Gender Fluidity Makes Perfect Sense To My Six-Year-Old

So why is it so hard for adults to understand?

Young boy shrugging gender fluidity Africa images, eLearning Brothers | Canva 

Here’s my new rule of thumb: If something makes sense to my six-year-old, it probably just makes sense.

Granted, my six-year-old still believes that a bearded man in a red suit flies a reindeer-powered sleigh around the world every Christmas to deliver presents made by elves. But as he approaches first grade, his questions about Santa are becoming increasingly logistical.

How many miles is it around the Earth? How fast does Santa’s sleigh fly? How does it hold so many toys? Don’t the reindeer get tired?


As I cobble together answers, wondering why parents willingly entrap themselves in such intricate webs of lies, he looks at me quizzically, then shrugs his shoulders. Maybe the details are a little murky, but he’s still willing to accept Santa as a symbol of benevolence because benevolence makes sense.

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Greed, hatred, prejudice, on the other hand — these do not make sense.

Like all humans, my son has experienced them in passing, but he cannot understand why a human being would choose any or all of the above as guiding principles by which to live one’s life.


Adults can point to societal factors to explain why some people cling so fiercely to greed, hatred, and prejudice — and the people who are busy clinging can use their circular loops of pseudo-logic to explain why their greed, hatred, and prejudice are justified.

But at the end of the day, my six-year-old finds it bewildering. A jolly, benevolent person with flying reindeer makes far more sense to him than a greedy, hateful person with racial prejudices.



Why in the world, he often wonders aloud, would anyone dislike him just because he has brown skin? “I mean, I’m good at basketball and I have lots of friends and I’m the best reader in my class,” he tells me with that singular six-year-old confidence. “I’m pretty awesome, Mom.”


I may be biased, but I’m inclined to agree.

Do you know what else makes sense to my six-year-old?

One of his best friends feels like a girl and a boy and wants to be referred to as “they.” The question for him isn’t so much, Why? as it is, Why not?

Meanwhile, I spent years grappling with gender fluidity. Even as someone who penned a controversial op-ed in my college newspaper, way back in 2000, proposing that sexuality was a sliding scale, I had a hard time untangling gender from sexuality, and an even harder time wrapping my mind around its potentially fluid nature.

I could understand, on an abstract level, how someone might feel they had been born in the wrong body. But I still couldn’t stop seeing gender as binary, as an either/or. I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile nonbinary gender identities with my strong feminist views. How can we empower women, I wondered, when the whole concept of “woman” was being called into question?


My six-year-old isn’t worried about any of this. If his classmate goes by “they,” he’ll call them “they.” He doesn’t particularly care whether or not this classmate has a penis or a vagina. He just knows that both of them have fun playing Lava Monster and climbing up the red slide at recess.

Some mornings before school he tells me, “I feel like a they today.” He generally thinks of himself as a boy, but he doesn’t mind trying “they” on for size. He’s expressed interest in being a Boy Scout, just like his daddy, but he wants to know if there’s a They Scouts he can join instead. That way, all his friends can join, too.

It makes me feel a little silly. A concept that has challenged me and caused me so much soul-searching is something my son just accepts with a nod and a shrug.

RELATED: Why Parenting In THIS Traditional Way Is SO Damaging To Your Kids


To be fair, I have many more years of social conditioning to contend with, a lot drilled into me about the immutable differences between men and women.

I came of age at a time when the internationally bestselling book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, graced nearly every bookstore window.

While increasing bodies of research are definitively finding that men and women not only originate from the same planet but also have nearly identical brains, we continue to socialize our children to focus on gender difference over gender fluidity — starting with the colors of their swaddling blankets.

Of course, I’m not arguing that there are no differences between the male and female sexes, but my six-year-old child is teaching me that there are far fewer differences than most of us have been led to believe. And, so many of the differences we accept as “innate” are actually foisted on us from the moment we find ourselves ejected from the womb.


It’s difficult to analyze the water when we’re all swimming in it.

I’ve started to notice when my children are manifesting learned behaviors mostly because of how quickly they “unlearn” these behaviors in other social contexts. My 10-year-old daughter, for instance, has been socialized at school to play with girls her own age. Correction: to hang out with girls her own age, as she frequently reminds me that at age 10, she no longer “plays.”

But after school, she spends hours at a time with an eight-year-old boy up the street. Even if I’m not supposed to call it “playing,” there’s no other word for the imaginative games they concoct or the breathless shrieks they emit as they dart up and down our sidewalk.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with her playing — excuse me, hanging out — with other 10-year-old girls, but there’s also nothing wrong with mixed-age, mixed-gender play. In fact, research shows that it’s immensely good for our kids, and most of them could use more of it.


Outside the social confines of school, children are much less picky about who they spend time with. Sure, perhaps they put up with less-than-ideal playmates for lack of “better” options. But I can also see how freeing it is for my daughter to shed all the social pressures and expectations that come with being a 10-year-old girl.

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If only we could all find the freedom to shed these pressures and expectations.

I know it’s scary, to look at a defining element of who we are, something most of us have believed to be entrenched, and suddenly find it called into question.


But it’s my children who have helped me make a foundational mental shift. Instead of worrying about how to reconcile gender fluidity and feminism, I now recognize that gender fluidity is the future of feminism.



The more we allow exploration across gender lines, starting in early childhood, the less likely our children are to perpetuate toxic masculinity or internalized misogyny. On the flip side, the more we reinforce “immutable” gender differences, the less likely our children are to understand how to build equitable partnerships or equitable workplaces as adults.

Differences themselves aren’t inherently “bad.” Quite the opposite, in fact. They can enrich us and make us stronger. Gender fluidity doesn’t erase our differences; it simply posits that there’s no need to codify them.


Still have questions? Just ask a six-year-old. I have one who would be happy to address your concerns.

RELATED: I'm Not Male Or Female: What It's Like To Live Life Genderfluid

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.