going to a school regularly, there will be plenty of peer pressure to be "into" certain things, or not. Kids will be mean, and he will need you to comfort him. Our son had a fondness for Bratz gel sandals (purple), necklaces and purses, and gradually it fell by the wayside. His taste now in clothes is oh so boring. No one would guess he used to like those things. Enjoy your boy the way he is, he's only young and cute for a short time.

D.

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Don't fret! Firstly, your son is perfectly normal. I have both a boy and a girl, both of whom will readily play with things that are not typically associated with their gender.

It's not an issue for girls--they can play with trucks and climb trees & folks say, Oh she's a tomboy. There's no socially acceptable equivalent for boys who enjoy dolls or dress up. I wish there were.

Let him play with what he likes. At his age, he's not bound yet by the gender specific requirements of society, and that means he is open minded and curious about *everything* in his world--not just the "boy stuff". I'd be more concerned with a boy that age not going near something because it's so-called 'girly' rather than him exploring everything.

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I just have one thing to add that none of the posters suggested. I would recommend that instead of saying he can't do something b/c "its for girls" (like painting his nails, or being a fairy princess) tell him he is not old enough yet. Telling him he is not old enough is not ridiculing him or his desires. By telling him something is for girls only you are ridiculing his desire to do it and you are making it an "impossible dream" which may make it more appealing. By telling him he has to wait until he is older you are putting off the "issue" and he will probably out grow this phase before he reaches the age where you will "allow" these activities. Ex. He can't be a fairy princess until he is six. By age six he probably won't want to be one. He probably won't even remember asking you to be one. If he does still want to be one & still wants to be a girl (which I think is unlikely) then he may have gender issues. Which you may want to seek counseling for or you may just want to continue to let him explore these feelings at home. Good luck.

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Hi D.

I agree that it is normal. My son is 4 1/2 - he plays with his sister's dolls, pushes them in the stroller and wants his nails painted because mine and his sisters' are. Although you don't have girls, he sees and plays with and near girls, so it's just interest in things other than what he already has. I don't pain my sons nails, I tell him that it's for girls. He's not a girl, and yes he says he wants to be a girl. But he loves his cars and trucks. So, don't worry so much about it. Just let him be, eventually as another poster said, peer pressure will catch up and he'll stop wanting to play with girls stuff.

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Hi D.: Just 2 quick thoughts based on my own experience. When my son was younger (he is now 7), he used to love trying on my shoes, whether boots or sandals or high heels. He was also very interested in my make-up and jewelry. No dresses, though. I think it's normal for boys to be curious about the sparkly, pretty colored things that girls have. On the other hand, my daughter (now 6) much prefers boy style shorts and tees, plain jeans. (She can't stand that it is so hard to buy a pair of jeans for girls that isn't covered by embroidery and sequins. I can see her point!) She is very active and doesn't like girly stuff much. But she does love me to paint her nails and raid my make-up! I think it is normal for young children to be curious about and experiment with things associated with the opposite sex. To ease your mind, it might help to talk to a counselor, but I personally wouldn't worry. However, I would try to steer him away from being a typical fairy for Halloween, if only to avoid possible ridicule from other boys. Maybe you could come up with a more boyish fairy, like a woodland fairy king. He could still wear wings (if that was his goal), but his costume could be more boyish. Hope these comments help. Good luck! S.

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A friend of mine has a boy that is going through the exact same thing. He is the only boy at a daycare with 5 other girls and he only wants "girl" toys. The thing is that your son is at an age that he doesn't distinguish some things as being girl and others boy. That's not really a bad thing if you think about it. My friends son did not do outside activities where he had any contact with other boys either. Does your child participate in an indoor/outdoor soccer league or a swim team? There are so many things that would encourage him to be around other boys that have varied interests. Is your husband active with taking care of your child? If so, it would be natural for him to emulate what Daddy's do. Does he watch videos where the girls are the heroes? And dressing up and make believe is healthy at EVERY age! Consider who he is playing with at daycare or in the neighborhood. Is there someone he likes to be around that loves "fairy princesses"? Kids seek approval at a very early age. They want toys because other kids think they are good. Give it time. It may be that he simply likes is creative and likes the costume quality of the big dresses. If you go to the toy store, it is much more difficult to find imagination toys for boys. Mostly action figures, but short of a pirate, there is nothing for a boy to really get into. I think that if you push him to like "Boy" things, he may rebel and refuse and act out. Maybe introducing him to heroes that are boys would help him to identify with a new focus. My son loved Peter Pan at that age. I know there are tights involved, but it's an improvement! I think a theatrical son does not dictate a sexual preference. I hope with time you have clarity on this situation. Good Luck, S.

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I am trying not to judge here, but when I read your post it really sounded to me that you were worried about your son being gay or a transvestite. If he is, then he is. And if you act to him that this is not normal or wrong, you could really damage his self esteem and his willingness to talk to you about it later on. If you are worried about how others will treat him, then maybe talk to a professional about how to let him act the way he wants while protecting him from ridicule or from hurting his self esteem.

