Help for Parents: Will You Harm Your Child by Assigning Him a Gender?

It’s a very overwhelming thing to be handed a miniature human being, not be given any kind of instruction manual, and suddenly realize that everyone expects you to just figure out this parenting thing all on your own. It is often with the best of intentions that new parents anxiously dial in to current cultural trends regarding child-rearing issues, then rush to align with those trends in an effort to do the best job they can. Over and over I’ve seen new parents abandon very wise parenting practices and embrace some very negative ones simply because all of their peers were telling them it was the “right” way to do things. When you’re new to the parenting scene, it’s easy to feel like anyone who had kids before you must be brimming with wisdom that you’d be a fool not to listen to. Of course in real life, this isn’t always the case. Plenty of your peers are just doing what you’re doing: following the loudest voices in an effort to avoid some kind of catastrophe. After all, we want to help our kids thrive, don’t we?

I have a lot of sympathy for how scary it is to hear people telling you horror stories about how messed up your kid will be if you make certain kinds of innocent mistakes. I also understand that many cultures and religious communities grossly exaggerate the control parents have over their children’s mental health, resulting in parents taking far too much responsibility for the issues their kids develop down the line. With so little effort being put into educating the general public about what causes various mental illnesses, it’s very difficult for you to sort out the truth from the guff. When we’re confused and concerned, following the sound of confidence often seems like the smart thing to do, and today there is a growing number of confident sounding voices insisting that you will damage your kid if you “assign” them a gender right off. Instead, parents are being told to try to raise their kid in a gender neutral environment and allow the child to choose how they want to “identify” themselves later on. So is this really good advice? No, it’s really bad advice. But now let’s learn why.

Label Games

Suppose I have a terrible fear of dogs due to the fact that I was attacked by a mob of dogs as a child and they nearly killed me off. From the perspective of my terrified mind, dogs are monsters, so this is how I refer to them. I then find it appalling that so many people are allowed to let their monsters roam free in public. After all, how can I possibly feel safe leaving my home when my neighbors are walking down the street that I live on with their monsters on leashes that won’t begin to restrain them if the beasts get really riled? When humans are in any kind of pain (mental, physical or spiritual), they become even more self-focused than usual and they naturally want everyone else to be forced to accommodate their special issues. In my case, I want to pass laws that make it illegal for people to keep monsters as pets. I want to see all monsters taken from their owners and euthanized. I also want people to be forced to use the same label for dogs that I do: monsters. It really makes me mad when people use the term dog, because to me, that term doesn’t begin to capture how dangerous the beasts are. I feel that the label dog is a dangerous lie that only makes people feel safer than they are. To me, monster is a far more appropriate term, and I am quick to criticize anyone who uses the term dog in my presence.

So, what do you think? Is my behavior reasonable? Should dogs be banned as pets simply because I have some unprocessed trauma issues? Now let’s be clear: my trauma is quite real and valid. I’m in a serious psychological crisis and as my fellow human, you should certainly respect the fact that I’m hurting and make some effort to have compassion on me. But while you’re being respectful and compassionate, you also need to keep a grip on the difference between normal and traumatized. Trauma is a form of injury, and the proper response to trauma is to try to find a way to treat the injury so that the traumatized person can recover and return to a state of good mental health. If we all start pretending that trauma is “normal”, well, you see what I wanted to do about your dogs. And that was just the beginning. Who knows what kinds of restrictions I’ll try to put on you next as my mental health continues to deteriorate?

Now in the example I just gave, notice how I wanted to force you to use a different word as a way of accommodating my issues. Words are powerful, and a slight change in labels can greatly alter public perceptions. Consider how often child molesters are labeled as monsters in societies today. When we use the term monster to refer to a human being, we feel morally justified in withholding all compassion and respect from that person, and we lose all motivation to try to understand what’s really happening with them. It is never acceptable to treat your fellow human like a piece of worthless trash or as an inferior life form. Yet when you start using negative labels that others are promoting, you will find your personal beliefs shifting to align with the labels you are using.

