How the Wrong Holiday Gift Traumatized Me as a Transgender Child

Giving the perfect gift can be stressful for anyone during the holidays. Regardless of your religion, if you do participate in the tradition of giving gifts, there are children who want to receive toys based on their preferred gender identity—not necessarily the one they were assigned at birth. Throughout my 24 years of wish lists, I have always wanted more feminine presents, and I know the importance of receiving a gift that will bring pure joy.

True story: I asked for a Cinderella dress and a Barbie at the age of two. When I was around four, my grandparents sought advice from a psychologist about me asking for female-targeted toys. The psychologist recommended enforcing “boy toys,” like cars and action figures. On Hanukkah I unwrapped presents with my family, including my brother and twin cousins (a girl and boy only five months older than I) at my grandparents’ home.

To my dismay, I got a Batman toy, the same as my male cousin, while my female cousin got a baby doll. Upon unwrapping it, I immediately said, “I didn’t want that.” My grandma looked up at my mom and repeated what I had just said. My mother, who had asked my grandparents not to listen to the psychologist’s advice and reiterated that I wanted a Barbie, said, “Corey, that’s not polite—you just say thank you and we’ll take it to the store and get another one. Why don’t you say thank you anyway.” As you can see in the video below, I started tugging at the vest I was wearing in frustration (subconsciously trying to strip myself of my male exterior), and asked my cousin to play with her new doll.

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Courtesy of Corey Rae

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When I first saw this video, my reaction was to appreciate how cute and unapologetically authentic I was. I recently re-watched it, and realized how visibly uncomfortable I actually was at such a young age. This time I was overcome with sadness for little Corey. I don’t want any child to ever have to feel that way or experience what I went through. I vividly remember looking at Barbies in stores when I was growing up, while my brother expressed his embarrassment to be seen there with me. If other people were around, sometimes I went so far as to pretend I was getting it for a friend.

I don’t want any child to ever have to experience what I went through.

There’s a debate over how to raise a child who has transgender tendencies, and whether or not to allow that child to choose their own gender. Some parents believe the gender assigned at birth should indicate the type of toys their child should play with. Other parents, like my mom, believe in allowing their children to grow into themselves on their own. My brother and I are prime examples proving that children should be allowed to express themselves freely at any age. My brother, who played with cabbage patch dolls when he was very little, grew into a cisgender man, and I stayed on my path of femininity.

I watched a fascinating BBC documentary called “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” showcasing both points of view. I’ve preached that transgender people have always been a part of human society, which Cheri DiNovo, member of the Provincial Parliament in Ontario, confirms. In the video, Dr. Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital explains, “The variance in gender identity and expression are not psychiatric differences, they are differences in the human condition.”

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I find this to be extremely profound. The documentary discusses the overall well-being for transgender children and I feel this debate will continue for quite some time. This holiday season, ask yourself as a parent or family friend of a trans child, do you want this child to be safe, happy, and free from excessive trauma? If the answer is yes, then you need to work with the child to let them be who they really are.

Presents can create crucial memories and shape how that child views themselves and the world.

If you or someone you know is struggling with what to give a transgender child, please remember that unwrapping presents can create crucial memories for children and shape how that child views themselves and the world around them. It’s extremely important to bring joy to any child through a present they truly desire.

The recipient’s happiness should come before anything else when considering a gift. If you’re unsure of what to get, consider books or gender-neutral toys. Through self-discovery, some children will go through different interest phases (like my brother), and some, like me, will continue to break gender binaries.

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