The LGBT Health & Development Program

Family Blog—Gender-Inclusive Approaches to Parenting

Posted on January 25th, 2016 by Mich in Families Blog, Featured. No Comments

photo of piggy bank, plant, wood blocks, and children's book

Image credit: defythegray, “bookcase top,” February 26, 2011

We’ve previously covered being an ally to children who are transgender or gender-variant, but all children can benefit from gender-inclusive parenting. Gender-inclusive parenting, also called gender-neutral parenting, involves encouraging children to explore and self-determine their gender identity and expression.

In the United States, the majority of parents-to-be learn the sex of their baby before it is born [1]. Even if parents wait to hear the doctor say “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl,” most babies receive color-coded clothing, toys, nurseries, and more.

This is an incredibly common example of an opportunity to be more gender-inclusive. Here are a few key ideas on how to approach this situation differently:

Keep an open mind: Don’t assume your child’s gender identity.

  • Just like it is harmful to assume that someone is heterosexual unless told otherwise, so is assuming that someone is cisgender (not transgender) [2].
  • It is scary to come out as transgender to family: 57% of people who come out as transgender experience family rejection [3]. By starting early in not making assumptions about your child’s gender identity, you can make it clear that you would be a safe person to whom to come out.
  • Even a cisgender child deserves to know that your love is not conditional on their remaining cisgender.

Don’t try to decide your child’s gender expression for them.

  • Encourage and support your child in exploring how they prefer to express their gender. Buying pink clothing for a female baby and blue clothing for a male baby may seem harmless. However, your child may not be feminine or masculine as expected, and that’s OK!
  • Especially for children who are assigned male at birth, being gender non-conforming comes with much higher lifetime risks of experiencing violence and abuse [4].
  • The good news is that parental support is uniquely able to help young gender non-conforming people stay happy and healthy while being themselves [5].

Finally, don’t try to predict the sex of a child.

  • When discussing the sex of an unborn child, be open and positive about the fact that there are more than two options. As many as 2% of people are intersex, which means that their genitals are neither typically male nor typically female [6]. Being intersex is a normal variation, like having green eyes or brown hair.
  • However, many intersex people are forced to undergo unnecessary, harmful surgeries before they are old enough to understand or consent [6].
  • For more information about intersexuality, see our post here.

These tips are tailored toward expectant parents or parents of young children, but you can strive to be a more gender-inclusive parent for any child. Above all, keep an open mind and let your child know that you will love them no matter what. Gender-inclusive parenting is an act of unconditional love that any child deserves.

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[1] Shipp, T. D., Shipp, D. Z., Bromley, B., Sheahan, R., Cohen, A., Lieberman, E., & Benacerraf, B. (2004). What Factors Are Associated with Parents’ Desire To Know the Sex of Their Unborn Child? Birth, 31(4), 272-279. doi:10.1111/j.0730-7659.2004.00319.x

[2] Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35(1), 187-196. doi:

[3] Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

[4] Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen, K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: A risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129(3), 410-417.

[5] Puckett, J. A., Newcomb, M., & Mustanski, B. (2015). Experiences of minority stress and mental health in transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: What type of support makes a difference? Unpublished manuscript.

[6] Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto-Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K., & Lee, E. (2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology, 12(2), 151-166. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(200003/04)12:2<151::AID-AJHB1>3.0.CO;2-F

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