Now labels can be used for many things. When we call child molesters monsters,we are trying to devalue certain human beings. But in other cases, we use labels to suggest that certain human qualities are either bad or irrelevant. When we refer to body fat as lard, or call someone who is rather thick around the middle a whale, we are casting a normal physical trait in a very negative light.

So what about gender? The folks who are trying to get you to call your kid an “it” want you to accept the idea that gender is not a quality that all humans are born with. They want you to view gender as a mere “concept” that your culture “assigns” to you. Then they want you to “empower” your kid to decide how they want to “identify” themselves, and to teach them that this really is a quality they can take or leave.

So is it? Not hardly. All humans are born either male or female (with a few rare exceptions who are born with both male and female sex organs). Your gender is just one more of a very long list of qualities that you have no say over. And like your heart, liver, and blood stream, your gender is a quality that you simply can’t remove from your being. Sure, you can try to pretend you have no gender, but lying to yourself about what is doesn’t change reality.

Now what I just said won’t come as a surprise to anyone. We all already know that gender is an inescapable human quality, and yet some of us are starting to feel like we’re doing something wrong if we happen to mention this super obvious fact. So what’s going on here? Why are some people trying to make you feel like you’re committing a moral offense or stating some ridiculous theory when you talk about gender as if it’s a natural thing?

There are two main groups behind the push to pretend gender is optional and/or can be entirely changed. Before I explain the motivations here, realize that it is only a small minority of individuals from each camp that are aggressively trying to pressure you to make big changes to your behavior and language. Take any group of hurting individuals, you’ll find that many are just trying to limp along as best they can in their own worlds. Not everyone responds to pain by lashing out and trying to attack those who won’t submit to them. Even fewer go so far as to try to pass laws to punish and restrict the general public. So let’s not make a problematic situation worse by embracing false stereotypes. But we do need to understand the game that’s going on here, because it is a game, and not a healthy one.

The folks who are working so hard to change your view of gender are doing so because they personally feel very threatened by their own gender. There are two basic groups here. The first group is intensely fearful of a single gender and so they want to be able to “change” to the opposite gender and have everyone act like that’s perfectly normal behavior. This first group is commonly referred to as transsexuals. The second group is intensely afraid of both genders, and so they are trying to pretend that it’s possible for them to somehow make their own gender cease to be. For this second group, it’s very appealing to have the option to declare themselves as neither male nor female, by using terms like gender neutral, gender X or non-binary.

What’s important for you to understand is that this effort to devalue gender and intentionally mislabel males and females is driven by fear and pain. Now the world is full of hurting people, but they’re not all trying to make their problems yours, so why are some transsexuals being so pushy? Well, because the best way they can think of to cope with their problems won’t work without your cooperation. So they’re trying to force you to cooperate. This situation is not unlike the girl who wants to pretend she’s a princess and so she insists that you refer to her as “your highness.” When you don’t do this, she throws a tantrum. Today there are a whole lot of adult tantrums being thrown when the general public resists playing along with the “gender is just a label” game. Is it right for a few hurting individuals to try and force you to help them cling to harmful fantasies? No, it isn’t morally right, nor is it psychologically healthy. But it is understandable once you realize how much mental pain these folks are in. Pain makes humans desperate, and when humans are desperate, they often become coercive, abusive, and unreasonable in their demands.

More Than Just a Label

Now when humans are deep in denial, they can start sounding very confident about their delusions. Perhaps by now you’ve heard some very confident sounding people explain that gender is nothing more than a concept that human societies come up with. Confidence can be very persuasive, and it often has the effect of discouraging people from critically thinking about what they’re being told. But let’s do some critical thinking now. Is it really true that gender is just a concept, nothing more? No, it isn’t.

