A big part of what I do is helping individuals explore their gender, assert their true gender identity, and help family members adjust to transitions that occur. In addition to this, I’m a big believer in changing our society’s understanding of gender so that we can pave an easier path for LGBT youth (and adults, for that matter!). In my presentations, I talk about Blank Slate Parenting as a way to point out parents really don’t know the gender and sexual orientation of their child until the child/teen is able to share it with them. I also included this concept in my book, The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity. Here is the excerpt:
“Blank slate” parenting is the ability for a parent to enter into parenthood without too many assumptions and expectations. This may sound difficult, but it is possible. Most parents enter into parenthood with some basic assumptions: their child is going to be cisgender (their gender identity “matches” their birth sex), gender conforming (their interests and expressions are in line with what most expect from their birth gender), and heterosexual. Considering that many children are not these things, these assumptions may be inaccurate and possibly detrimental for both the parent and the child. Unless a parent is having an intersex baby, the parent will likely find out they are having a natal male or a natal female, either during the pregnancy or when the baby is born. Once this is revealed, all sorts of associations are created! If the child is a natal male (born with male anatomy), the parents will likely assume the child will always identify as a boy and will engage in the “typical” interests and affinities of most boys. If the child is a natal female (born with female anatomy), the parents will assume that she will always identify as a girl and will engage in the “typical” interests and affinities of what society expects girls to be interested in. If the child is a natal female, parents often assume they will one day be interested in males. If the child is a natal male, parents often assume they will one day be interested in females.
Even if these assumptions are not explicitly stated, they will implicitly become the foundation of what your child understands is expected of them. Children have an inherent need to please their parents, so feeling “other than” what their parents expect can range from uncomfortable to downright scary. Anything other than what has been envisioned and assumed results in the parents needing to make a “shift” in what they had expected. The nature of the shift will depend on how tied the parents are to their expectations, and what this difference means to them personally, socially, and culturally.
What if, instead of adopting these basic assumptions, parents remained open to who or what their child is or will become? What if parents provided a blank canvas for their child to paint, rather than providing a paint-by-numbers template? What if society evolved to the extent that people understood the difference between sex and gender, and the knowledge that some people are simply born transgender? Imagine how much easier it would be if parents understood not to get too attached to the sex of their child at birth! What if parents learned to ask “Do you feel like a boy or a girl? Both? Or neither?” instead of telling the child who they are based on anatomy?
What if society at large acknowledged being gay/lesbian/bisexual as a natural way to be, a way of being that is just as valid and recognized as heterosexual? What if parents learned to say, “Do you like boys or girls? Both? Or neither?” instead of making assumptions of a heteronormative nature?
Parenting from a blank slate standpoint would essentially eliminate the “coming out” process. Children would be able to evolve and share as their identities developed. They would not have to hide parts of who they are for fear they might be disappointing their parents. They would not have to overcome the expectations/assumptions that were placed on them at birth. They would simply be their authentic selves, and parents would know these selves sooner rather than later.
Rather than making assumptions, ask questions, often and early, to help learn who your child is. The questions will serve two purposes: you will learn about your child, and your child will learn that there is a beautiful spectrum of human diversity, not just boxes in which one has to fit. In order to provide a blank slate for your child so that they can be free to display their authentic self, you must be mindful of your own projections and assumptions. Such things impede the ability of your child have an actual blank slate on which to create. Recognize your child is their own individual being, and that you are lucky to witness their true self unfold. Remain curious about how this little individual will turn out. Your message to your child, both implicitly and explicitly should always be: “Any way you are is OK.”
More tips for “blank slate” parenting:
- Instead of assuming and then waiting for them to correct you, ask about who your child is.
- Expose them to and talk about diversity: different family structures, identities, and communities.
- Be aware of language. Avoid using the gender dichotomy like “boys and girls”. Try not to use strongly gendered language to refer to your child and others. Incorporate many gender-neutral phrases and expressions to allow more space for your child to decide how they relate to gender.
Excerpted from The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity: A Mindful Approach to Embracing Your Child’s Authentic Self by Darlene Tando. Copyright © 2016 F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved