How to know if your child is transgender: What experts say

EL CERRITO, Calif. (AP) — How can a parent know if their child is transgender? What separates a young boy who might be transgender from one with a vivid imagination who likes to dress up in his sister’s dresses? What do you do if your daughter tells you she’s a boy?

The Associated Press spoke to gender experts to answer some of parents’ most commonly asked questions.

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MY SON LIKES TO WEAR DRESSES. IS THIS A PHASE OR SOMETHING MORE?

“My answer is, we don’t know,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist, director of mental health at the University of California, San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center and author of “The Gender Creative Child.”

“What we know is, you have a son who likes princess dresses. I would say get him the dresses. Have your child feel free to choose. Maybe they’ll stop wearing dresses. Maybe they’ll grow up to be gay.”

Transgender children will be insistent, consistent and persistent about their gender dysphoria, she says.

“It’s not something the child says one time and it goes away.”

For critics who question whether preschool-age kids should be allowed to “socially transition,” Ehrensaft says: “We expect a 2-year-old to know ‘I am boy. I am girl.’ So why can’t that also apply to transgender children?”

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DISTRESS VS. HAPPINESS

“If I’m a kid who occasionally wants to put on my mom’s high-heeled shoes or wear my mom’s princess dress, I’m not the kid who wants to live as a girl. I’m the boy who occasionally wants to wear girl’s clothes,” says Johanna Olson-Kennedy, medical director of The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

The important thing to ask is whether your child is in distress.

“Are you having daily battles about clothing before school?” Olson-Kennedy says. “There are some things that are pretty universal. Is this the kid that everyone is trying to give Mutant Ninja Turtles to, and what they really want is the gifts their sisters are getting?”