Humans are born with many traits, and each of those traits has many facets to it. Let’s use hair as an example. There are certain realities about your hair: facts that you didn’t choose and can’t change. For example, your hair was programmed from birth to be either straight or curly. It may have also been programmed to change its style at certain points in your life. Many people who are born with straight hair find things turning curly when puberty hits. Other people are curly from birth to death. Other people are straight the whole way through. Then we have the issue of texture: thin, thick, dry, oily. And of course there’s the fascinating issue of length. Did you know that every person’s hair is programmed to only grow to a certain length? In other words, if we all put our cutting shears away, we would not all eventually have strands brushing our ankles. For some of us, growth would automatically halt partway down our backs. Only some of us would reach super long lengths. The point is that hair is an inescapable trait that you are stuck with, and there are many facts about your hair which have nothing to do with your culture or society. You can’t change any of the facts about your hair. The best you can do is try to disguise those facts using special products and equipment. If you have curly hair, you can use a special tool to straighten your hair in the morning, giving you the appearance of being naturally straight. But of course the reality is that you’re curly, and with exposure to too much moisture, your natural curls will start showing again. If you have straight hair, you can chemically treat it with a “perm” to make it appear naturally curly. But as the hair grows out, the new growth will be straight, proving the falseness of your disguise.

So why is it that so many curly haired people are trying to pass themselves off as having naturally straight hair? Their behavior seems to suggest that they think straight is better than curly. Here’s where we come to cultural influence. Your hair has many facts about it which can’t be changed, they can only be hidden or disguised. But then your culture comes along and it teaches you to attach many concepts to your hair that really have nothing to do with hair. It’s always these added on concepts that start causing people a bunch of grief. In America, for example, the culture teaches that blonde is better than brown and that straight is better than curly. In response to this cultural brainwashing, a bunch of curly haired brunettes are going to a bunch of expense and trouble to try and pass themselves off as straight blondes. All humans want to be accepted, and if the society you live in is passing out rewards for having certain natural qualities, trying to fake those qualities might get you in line for some good things. So you go for it.

Trying to go for a positive reward is just one motivation for trying to disguise your natural traits. An even stronger motivation is to avoid pain. In America, dark facial hair on the upper lip of women is labeled as embarrassing and bad and treated like a good reason to pick on someone. So are bushy eyebrows or eyebrows that connect with each other. To avoid getting bullied or mocked for their natural qualities, American females are going through a lot of hassle and pain to remove naturally growing hairs from “unacceptable” areas. Is there really something “bad” about facial hair? Of course not. Hair is not a moral issue, it’s just a natural quality. The wide variation of hair growth and styles in the world makes the human race all the more zesty and interesting. But in every society, natural variation ends up being used as an excuse to pick on people. Since natural qualities can’t be changed, they are often used to divide humans into social classes and determine who will receive certain privileges. Qualities that are extremely difficult to disguise (such as skin color) become very sensitive issues once a culture starts linking certain concepts to them. But remember: all of these concepts that get added on are a bunch of rubbish. There is nothing “better” about being white versus black. There is nothing “cool” about being tan versus pale.

Now you don’t need an entire society to teach you to feel ashamed of certain qualities about yourself. Just a few influential figures in your personal life can effectively brainwash you into forming strong mental associations between certain natural qualities that you have and very negative beliefs. Once this happens to you, it will be the beliefs that cause you pain, and so naturally it will be the beliefs that you obsess over. This is what transsexuals are doing. They have formed some very strong mental associations between their gender and some very negative beliefs. In some cases these associations get formed due to the negative influence of just a few powerful people in the transsexual’s life–people who are intentionally linking gender or certain bodily organs to painful concepts like ugly, or worthless. In other cases, transsexuals form these associations entirely on their own by the way that they interpret a very distressing experience that they go through. Once strong, negative associations get formed, they begin to get rehearsed over and over again. The longer the rehearsal goes on, the more factual the associations feel, even though they are not facts, they are merely false beliefs. Eventually transsexuals become truly desperate to somehow separate themselves from the natural qualities that they’ve come to view so darkly. But here’s where a real crisis occurs, because natural qualities can’t be changed, they can only be disguised. A man who dresses up like a woman is still male. He can’t change the fact of his masculinity, he can only try to hide it from view.

