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Ehrensaft, D. (2011). Boys Will Be Girls, Girls Will Be Boys: Children Affect Parents as Parents Affect Children in Gender Nonconformity. Psychoanal. Psychol., 28(4):528-548.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4):528-548


Boys Will Be Girls, Girls Will Be Boys: Children Affect Parents as Parents Affect Children in Gender Nonconformity

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

There are transformational possibilities in the family when presented with a child who is transgender or gender nonconforming. Challenging orthodox psychoanalytic thinking that these children's gender presentations are a consequence of poor parental rearing, trauma, or attachment disruptions, it is proposed that gender nonconformity is healthy rather than pathological and that typically these children initially just show up in their families, rather than being shaped by them. Looking at the metabolism of transphobia and the transformational possibilities within the family when boys will be girls and girls will be boys, 3 family types that either support or impede their children's creative gender development are presented: the transformers, the transphobic, and the transporting, with case material to illustrate each of the family types. A psychological construct is developed to explain the feedback loop between family and child: The transgender or gender nonconforming child who transgresses binary gender norms may face culturally imbued transphobia and psychological trauma within the family while simultaneously facilitating the family's transcendence of transphobia through transformative experiences with the child as he or she transitions from the gender assigned at birth to his or her authentic and affirmed gender identity or expression.

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