From time to time, I will hear someone tell a queer person “you’ll grow out of it” or “it’s just a phase” or “I don’t want you to make any decisions yet, you’re too young to know.” Usually this comes from a parent, but sometimes from an older sibling, grandparent, teacher, or other authority figure. And it’s almost always used to dismiss what the queer person is telling them about their identity and experience.
The thing is, all of life is made up of phases. All of life involves learning more than we did before. All of life is looking back and thinking how we could do it better if we knew then what we knew now. Every person on this planet is constantly growing and evolving and learning more about themself and the world around them.
Kids go through a phase where they’re too young to understand what gender is, and what gender they are. This phase typically lasts from birth to around age 3. If your child is aged 4 or older, that phase is probably over. Thus, telling a transgender child that they’re “too young to know” what their gender is if they’re over the age of three is almost certainly scientifically provably wrong.
The same is true for sexual orientation. Kids in elementary school can understand the concept of sexual orientation and attraction, and have a specific preference. Though the range at which kids gain that understanding and solidify their preferences varies more significantly than with their gender identity, almost half of gay and lesbian kids identified as such before reaching high school, whether they came out publicly or not.
Here are some other phases that people may go through in their lives:
- Being unable to tie their shoes
- Needing to wear a diaper
- Not knowing how to do addition
- Going through puberty
- Recovering from a cold
- Being more than 3 feet tall
- Being single
- Dating someone
- Being married
- Being divorced
- Being widowed
- Having a job
- Being unemployed
- Being happy
- Being asleep
I don’t know of any widowed folks who would say that being married wasn’t worth it. I don’t know of anyone who is permanently awake or permanently asleep. Some folks need to wear a diaper after the age of 5. Some people alternate between single and dating over and over again. I typically go through a phase of recovering from a cold at least once a year.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely no longer a child. At some point you outgrew your favorite dinosaur pajamas, and found new clothes that fit your larger body better. Setting aside those dinosaur pajamas didn’t mean you hated them, or that wearing them had been a mistake, nor did it retroactively make you naked. They served you well for the time they fit you, and when you moved on to something new, you set them aside with thanks for the service they provided.
And the same is true of gender identity labels, and orientation labels. A child might try on the non-binary label to see how it fits them, and then take it off after a year because they decided that cis fits them better, or perhaps that binary transgender fits them better. A young woman may consider herself straight until she meets a brilliant, funny, nerdy young woman in her intro to psych class in college, and decide that bisexual might actually fit her better.
All this to say, life is made up of phases, and we’re all growing and learning more about ourselves all the time. It’s only natural that the language we use to describe ourselves would grow along with the rest of us. Even if someone identifying with a particular gender or orientation label is temporary, even if it is just a phase, that doesn’t make this step of the journey any less meaningful and essential in that person’s life. Before you say “it’s just a phase” to dismiss someone’s choice of label, consider for yourself, how many phases in life have you gone through?