So what options do you have when you can’t actually escape the thing that you feel so terribly threatened by? For humans, the common defense strategy in these situations is to create an alternate reality with their imaginations, and then try very hard to convince themselves that that the fantasy is true. “Practicing denial” or “clinging to delusions” or “living in a fantasy world” are common phrases for this kind of mental defense, yet it’s useful to note that all humans use denial quite a bit to manage their stress in life. How quickly other humans notice your denial games depends on what you’re trying to deny and how obvious that something is to others. Jack is a scrawny looking man who is only 4’10” tall, yet he goes around claiming to be an all star basketball player. Jack’s lack of height and muscle mass makes his delusion very easy for other people to recognize. They then feel very uncomfortable around him, because it always makes us feel awkward when an adult seems to be living in a fantasy world. We expect those kinds of games from children, but in adults, they seem like indications of a serious problem. And of course they are: deep denial in adults is a very serious issue that can lead to a whole host of problems. This is why it’s far better to try and help the delusional person ease out of their fantasy world than it is to encourage them to continue in it. But helping someone out of deep denial takes time, and the process needs to be done in stages. Simply telling Jack to look in a mirror and get a clue won’t work. The more extreme the fantasy, the more threatened the mind feels by whatever truth it is trying to avoid. Respect and compassion are keys to treating denial effectively. Trying to blast someone out of their fantasy using coercive methods will only make their mental condition worse.

A Complex Problem

So as you can see, this transsexual issue is a tricky one. The kind of psychological trauma these people are dealing with can’t be fixed overnight. The mental associations formed in these cases tend to be very strong. Often transsexuals believe deep down that they will never be able to get certain core needs met unless they can successfully change genders. But you can’t change a natural trait, which is like saying “there is no hope.” Desperate people must have hope, so they will manufacture some when needed. Here is where transsexuals tell themselves that it is possible to actually change genders by pretending that gender is merely a cultural concept instead of a natural trait. But of course it isn’t.

Like your hair, your gender has many aspects to it. Gender is not just a set of physical sex organs. It runs much deeper than that. Males and females have many anatomical and psychological differences. A commonly known anatomical difference is the fact that men build muscle much easier and faster than women, plus they are naturally stronger in the upper half of their bodies. It’s anatomically impossible for a female to out bulk a male, which is why we women often feel ripped off when we go through just as much strain and pain in a gym but don’t get the visual results that men get. Women also have more body fat then men, and their bodies distribute that fat all over, resulting in female skin being naturally softer and more cuddly. There are many more fascinating anatomical differences between males and females, but guess what? None of them are good or bad. As soon as you start feeling offended by someone pointing out anatomical differences between males and females, you are responding to cultural brainwashing. The facts are never good or bad, they are just fascinating. It’s the unrelated concepts that other humans tag on to those facts that cause you to then start viewing your natural qualities as something shameful or detrimental.

Now when it comes to the psychological arena, males and females process information, manage stress, and verbally communicate in significantly different ways (see Male-Female Communication: Male Compartmentalization & The Female Need for Words). Notice I didn’t say females are “dumber” than males. Many women are taught to feel put down by anyone suggesting that they are psychologically different than men. But again, this is just cultural brainwashing. To say that the male way of thinking is better than the female way is as ridiculous as saying blonde is better than brunette. There is no “better” when it comes to the genders–there are just fascinating differences. The existence of those differences is what gives males and females the ability to complement and enhance each other when they pair up. Because each gender brings a different set of tools into the relationship, males and females end up with more tools when they pair up than they have separately. The whole set up is quite clever and very intentional on the part of our brilliant Creator.

Now once you realize that gender is so much more than having a penis or a vagina, you can understand why surgically altering physical organs does not accomplish what people are pretending it accomplishes when they claim to have “changed genders.” It is quite impossible for you to change your gender. Regardless of what pills you take or how many surgeries you undergo to mutilate your body into appearing like the other gender, internally you will still remain the gender you were born as. What this means is that the idea of assigning gender is a total crock. You can’t assign a gender. You are a gender. The most you can do is try to deny what you are, which is what we’re doing when we go around claiming to be gender neutral or claiming to be a different gender than we actually are.

Your Child’s Gender

So then, you have a child. Like you, your child has been born with a gender that no one can change. The question now becomes: are you going to acknowledge what that gender is, pretend it doesn’t exist, or treat it like a mystery? Which option is going to have the best impact on your child?

