This was not the first time my young friend had asked me that question. When we played with their stuffed animals they often wanted me to guess the gender of a particular cat or dog. Gender is something kids explore. They are figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world. They are curious about other people and how those people fit into their world.
Stuffed dogs aren't really boys or girls, and not all kids are boys or girls, some kids are both or neither. "Maybe some days it feels like a girl and some days it feels like a boy?" I offer up as a response.
"No." My suggestion was met with a frown, "Is it a boy or a girl?!?"
As an adult, I sometimes struggle to play along with kids. Though if I'm honest about it, I'm not sure as kid I was much better at playing along with other kids. Pushing the issue a little, I try again, "Not everyone is a boy or a girl. Some people are both or don't really feel like either one."
My young friend came close to rolling their eyes, "This dog is a boy."
I think it would be super helpful if children were introduced to the idea that not everyone is a boy or a girl, and that not every boy or girl is born in a body that matches their gender identity. Of course, that would mean that their parents and adult caregivers would also be aware of this and would support children in exploring and affirming their gender identity.
And that's a vital part of supporting our kids: the adults in their lives understanding that kids can be cisgender male or female, they can be transgender male or female, but they can also be gender nonconforming, nonbinary, gender fluid, and agender.
Even parents who can accept that their child is transgender often seem to have the idea that their kid needs to be a boy OR a girl. They ask their three year old, "Are you a boy OR a girl?" They push their 10 year old to make up their mind, to affirm a gender identity. Why? Because those parents are still holding onto the mistaken idea that everyone must be one gender or the other. In their effort to be supportive parents they are actually pressuring their kids to fit into those boxes, rather than letting their kids explore and express their gender identity in an authentic way.
Our society seems pretty obsessed with fitting people into those two boxes: Male OR Female. It's just not that simple. As parents, or adults who are involved in the lives of children, it's critical that we educate ourselves about gender identity. As we live our lives we can raise our own awareness of the times we make assumptions about another person's gender, assign gender to objects: boy clothes, girl toys, or we try to influence those around us to identify in a way that makes us feel comfortable rather than them feel seen and validated.
Because really, that is what it's about: validating the authentic expression of gender in those around us, rather then trying to fit people into boxes so that we might feel more comfortable; providing a safe space for gender exploration, rather than avoiding the need to acknowledge diversity that goes beyond what we've been raised to believe is normal.
Life Outside The Binary
Diary of a Genderfluid
10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being Non-Binary
I Think I Might Be Trans: 8 Important Notes On Questioning and 50+ Resources to Get You Started