Kids and Gender

Why “let kids be kids” is not the argument you think it is.

In the run-up to the election, the far right is attacking trans kids, their parents, doctors, and therapists in vile and dangerous ways. I’ve waded into some really ugly discussions on social media because I teach gender and sexuality and the amount of disinformation out there is bonkers and incredibly frightening. One of the main dog whistles I’ve seen is “you can do what you want if you are an adult, but let kids be kids.” This is not the argument you think it is. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Human male and female bodies are not very different. Sexual dimorphism, or the difference between the sexes in a species, is low in humans as compared to other species. The idea of the sexes being opposite is made up; it supports hierarchies where men are perceived as stronger and more intelligent, which is categorically untrue. On average, women live longer and have more robust immune systems than men. This makes sense as female bodies build whole new humans with their bodies. There is far more genetic variation between individual humans than there is between men and women. Unfortunately, most of the history of Western science has been dominated by white men who assumed they were the genetic ideal, giving rise to horribly inaccurate theories about the difference in women’s bodies (and non-white bodies) that have hampered both the study and practice of medicine. If you want to dive into this rabbit hole, I have a whole list of articles here. Enjoy.

We indoctrinate kids with made-up stuff about the genders from the time they are born. (Or before, if you think a gender-reveal party is a good idea.) How societies decide what is masculine and feminine is vastly different and is always changing. I was told I should put a scratchy headband with a pink fake flower on my (never sleeping) newborn’s head so everyone would know they were a girl. Why? Babies are just babies. Before puberty, kids are physically incredibly similar. Yet we tell them what colors they should like and dislike, what activities they should do and not do, and we pass on all the bullshit we haven’t unpacked about what is okay for boys and girls. This is indoctrination—not letting your kid self-express in whatever way feels best for them. I’m a pretty femme person, but I went through a tomboy phase. My androgynous kid had a princess phase. Kids should be allowed to play with gender roles or ignore them based on their needs, and parents and teachers should support that.

Play, which is vital to brain development, means trying on different roles, costumes, and ideas. Yet as a society, we constantly police kids’ behavior based on their genitals and tell them what kind of play is “natural” and “unnatural” for them. NOTHING ABOUT GENDER ROLES IS NATURAL. IT IS MADE UP. Some kids feel strongly feminine or masculine, regardless of their sex assigned at birth, and some don’t. This is normal. Forcing your kid who hates dresses to wear one or not letting your kid take dance lessons because they are male is indoctrination. It diminishes your kid’s confidence and joy. As a parent, even one who teaches the science of gender and sexuality to college students, I still run up against my social programming about gender. I work hard to unpack it and ensure that my indoctrination doesn’t become my kid’s trauma. My job as a parent is to help my kid grow fully into themselves, not force them into an arbitrary box that doesn’t fit.

So when someone says, “let kids be kids” I say yes! Let them wear what they want, do the activities they want, and explore their world and themselves without our bullshit, made-up ideas about what boys and girls are supposed to be like. Ultimately, forcing gender norms on kids makes them feel less-than or wrong because NOBODY totally fits what it is to be an ideal man or woman, no matter how hetero and gender-conforming we are. That is by design. It keeps us stressed out, controllable, and buying lots of shit we don’t need to compensate for our feeling of wrongness.

Unfortunately, the “let kids be kids” crowd assumes that gender norms are innate and that being trans is a trend. They are not, and it is not. Let me break it down.


Gender-affirming care is medically sound. Every major medical organization and countless peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that forcing a non-gender conforming child to conform to the gender they were assigned at birth (or worse, assigning an intersex kid a gender through nonconsensual surgeries) is incredibly bad for their mental and physical health.


Gender-affirming care is lifesaving. One in four queer kids (that’s gay, bi, trans, nonbinary — anything that’s not cis-gendered and heterosexual) attempts suicide. That number goes up if their family and community try to force them to be straight/cisgender and down if they have gender-affirming family, friends, medical providers, and schools. So using a trans or nonbinary kid’s pronouns and getting them gender-affirming therapy and medical care is, quite literally, suicide prevention.


Most nonbinary or trans kids who take puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy regret it. No. Somebody made this shit up and put it on the internet, so people believe it. It is false. Recent studies show that 99% of kids who medically (that means hormones, not surgery) do not choose to detransition. The main reasons trans and nonbinary people stop HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are cost, social stigma, or medical reasons. Also, it’s all reversible. It’s low risk, and it could save your kid’s life. If your kid says they are trans, find them a gender-affirming doctor and therapist and get them what they need.


Parents are amputating their kids’ genitals. No, they are not. Genital reassignment surgery is painful, invasive, and risky. Nobody does it before adulthood, and many trans people don’t do it at all. For an underage person to have top surgery (creation or removal of breasts), they have to pass a whole lot of psych and medical evaluations, and it’s very rare before adulthood.


Being trans is a trend or a “social contagion.” Once again, bullshit. Trans and nonbinary people have always existed. There are names for them in most languages, and every culture treats gender differently. Most of what we think of as feminine and masculine is socially constructed, varies widely by culture and time, and is constantly changing. Social contagion theory has been debunked many, many times.


Using trans kids as a punching bag for political points is abhorrent. As humans, we fear what we don’t know, and the current crop of far-right candidates play on that fear in a way that will continue to cost lives and cause irreparable harm to families and children. (Side note – it’s not just conservatives spouting this nonsense, they’re just the ones currently trying to trade on it for votes.) If you feel uncomfortable with trans or nonbinary people, or you feel really strongly about conforming to gender norms, that is a you thing. You may have a happier, fuller life if you unpack what makes you feel like deviating from the current norm is dangerous or wrong because those norms are always changing and rarely attainable. There is nothing more empowering for a kid than letting them be fully themselves. So yes, let kids be kids by letting them explore gender (or not) in whatever ways they want and wholeheartedly supporting them.

