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No Four-Year-Old Should Have to 'Define Their Gender'

20/04/2016 13:26 | Updated 20 April 2016

When I was four I still believed teddy bears came alive at midnight. One of my earliest memories is trying (and failing) to keep my eyes open long enough to see them in action.

I'm sure my mum knew I was up to such nonsense, but she didn't mind. After all, four-year-olds are meant to be free.

Four-year-olds are meant to have imaginations. They're meant to be innocent. They're meant to explore the world as they find it, without the societal restrictions that are opposed on us all too often as adults.

Four-year-olds (and their bears) should have the flexibility to become anything they want to be.

Which is why I do not think any four-year-old should have to decide what gender they identify as, whether they are a boy, a girl, or something in between.

This week Brighton and Hove City Council has made headlines by asking parents to help their children decide what gender they "most identify with" before they start school.

In a letter sent to parents confirming primary school places, the council wrote: "We recognise that not all children and young people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth or may identify as a gender other than male or female, however the current systems (set nationally) only record gender as male or female.

"Please support your child to choose the gender they most identify with.

"Or if they have another gender identity please leave this blank and discuss with your child's school."

At first glance, the letter may seem like a progressive move towards transgender inclusion. But when you stop and think about its implications more deeply, it may well do more harm than good.

Realistically, parents receiving this form were presented with one of two options: either they filled out the form imposing their own ideas about their child's gender, or they sat down with their child and had a frank discussion about gender identity.

Clearly, both options were problematic.

The first meant parents were forced to prescribe their child a gender, or make the decision that their child does not identify as either a boy or a girl, without consulting them.

The second option required parents to have a discussion with their child that is way beyond the comprehension of most four-year-olds.

I may not be a parent, but I taught ballet to four-year-olds for years and can't imagine having a logical conversation about gender identity with any one of my former pupils. In fact, I think if I'd asked them if they identified as a boy or a girl, most of them would have been just as likely to say "a fairy" than anything else.

Having said that, I certainly don't agree with Andrew Bridgen's take on the letter.

The Tory MP described the council's move as "utterly ridiculous", adding: "Schools should be teaching kids to read and write, not prompting them to consider gender swaps."

But I would argue that schools have a responsibility that extends way beyond academia.

Schools should nurture their pupils to help them develop into happy, healthy human beings and part of that is giving them opportunities to explore who they want to be.

Brighton and Hove City Council may have intended to liberate children who do not conform to the gender binary, but instead all their forms have done is restrict all children.

If we truly want a gender-inclusive society, we need a culture shift both inside and outside schools that breaks down gender stereotypes.

That means letting boys play with dolls and letting girls play in the mud. It means telling children of any gender that they can be exactly who they want to be, when they decide to be it.

Scrap forms that pigeonhole children. Let kids be kids.

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