Life Uncharted: Parenting Transgender, Gender-Creative, and Gay Children

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Vooris, Jessica Ann
King, Katie
Gender non-conformity is often seen as an indication of a future queer sexuality, but children are thought to be too young to actually be gay or trans. Life Uncharted: Parenting Transgender, Gender-creative, and Gay Children seeks to answer questions about what it means to be a "transgender," "gender-creative," or "gay" child, and examines the experiences of families who parent against the norm, raising children who break assumptions about the body, gender, identity and desire. Drawing from media analysis, ethnography of parent blogs and family gender conferences, along with interviews with 28 families, I argue that these parents engage in "anticipation work" as they manage anxiety and uncertainty about their children's behavior, attempt to predict and manage their children's futures, and explain their decisions to others. While television documentaries offer simple narratives that often reify binary expectations of gender, and explain that transgender children are "trapped in the wrong body," my ethnographic research and interviews shows that defining a transgender or gender-creative or gay child is more complex and it is not always clear how to separate gender expression, identity, and sexuality. As children socially transition at younger ages, when memory is just beginning to form, their relationships to the body and the notion of being "transgender" is in flux. Parents emphasize being comfortable with ambiguity, listening to children and LGBTQ adults, and accepting that it’s not always possible to know what the future brings. These children’s lives are unfolding and in process, changing our notions of childhood, queerness and transness.