One of the primary jobs of parents is to introduce their children to reality in manageable chunks. Your child will already have countless mysteries to resolve in life, and he really doesn’t need you adding to the pile by creating puzzles where none exist. Rather than confuse your child by pretending that his primary guide in life (you) can’t see the obvious, you should treat your child’s gender like the natural fact that it is. Your child will then need you to help him understand what his gender means. Well, for starters, there are anatomical differences, and that’s why Daddy helps Mommy with heavy lifting. That’s also why Brother’s body looks different than Sister’s in the bath tub. There are also psychological differences, which is why Mommy and Daddy sometimes struggle to understand each other. There are also differences in instincts and skills, which is why Mommy thinks more activities are “dangerous” than Daddy does, and Mommy tends to be the first one to notice when someone is upset. Your child needs guidance from you on how to understand and embrace his natural abilities. He doesn’t need you confusing things by giving him a blank stare and telling him it’s up to him whether he wants to be a boy or a girl. Children are extremely intelligent, and your son won’t take long at all to notice that his body looks more like Daddy’s than Mommy’s. If you call him a “girl” while you say Daddy is a “boy” you’re going to muddle his mind and cause him to be very confused about issues that are quite straightforward.

All children need guidance from guardians of both genders–their own, and the opposite one. It’s by watching how their male and female guardians relate to each other and themselves that children learn how to view themselves and others. And yet no parent wants to think they played a hand in traumatizing their child, so how can you protect your child from forming any negative ideas about his natural qualities? You can’t.

The Limits of Parental Responsibility

While the natural instinct to protect our children from harm is a good one, it can easily result in crippling guilt if we don’t temper it with a dose of truth. It is totally impossible for you to shield your child from all pain and harm in this world. Even if you could do this, it would be a terrible thing for you to do, because many vital life lessons can only be learned through pain. Heartbreak, disappointment, disillusionment, physical illness, social heckling–these are all necessary experiences that your child needs to have in order to grow and thrive. Of course none of us want to see our children suffer, but when we try to shield them too much, we only end up stunting their development and causing them to feel terrified and helpless in a world they don’t feel equipped to face. Pain enters every life. Your job is not to shield your child from the inevitable, but to teach him how to respond to pain productively.

As far as mental health goes, that is also out of your hands. The best you can do is try to do right by your child in the moment. Naturally you’ll have a much better shot at doing this if you look for guidance from the non-human Being who created your child in the first place (God). But being a human with limited resources, you’re not going to be the perfect parent. Many of us get thrust into parenting roles long before we are ready to handle those roles, and so we naturally end up making quite a mess of things. But then what? Should you crawl through the rest of your life in shame and volunteer to take responsibility for every upset your child experiences in their adult life? Certainly not. All you can do is try to do well with what resources you have available to you at the time. After that, your child will have to deal with his own issues.

It’s vital to realize that many psychological problems develop without any knowledge or malice on the part of parents. Psychological trauma is the cause of many crippling issues, and trauma is caused by negative beliefs. As a parent, you cannot control what beliefs your child forms in the privacy of his own mind. The most you can do is try to shape his beliefs through words and actions, but your child may still end up rejecting the beliefs you offer him and adapt a set that seems entirely foreign to you. In many cases children form negative beliefs without their parents even being aware of it, and they then carry those beliefs into adulthood where they exhibit all kinds of negative behaviors (see Why Are Children So Easily Traumatized?). Pretending you have more control than you do is only going to make you vulnerable to all kinds of lies down the road. You’re a parent. You’re not perfect, you’re not God, and you don’t have endless resources or flawless wisdom. You’re going to mess up–sometimes in big ways. But the God who gave you a child in the first place isn’t grading you on how the project turns out. He’s judging you by how well you listened to any instruction He gave you along the way, and for some of us, God doesn’t seem to start talking until after our children are all grown up. So then what? Is God going to echo your kids by saying “You should’ve done differently”? Is He going to demand things of you that He knows you didn’t have the resources to do? Happily, no. God is very easy to succeed with. As parents, we try. Then our kids grow up and grade our performance. If you’re smart, you’ll treat God’s assessment of you as more important than your child’s, because His is the only one that will matter in the end (see How God Judges You vs. How Humans Judge You (Chart)).

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