Should I be worried that my daughter might be "transgendered" because she likes to dress and act like a boy and spends a lot of time playing sports with her dad? After watching a television talk show on this subject, I've begun to wonder whether there might be something more to her behavior than mere "tomboyishness." Do you think she needs counseling?
There may be a simple explanation for your daughter's behavior. In some cases a girl can act like a tomboy simply because she's wired that way. In other words, her temperament pre-disposes her to embrace behaviors that our culture tends to think of as more "masculine" than "feminine." Perhaps she's just extremely energetic or athletic. If this is the case, it has nothing to do with homosexuality or transgenderism. Most "tomboys" of this type eventually grow into healthy women who have no trouble whatsoever embracing their femininity.
If you and your husband decide that your daughter is just an adventurous, athletic girl, there are still some things you can do to encourage her to embrace her innate femininity. But before moving ahead, it's important to make sure that you're both on the same page regarding your assessment of her behavior, the goodness of femininity, and the best way to affirm and encourage her. Strong disagreements in any of these areas may indicate that you need to get some help for yourselves as a couple.
It's wonderful that your daughter is so close with her dad. We wouldn't change a thing as far as that's concerned. But it would be a good idea for him to encourage her to spend more time with you and with other girls. He should also make an intentional effort to say and do things that bless and affirm her femininity. And it's extremely important that he demonstrate love, affection and respect for you. Negative, abusive, and critical actions and words from a husband to a wife send very strong messages to a girl. Remember, your marriage relationship models gender roles. From your daughter's perspective, it's a picture of how men and women are supposed to interact and an indication of the relative value of masculinity and femininity. Naturally, this also suggests that you need to be deliberate about expressing love, support, affirmation, and respect for your husband.
In the meantime, start looking for creative ways to draw your daughter closer to you. There's an art to fostering a successful mother-daughter bond. Don't try to force it, and don't attempt to relate to her only by way of "girly" things. Instead, do your best to meet her where she is – even if that means being flexible enough to join her or support her in the world of sports and outdoor activities.
Most importantly, let your daughter know that you accept her for who she is and that you want to be a part of her life. Find activities that you both enjoy, even if they're not so-called "feminine" activities. She needs a warm, nurturing, available female role model, and God has called you to fill that position. She also needs someone who can teach her about God's design for sex and sexuality. If there are issues in your own background that prevent you from doing these things, we'd recommend that you seek counseling yourself.
On the other hand, if you believe that the causes of your daughter's tomboy behavior may run deeper than this, it would be a good idea to take a closer look. Not all girls who are tomboys grow up to be lesbian-identified. However, it is true that many women who are lesbian-identified had questions about their gender in their youth, some to the point of identifying strongly with boys and rejecting their femininity.
This frame of mind, in its most extreme form, has been labeled Gender Identity Disorder (GID) by the American Psychiatric Association. GID is about three times more common in boys than in girls. The markers determining whether a girl has GID include:
- Repeated desire to be a boy
- Insistence that she is a boy
- Only wearing boy's clothes
- Strong, ongoing preference for being a boy in make-believe games or fantasy
- Wanting only to play with boys
Besides acting like boys and expressing a desire to be boys, girls with GID generally evidence a great dislike of femininity. This could include:
- Stating that she does not want to grow breasts or menstruate
- Asserting that she will grow a penis
- A marked aversion to feminine clothing
Usually these markers show up early in a girl's life, and are persistent and strong. They can include a powerful denial of reality (namely, the reality that she is a girl); rejection of her own femininity; idealization and coveting of masculinity; and fantasies about being a boy.
If this profile seems to fit your daughter, we'd encourage you to have her evaluated by a professional counselor. As a matter of fact, we'd strongly recommend that you consider group counseling for the entire family. Call Focus on the Family's Counseling department to discuss the details of your situation and to ask for a list of qualified therapists working in your area.
Desert Stream Ministries