A Tweet-Delineated Rant in Many Parts

So much crazy, so little time.

I don’t have the mental capacity to write individual articles about all of the crazy going on in the world, particularly in Texas right now, so I’m going to rant in response to tweets. Enjoy.


White professors: DO NOT DO THIS. This is called tokenism and it assumes that a person who shares superficial traits with a group (such as race or gender identity) must be expected to represent that group, explain all their actions, defend them, and generally expend untold amounts of energy for no reason or compensation. Your job as a professor is to first, I don’t know, GOOGLE IT? Wikipedia? TikTok is choc-full of creators talking about the Black experience (trans, nonbinary, disabled, indigenous, and the intersections of all these identities) for free. Read a book. That’s a thing we are supposed to be able to do. And don’t assume that you know someone’s race, culture, religion, history, or experiences based on how they look. Or their health (re: fatphobia), socioeconomic status, or nationality. Just. Freaking. Stop. Also read the comments for a whole slew of just bad, bad learning experiences experienced by minorities.

Disabled people are not less deserving of not dying from Covid.

Freaking THIS. Yes, Mary, I know that you’re tired of being scared and wearing masks and dealing with the Rona. But having the freedom to pretend it’s all over and risking the lives of immunocompromised and disabled people is a crock. It was true two years ago and it’s still freaking true. It turns out people get sick and die even when the numbers are lower than at the peak of a variant surge. We did, and my husband came within about 15 minutes of a very possibly fatal heart attack. Fucking wear your mask and maybe don’t kill a kid in chemo. You know, like a human.

Get a Hobby

Give @fatnutritionist a follow. Bullying fat people is like a national pastime, and yes, Helen, it’s intersectional. I’m all for body positivity/acceptance/neutrality, but pretending that just bucking up and being less sensitive to people telling you to kill yourselves or amputate your stomach will make everything better is nonsensical. We have to live in this world, and, as previously noted, looking at someone does not mean you know anything about them, including their health or lifestyle, and it’s none of your goddamn business. Find something better to do with your time.

Maybe rethink police budgets? Maybe?

I’m just going to leave this right here. Read the thread.

High-stakes testing has ruined US education. Don’t believe me? Look at our rankings.

Read the thread. This is why I haven’t considered working in k-12 education, despite the fact that it pays more than teaching full time at a top university (I shit you not). Even if my state hadn’t muzzled teachers who want to talk about, oh, I don’t know, OBJECTIVE REALITY, I would still have to teach to a test written by people less knowledgeable than me so somebody somewhere can cash in on taxpayer dollars. Not a vibe.

Hahahahah. Hah. Ha.

I love the anti-intellectual set who thinks academics are rolling in dough. A few are; most of us, not so much. Tenured profs at private colleges make about what I make as a non-tenured prof and it is very, very little. Adjunct professors make a fraction of that. So think about it this way: A tenured prof (if they make it through all the bullshit and debt that it takes to get a PhD and get tenured) might make 100k+ at a top research institution, but not many other places. Full-time lecturers will make maybe half that, and adjuncts, about half that again (But with no benefits! Whee!). Academia, bless her rotted soul, gaslights all of us into thinking that unending intellectual and emotional labor doesn’t need to be compensated fairly, and then encourages us to exploit our students. It’s a shell game, which really sucks for those of us who love learning and teaching.

Trauma makes it hard to think.

PTSD can be short-term from a bad year or a really catastrophic experience, or it can be long-term because you were subjected to abuse and/or extreme danger for years or decades (cPTSD). We’ve been in a hell spiral from Covid for 2+ years now and everyone has some trauma (and possibly triggered -retraumatization), and many people have a whole lot of trauma and it’s not ending. Please find a soul and some compassion, and if you have these symptoms, talk to a counselor if you can.

In “Why is Texas?” news…

Criminalizing the parents of trans kids and denying them treatments that prevent suicide to boost your cred during an election year is not classy. 1 in 5 trans and nonbinary kids attempt suicide. Trans inclusive healthcare is suicide prevention. I hope Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton get their asses handed to them by the DoJ and lose their elections. In other news, why isn’t Ken Paxton in jail like three years ago?

Academia is exploitation masquerading as public service.

I see you, grad students. You don’t deserve to be abused and exploited for five years. Most of your profs and advisors stuffed down their own grad school trauma and now take it out on you. Professors: get therapy. I promise you will be happier and less destructive.

What’s for dinner? Word salad!

Um. This GenX leftist totally remembers the cold war and because my dad was a science nerd I knew exactly what would happen after I stopped, dropped, and rolled. A slow painful death from various cancers. Asshole. Also, how drunk was he when he tweeted this? The comments are gold though.

The patriarchal bargain is not cute.

Did I mention you should follow @fatnutritionist? Because you totally should. Patriarchy doesn’t just create hierarchies of race or gender, it creates hierarchies of bodies. Credit to Sonya Rene Taylor for an amazing exploration of this in her book, The body is not an apology. So every time you performatively diet, especially in front of your kids, you’re telling them that they must align themselves with thinness (by either being thin at any cost or by attempting to be thin at any cost) in order to maintain superiority over fat people. Maybe try to not to?

Race is constructed to maintain a hierarchy of bodies. See above.

Fantastic thread on the western construction of “orientalism” and how it affects AAPI actors and Asian and Asian mixed people in general. Get amongst it.

That’s all for now, folks.