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This is pretty common among boys, more than people think. I think the stigma keeps parents from talking about it so they don't bring it up. 2 1/2 of my 4 boys have done this. My oldest is the 1/2. He did it just a little. He's a married US Marine today with a little girl. My second son was very much into being like Mom, and I was no girly girl either. He wanted a baby doll desperately for his 3rd birthday. Back then all they had was pink and girl stuff for dolls. My husband freaked but after I convinced him that he just wanted to learn how to be a good daddy like little girls want to learn how to be a good mommy he understood and was fine with it all. He had my old purses, wore my shoes, pushed a pink stroller, the whole 9 yards. His older brother didn't like it, lol. By his 4th birthday he wanted a sister for his doll. (our neighbor got a doll wearing green so we said it was a boy on his 3rd bday) So he got a girl doll and couldn't decide what to name her, Malena or Sarena, two girls in his pre-school class. I think he went with Sarena. He carried her by her braids everywhere. Today he's a 14 year old baseball player with girlfriends he hides from me, but confides in Dad, lol. My triplets are 4 1/2. They'll be 5 in October. One is a male chauvinist pig. He doesn't even like music with girls singing, lol! But I'm teaching him better. I have a daughter. Then I have another son. He's huge for his age, he's a lumbering Grape Ape and ready for football. He wants to be a girl. Begs to be a girl sometimes! He wants boobs like Mommy. I tell him that he doesn't want those cuz they just get in the way, lol! He tries to wear his sisters play heels but his feet are too huge for them, lol. He is a big construction lover and wants to be a garbage man when he grows up... wearing high heels and a tu-tu.

Children are generally uni-sex when born, so to speak. They don't see boy and girl and most will play with whatever is in front of them.

As they grow they model what they see around them, on TV, etc. You'd be surprised the influences shoved in our children's faces and we don't even realize it. TV shows, commercials, billboards, magazines, etc.

By the time children are 3 years old you'll start seeing a split between boys and girls. Most girls will start to like more "girl" things and boys will like more "boy" things. And this separation can occur earlier and later for some children. And if children are allowed to explore with things you'll see it extended longer. If boys have parents that ridicule for playing with girl toys then boys will tend to shy away from it. Or boys are told "that's for girls!" and they're taught to shy away from it. By the time they start Kindergarten they "learn" to step fully into their "roles" in life to avoid criticism. They'll learn to keep their role playing at home and eventually out grow it by the more they "learn" from their peers at home.

I really don't think a child at 4 1/2 really understands what it means to want to be another sex. I don't think it's any different from wanting to be a fireman. It's just a role.

Gender confusion is a rare thing among the entire population. The chances of your child having it are slim to none. And there's no way you can diagnose that at such a young age. Unfortunately, he may have some ridicule at this age and it's the way boys "learn" to fall into their role. I wouldn't worry about it at this point. If you'd prefer he not be a fairy for Halloween, find a more masculine role for him like a king or prince and he can carry a septer rather than a wand. Make a compromise. I think if after he's in kindergarten and he still insists with this you'll just have to guide him and as he gets older like age 6 or 7 and still wants to be a girl do some research. But at this young age he's only going through a very normal and natural stage! I have no concerns about my son at all for doing the same things. Let him be at home. You'll have to guide him on what's "appropriate" outside the home and make compromises. He'll totally grow out of it! Remember, this is the age of dress and fantasy. That's all.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

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I have to disagree with the previous post. I think it would be a good idea to go speak with a counselor of sorts. I'm not saying you need to go all out and have him committed (by any means), but maybe having him sit down with a counselor or something equivalent might help to understand his "over" interest in girly things.

I think its completely normal for boys and girls to play with opposite gender toys. I know my brother and I did the same thing. He would often play with my Barbie dolls and I would play with his trucks. But you mention that you have 2 sons, so I doubt that there are girly toys laying around the house. So maybe that just feeds his interest in girl toys when he is playing with other girls, because the toys are so different than what he is used to. (Sorry, I am kinda thinking out loud here.)

I just wonder if there is something going on behind the scenes and in his mind that might be contributing to this. Good luck to you.

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At this early of an age I definitely would not classify your son as having a gender identity disorder. I think for the most part it is something that all kids go through. I for instance as a child, played with both barbies and GI Joe's. Usually my military men stormed the Barbie townhouse and took over but I turned out just fine. I also played football and basetball and every other boy sport that you could think of with the boys. I hated dresses and having my hair done and I loved and still do to work on cars with the limited knowledge I have. I am actually trying to get an older mustang to restore. But I am a healthy heterosexual girl who loves her husband and now does like to have my nails done and hair but still doesn't mind getting dirty, going crazy for my Eagles (football) etc. I think your son will be fine. My one brother did the same thing when he was that age and now he is marrying a beautiful woman, who I adore and is my friend, in September and is I guess what you would call a sensitive manly man (meaning he can sometimes listen to other people's emotions). I hope this helps. IF you are that worried, take him to a psychologist. Good luck!

