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G ender I dentity and S exual O rientation : O ur  B est C ounsel
Sexual Play
Parents must often deal with sex play between young ­same-­sex kids, boys
with boys and girls with girls. Unless such behavior occurs along with the
types of extreme gender confusion patterns described above, you probably
should not be concerned. Handle it as we suggested you handle all sexual
­play—­as a chance to teach manners and boundaries. Above all, such child
behavior should not be labeled “gay” or “lesbian.” Resist the inference that
any ­same-­sex behavior is indicative of an adult orientation. Sexual orientation probably doesn’t begin to stabilize until late adolescence, perhaps even in
early adulthood for some. And the “stability” of sexual orientation is relative,
as many individuals experience a certain amount of “fluidity” in their orientation. Thus, any labeling of a child or their actions is horribly premature and
may become a ­self-fulfilling prophecy, a label the child takes into his heart and
lives by for the rest of his life.
Sexual Orientation
When it comes to sexual orientation, there is a strong history of thera­
peutic wisdom suggesting that disruption of secure establishment of gender identity is a problem for many persons who become gay or lesbian. In
the classic psychodynamic tradition, explanations of the origins of sexual
orientation focus on troubled childhood relationships between gay men
and their fathers, and lesbians and their mothers. This is much disputed;
certainly, many heterosexual men do not report the most warm and positive
relationship with their father either.
But there could be some truth here, with this clinical wisdom connecting directly to established scientific findings that gays and lesbians report
high rates of having been g­ ender-­atypical children.12 It is unclear whether
this finding represents cause or effect regarding identity. It could be both,
especially as the formation of gender identity relates to the relationship with
the ­same-­sex parent. A child who starts life less “gender typical” may have a
complicated or tense relationship with the ­same-­sex parent, as that parent
just doesn’t “get” the child or, even worse, rejects or ridicules him. With
a more fragile identity, the child may act even more in ways that are not
typical of his or her gender, which further complicates relations with the
parent and leads to more identity disturbance, and so forth. In any case, all
of the preceding discussion applies to facilitating gender ­identification for
a child who is not stereotypically masculine or feminine.
12 3

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