At first, Jennifer Carr thought her son's taste for long wigs and princess dresses was little more than a passing phase.
But when Carr tried to steer the 4-year-old away from a pair of gaudy pink sandals while shopping for shoes, he burst into a tantrum so desperate she was taken aback.
Back in the car, Carr recalls, her son confided: "I have something to tell you. I feel like a girl inside. "
How she and her husband handled the announcement is the basis of Carr's new children's book, "Be Who You Are" (AuthorHouse, $20.99), the first in what she hopes is a series of children's books starring a gender nonconforming child.
Carr (who uses pseudonyms for herself and her children to protect her family's safety and privacy) chose to support her son's wishes, which were to live as a girl and be addressed with a female name and pronouns.
"I never said, 'No, you're a boy,'" said Carr, who lives in Chicago. "I would say, 'You were born into a boy's body, but that doesn't mean you have to feel a certain way.' Our message is just to be true to yourself, and that's enough."
As a result, her son now lives as her daughter, Hope — an energetic 6-year-old with shoulder-length hair and a penchant for pink.
Carr prefers the term "gender nonconforming" over "transgender" to avoid labeling Hope, whose feelings about gender could change going forward.
The road has been difficult. Some family and friends who oppose Carr's parenting decisions have cut off contact. Carr said she receives "quite a bit of hate mail" accusing her of ruining her child's life or just wanting a daughter, a claim she vehemently denies.
"You have this idea of what life will be like, and it's not," said Carr, 40, who chronicles her family's journey on the blog todayyouareyou.com. When Carr took Hope to a therapist who specializes in gender issues, Hope begged that she never be made to live as a boy, Carr said.
Hope's little brother, Will ("who is very clear that he is a boy," Carr said), was at first confused, but open communication has helped. When Will, now 4, asked at family therapy why Hope didn't want to be a boy anymore, Carr says Hope replied: "I was never a boy, I was always a girl inside. Now my inside and my outside match."
The family doesn't discuss Hope's gender transformation unless confronted with people they knew before her transition. When Hope goes to ballet or swimming class, she arrives dressed in uniform or changes in a bathroom stall. Hope's teachers know she was born a boy, but her friends and their parents just know her as a little girl.
"Why do I have to tell people what's in Hope's underpants?" Carr said.
The next big challenge is puberty, and deciding whether to put Hope on hormone blockers, which pause development to give her time to decide if she wants to grow up as a man or a woman. Hope currently is panicked that she might ever look like a man, Carr said, but that could change.
The decisions are wrenching, and Carr wants her book to show families just one of many ways of handling the situation. Carr believes she would do more harm if she forced her child to live as society prefers.
"That's not something I feel comfortable doing," Carr said, "shoving my child into a square peg when she's a circle."