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It's not a problem, it's a phase. He doesn't need to be analyzed, he just needs to have it re-enforced that "no, boys don't play like that." If you make a big something out of it, then that's exactly what it will become, instead of just running it's course.
Don't freak out about it, just be a firm mother and it will pass. And believe it or not, a little ridicule now and then is good for the soul, it teaches us a thing call "human humility." ;)

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Hi D.,
I would not be too concerned at this age. At my son's preschool, the kids play dress up and they choose both boy and girl things. I have walked into my son's classroom and seen him playing with dolls. He walked around the house for a short time carrying his "purse". My husband kept hiding his purses, but it didn't bother me. Now that he is 5 1/2, he is more into boy things and he says pink is for girls, but he still loves his sister's stuffed bunny that has touches of pink on it.

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I would tend to think his behavior is normal. I wouldn't make a big deal about it. Kids are innocent and just do what they like for how ever long they're interested in that particular thing.
Think of it this way--if he does have gender issues--and you know that for sure--what, really, is it going to change?
Let him be who he is.

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I am having the same situation. I am @ a loss myself. I've been told it's normal @ this age but I still worry.

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Hi D. - I have a close friend who lives in Allentown, and her son seems to have quite similar qualities. When they are at our home he loves to dress up in my daughter's frilly princess clothes, complete with all the accessories. But he also loves his "boy" dress up clothes as well. I'm sure she'd be open to an email exchange with you if you'd like to converse with another mom in your shoes. Her son is an amazing kid - highly intelligent, caring, loving, and just fascinating. Good luck, It seems you're doing the right thing by asking for help and not shaming him. Take care.

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Treat it like a real problem and it may become one. Indulge him -- although I think I'd try to come up with something else for Halloween. We've been turtles, kangaroos, etc., The turtle (could be Yertle the Turtle of Dr. Suess, could be the Turtle who Lost His Shell -- you'd have to get the books to see if he likes those characters,) anyway, the turtle costume I designed and sewed myself -- making the oval on paper, then making a green one and a yellow one, sewing together with quilt batting in the middle and then sewing the two together (quilting it) with my machine, using a picture of a turtle shell for a guide. And if it isn't perfect ? No two turtles are exactly alike anyway ! :-)

The kangaroo was cool, and we made it by modifying a pattern for a mouse. If you can't sew, you probably can find someone who could make the costumes. Keep coming up with ideas, and maybe he'll end up liking some other one.

Meanwhile, let him play fairy princess at home. My sister's kids (boy=oldest) used to dress up together in what they called their "prairie clothes" from little house on the prairie. They would BOTH wear dresses and hats. And the guy made a really cute girl, but no, there's no identity issues there ! He's been all boy every since.

Let him play with the girls, and also with the boys. Heck, my brother had a doll. It was named Peter. And he took care of his baby while his mom took care of his younger newborn sister. No problem. He never got confused as to whether he was a boy or girl. I think this is normal at this age, and he doesn't yet understand that society won't truly appreciate his choices. If you can't get him interested in some other costume, just let him know that some people would think he's a girl if he wears a fairie princes costume -- unless you can come up with a male version -- after all the fairy princesses must have husbands somewhere, right ? Maybe he could be a fairy prince. (with or without wings) And if he trick or treated with a friend who was a fairy it'd all make sense.

Don't worry, indulge him a little. Let him play with both genders and both kinds of toys. As he grows up you'll probably begin to see him do more "big boy" stuff, and less girlish stuff.

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My husband played the same things when he was little--dress up, jewelry, heels. I am a woman and I played farmer, truck driver, race car driver, as as well as mermaid, princess, tea party, etc. I wouldn't worry. Just enjoy and support his interests--no matter what they are.

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Dear D.,
If your 2 year-old is getting more attention than the 4-5 year old, he will do or say anything that is going to get your attention. Please know that 4 year-olds have to win all the games so that they will learn to be good losers and fair-play when they get into school. This is a target age for this behavior (that is what I found).
This 4-5 year old knows how to trip your switch...and it appears that you're responding. You and your husband are in control...It is more important that he is involved with learning skills such at biking, ice skating (there are wonderful programs at the better rinks, keep him active (and he should get over it). By the way, have a grandparent or parent play a game of UNO with him and "stack the deck" so that he wins. My son's grandfather did that to him. My son went to the men's room and when he came back to the table to play UNO, the expression on his face would have "taken the cake" on America's funniest home videos.
Don't worry about such serious things unless YOU want to make an issue of it. Get private time with the older son, and I think you will see that he probably just need more directed attention.
Good Luck,
E.

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