When boys wear dresses: What does it mean?ri Duron worried when her son C.J. discovered Barbie at age 2 and became an instant fan. She worried a few months later when C.J. fashioned a “dress” from her tank top and accessorized with her plum-colored heels. She worried when her confident, cheerful little boy gravitated to all things pink, sparkly and fabulous, from nail polish to Disney Princesses.

Was C.J. going through a phase, she wondered?

Was he transgender? What would people say?

“It’s so personal when it’s your kid,” says Duron, author of the memoir “Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son.” “A lot of people see a boy in a skirt and think there’s something wrong with them and they need to be fixed, so there’s this urge to take care of the situation or take care of your child and protect them.”

At a time when there’s increasing awareness of transgender adults, the youngest gender-nonconforming Americans are also starting to come forward. That includes the kids who are adamant about having been born in the wrong body, as well as a much larger group of kids who consistently and markedly defy gender norms, but in ways that aren’t as easy to categorize: boys like C.J. who love dolls and dress-up but don’t identify as girls; girls who keep their hair short, refuse to wear wedding dresses and sometimes say they want to be boys.

No one knows how many of these kids there are or whether any one kid will grow up to be gay, straight or transgender.

But parents and health professionals, who are increasingly embracing the idea that these kids need to be accepted exactly as they are, say there’s a lot of advice they can offer to parents embarking on what can seem like a perilous journey.

“What we can say with certainty is that we know what every child needs,” says Dr. Lisa Simons, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Gender and Sex Development Program.

“Every child needs to be loved for who they are right now — even if that changes over time.”

For Duron and her husband, Matt, a police officer, that approach meant allowing C.J. to fully explore his traditionally feminine interests in a supportive home environment, while they figured out how to keep him safe in the larger world. In time, they allowed C.J. to bring his “girl toys” to the grocery store, just as his traditionally masculine older brother, Chase, brought his boy toys. It only seemed fair, says Duron, who blogs about life with C.J.

She says she also reached out to C.J.’s preschool teacher before class started, explaining his gender nonconformity, and was pleased with the response.

“I try not to get defensive,” says Duron, 38, of Orange County, Calif. “C.J. has really taught me to hope for the best from people, because a lot of the time they meet that expectation.”

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