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Role of Gender Affirmation in Parenting and Child Custody

The evolution of gender norms and definitions always finds people at odds. How can such a subjective theme fit into tight boxes designed by society? Everyone loves saying, “To each their own,” but do we truly believe in leaving everyone to their own vices? Especially parents, how do they draw a line in their meddling and let their child choose their own identity?

Role of Gender Affirmation in Parenting and Child Custody

The debate to define gender is a long and tedious one. From a man becoming a woman to be sent to a women’s prison only to rape his cellmates, to students choosing absurd pronouns in school out of spite, we are forced to ask the question - where does it end? Is it sheer absurdity to give people the freedom to choose their gender? Or is it a right as fundamental as the right to eat and breathe?

While letting people choose their own pronouns gives them a sense of individuality, and a sense of pride to claim the way they would like to be addressed, many people take this to another level and mock the concept entirely. It's the same as someone pronouncing your name incorrectly. You can’t always know someone’s pronouns just by looking at them. Correctly using someone’s designated personal pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show respect for their gender identity.

For those who are living under a rock and still don’t know the difference between gender and sex. Let me break it down for you. Sex is assigned at birth depending on the genitals, chromosomes, and hormones. Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men. This includes norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. Gender also refers to the social and cultural characteristics of masculine and feminine behaviour.

There are times when people don’t relate to the gender they have been assigned at birth. A person with male genitals may not identify with the male gender and a person with female genitals may feel like a man. In the end, who are we to meddle with someone’s personal identity and stop them from being who they want to be?

Most recently, Californian democratic lawmakers championed the bill that states parents may lose custody of the child if they resist gender transition. They believe it is a necessary step to ensure the well-being of transgender and gender-diverse children. Here’s where things get a little tricky. How viable is it for parents to let their kids choose the gender they identify with?

The onset of puberty and adolescence bring about a tornado of changes in a child’s body. From hair in unfamiliar places to increased sweating and carnal desires, children are often left in a daze. On top of that, with minimal or no sex education, young adults find themselves in tricky situations, oblivious to the facts that can help them make sense of these changes. In this haphazard blizzard of feelings, how can a child make a sensical decision about the rest of their lives? What if they choose in a frenzy only to regret it for the rest of their life?

In all honesty, I realize there might be a few teenagers who are very well in control of their feelings and understand what they need better than anyone else, even their parents. However, there is a reason we, as a society, place kids under 18 in a separate bracket. They are not allowed to drive, vote in elections, or buy/drink alcohol. These rules help create a boundary to demarcate the freedoms of young adults and help them understand the intricacies of life before seeing them as capable of making tough decisions.

The Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex Youth Empowerment Act intends to prioritize the "health, safety, and welfare" of children, with a focus on supporting a child's gender identity. The law, proposed on February 24 by Democratic Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, was amended in the Assembly on March 13 and subsequently modified in the Senate on June 5 before being approved.

Parents who fail to acknowledge and support their child's gender transition may face sanctions under the proposed law, including the loss of custody rights to another parent or even the state itself. Supporters of the law claim that it is in the best interests of children, with the goal of creating a more inclusive and accepting atmosphere for gender-diverse youth.

However, Republican opponents have expressed fears that this measure may encroach on parental rights and autonomy. Critics argue that it may lead to scenarios in which parents are penalized for refusing to adapt to their child's gender transition, which they see as government overreach.

Wilson defines gender affirmation as "allowing kids to play with toys that reflect their gender identity, painting their nails, or picking hairstyles that feel comfortable." Importantly, the measure does not establish explicit procedures for gender-affirming surgery, a significant decision that in California is still subject to parental approval for minors.

This clarification puts things into perspective. The bill allows children to play, dress, and behave in a way they are most comfortable with. Without their parents’ pressure or restrictions by society, if children feel like they don’t resonate with their assigned gender, they are free to choose their clothes, and their hairstyles among other things according to their intrinsic feelings. Parents cannot pressure their kids to act a certain way or conform to society’s fixed norms at the expense of the kid’s mental health. This can adversely affect them as they might feel misunderstood and unheard.

Gender affirmation is helping a child find their way through a maze riddled with gendered definitions, societal pressures and unnecessary norms. No parent should impose restrictions on their child’s behaviours and their way of living and expressing. This bill, if interpreted correctly, can go a long way in freeing children of ridiculous rules and setting them free from the proverbial box made by society.