Sarah Hoffman

parenting my gender-nonconforming son

Sarah Hoffman

Sarah Hoffman
December 31
Sarah Hoffman is the mother of a pink boy and a girl whose favorite color is yellow. She writes for national magazines, newspapers, and radio, and speaks publicly about raising her gender-nonconforming son. Read more about Sarah at


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AUGUST 24, 2011 1:59PM

It’s a New School Year

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Dear Readers,

Apologies for my recent disappearance from the blogosphere! I don’t even have a good excuse like the last time I took a blogging break, except that sometimes the work-writing-parenting-life balance gets out of whack, especially during school vacations.

I’m looking forward to updating you on what happens next in my series on school bullying prevention, just as soon as the story unfolds a bit more. In the mean time, I wanted to share that I’ve been nominated (by one of my awesome, so-far-anonymous readers, who I LOVE LOVE LOVE) as one of Babble’s “Moms Who Are Changing Your World” series. It’s an awesome series that celebrates moms who make a difference in our society through their activism and advocacy. I love their description of these moms: “Proving that being a mom doesn’t divorce you from your thoughtfulness, ambition or ability to get things done, these women are leaders in their fields, influencers whose thinking has spread into every corner of our lives.” I’m honored just to be nominated; I would be over the moon to be one of the 100 moms who make the final cut. Please vote for me! Voting ends September 20.

Also, as the new school year begins and many parents are anxious about starting new schools/grades with their gender-nonconforming kids, I wanted to share with you the letter that my husband Ian and I wrote to the parents in Sam’s kindergarten class at the beginning of that year (he’s now going onto fourth grade, so it’s been a few years). Many of you are working on similar sorts of letters right now, and you can feel free to use whatever aspects of our letter are helpful to you. And if you’ve written a letter that you would like me to share with my readers, please email it to me at

Dear Kindergarten parents:
We are Ian and Sarah Hoffman, the parents of Sam Hoffman. We are writing to introduce our family to those of you who don’t yet know us, to share some information about Sam with those who have questions, and to express our gratitude for the kindness and understanding that so many parents and children have shown Sam.
As you may know, Sam is a boy who likes to wear a dress, has long hair, and loves the color pink. Some parents and kids have assumed that he is a girl (which is quite understandable). Sam also likes traditional “boy” things, like knights, castles, and dinosaurs. Clinically, children like Sam are called gender nonconforming; we like to call him a pink boy—the male equivalent of a tomboy.
We have worked hard over the last few years to educate ourselves about gender-nonconforming children. We have learned a lot, though there is much we still don’t know—for example, we don’t know why some kids are gender nonconforming. No one knows whether or not a particular child will “grow out” of it. And it’s not possible to know whether in adulthood a particular child will be gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender (although we do think it’s too early to know these things for any child).
Here are some things we do know: gender expression is an important part of every person’s identity, and it’s inborn—not something we choose. Gender-nonconforming children are often teased and stigmatized for their differences, and research shows that their stress levels are higher than those of gender-normative kids.  Studies also show that support and acceptance from a gender-nonconforming child’s family, peers, and community make a huge difference in future health and mental health outcomes. For these reasons, we were very careful to choose a school community that would be accepting of Sam’s differences.
We realize that gender nonconformity isn’t something that most people come across every day, and that some kids have questions about Sam (Is he a boy or a girl? Why does he like pink? Aren’t dresses only for girls?). We also know that some parents have questions too. (Has he always been like that? What do I say to my child when she or he has questions about Sam? Will being friends with Sam make my son want to wear dresses?). We think these are all perfectly normal questions, and we want to do our best to answer them.
When kids have questions, simplicity is usually best. Some helpful answers are: “Everyone’s different.”  “Some kids like both feminine and masculine things (or girl things and boy things), and that’s OK.”  “Sam wears a dress (wears pink, has long hair, etc.) because that’s what feels best for him.”
As you can imagine, it is difficult for Sam to address questions directly from other kids. He doesn’t dress and act this way for attention, so the extra attention makes him uncomfortable. Therefore, we ask that you let your children know that it’s better for them to approach you, or us, or one of their teachers if they have questions.
If you have questions for us, or if you want to talk more about any of this, please feel free to call, email, or talk with us at school. We will do our best to address your concerns. Our teacher, Ms. Sunshine, is also very attentive to the situation and is happy to answer any questions you have, especially about how best to talk to your kids about gender difference. In addition, our school counselor will hold a discussion about gender nonconformity in December; details to follow. We invite you all to attend.
We are grateful for the kindness and acceptance so many of you have shown Sam these last two months. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Ian and Sarah Hoffman

Please remember to vote for me on Babble’s “Moms Who Are Changing Your World” series! And thank you!



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No need to apologize for taking a break from the blogosphere; we all do it once in a while. Good luck with the new school year and I hope the other parents and students respond well; many people are becoming more open minded.