Recently, the case of what I’ll call a “sexless” child came to my attention. Mateo’s parents are friends of a friend and they live in Germany. Mateo has two loving parents and an older brother. The parents have been puzzled with their youngest child from very early on in life. Although the parents have accepted their child for who he is, they have many unanswered questions regarding the apparent gender confusion.

Mateo has male genitalia and is classified as a boy in his birth certificate. However, it has been evident to Mateo’s parents that he is different. Now 8 years of age, Mateo is a smart and talented child, with a gender identity that remains a mystery. Mateo likes to dress up like a girl, play with dolls and wear wigs at home. Conversely, out in the street and at school Mateo acts like a boy, albeit not the prototypical one. Mateo has girlie mannerisms and likes to pretend he is a princess when playing with friends. His parents constantly ask themselves What is Mateo? and even more puzzling, What will Mateo be when he grows up when it comes to his sexual orientation?

There are a lot of parents of a Mateo out there. Society enforces stereotypical gender roles and has strict definitions of what each gender should and shouldn’t do. For instance, the most obvious one is that boys should play with trucks and girls with dolls. Parents who are faced with the challenge of raising a child who does not conform to the stereotypes of gender identity, can suffer from frustration and angst.

Moreover, the children can be the target of rejection by their parents, bullying by peers and isolation from society. If your child is a gender mystery for you (it could be a boy who always wants to dress in girl costumes and wear his hair long, indulges in stereotypical feminine behaviors and or a girl who looks and behaves as a boy would), here are some recommendations on what to do:

  • Keep in mind that he or she is your child above everything else. Regardless of your notions about gender, your child should be the recipient of your unconditional love, period!
  • Don’t impose gender stereotypes. The worst thing that parents can do is to punish, force or coerce the child to conform to preconceived notions about gender. Let the child’s natural instincts take their course and learn to accept him or her for what he or she is.
  • Don’t fear your child’s sexual orientation. One of the biggest fears parents have is that their child will be homosexual. However, sexual orientation is the result of many factors you simply cannot control, such as biology and hormones.
  • Support your child. Your child may be as confused as you are at times. The best thing you can do is support his or her journey of discovery of his or her own gender identity and sexuality.
  • Keep an open mind. Your child could teach you a valuable lesson about acceptance and tolerance towards others, especially those whom you may consider different. Learn to see the world through the eyes of your child and your view may just expand.

Read Related: Girl’s Fashion: Tutus or T-shirts?

It is still early to know what Mateo is now and what Mateo will be when he grows up. It is natural for children to play with toys that are not “meant” for their specific gender. Their choice of play does not define their gender identity nor does it determine their future sexual orientation. Mateo’s parents will have to be patient and wait to see if Mateo will be transgender, transsexual, homosexual, bisexual, a cross-dresser or just a manly man when he grows older. For now, Mateo’s parents are just loving Mateo for what they know he is: their beautiful child.