… it is not my personal stories that I want to showcase in this book, but rather what I as a developmental and clinical psychologist have set out to learn about the biology, about the developmental milestones, about the intricate choreography between nature and nurture, about our social constructs and our social mores that weave together to create such incredibly unique gender options for every child. The particular children I am interested in are those who transgressively and creatively define themselves as outside the traditional binary boxes of boy/girl and are desperately in need of someone to speak on their behalf. It may be four-year-old Seth who likes to wear dresses to school, but ask him anytime and he’ll tell you he’s a boy. It may be six-year-old SaraJane who used to be Craig until making it clear over and over again that they all got it wrong—“You may think I’m a boy, but I’m not. I don’t feel like a girl. I am a girl.” It may be seven-year-old Maggie who says, “I’m both, a boy in the front and a girl in the back.” Some people like to refer to these children as gender variant, but variant has a somewhat negative connotation of “other than normal,” not too far off from deviant. Some people like to place these children on a gender spectrum, with the understanding that children can slide along this spectrum from one pole to the other (male/female), allowing for incredible variation along the way. But a spectrum is a very two-dimensional, linear concept, and doesn’t give full weight to the myriad possibilities in establishing one’s true gender identity. So I would like to refer instead to a gender web, in which there are intricate pathways in three dimensions, side to side, up and down. This web will have to take into account any particular child’s assigned gender, that which appears on the birth certificate; the child’s gender expressions—those feelings, behaviors, activities, and attitudes that communicate to both self and other one’s presentation of self as either male, female, or other; and the child’s core gender identity—the inner sense of self as male, female, or other.
A large number of children will find a fairly good match between their assigned gender, their core gender identity, and their gender expressions. But a fair number, and it seems a number that is steadily increasing, will not. Those are the children who find themselves in my made-up category of “gender creative,” a developmental position in which the child transcends the culture’s normative definitions of male/female to creatively interweave a sense of gender that comes neither totally from the inside (the body, the psyche), nor totally from the outside (the culture, others’ perceptions of the child’s gender), but resides somewhere in between.
In this day and age, raising a gender-creative child is still never an easy matter, despite years of hard effort on the part of feminists, gay and transgender activists, and progressive gender specialists to make room for broadened expressions of gender as a healthy rather than pathological way of being.