Explaining Transgenderism To Kids

talking to kidsThis subject by its very nature is a difficult one, and opinions vary, so this is not an authoritative source. Explaining to a child who had a normal father-mother relationship and now has a second part-time Mom or possibly two Moms is at best somewhat disconcerting and whether the children are pre-kindergaten or teenagers, they deserve the best we can do to help them understand this phenomena we call transgender.

Sara Bibel said “it happened to me. My father transitioned when I was a kid (4 years old) and it was nothing like “Transparent” I wish I could have watched a TV show about a family like mine. Here is Sara’s story.

The following article from Yahoo Shine also treats the subject in a reasonable and practicable manner.

It was almost two years ago that my daughter, then three years old, met the wonderful person who is now her “other” mom. I’d brought her along for my first date with a cute, young man, explaining to him that I was a package deal and that he’d need to get to know my daughter if he wanted to know me. Before we parted ways, he whispered to me, “I want to kiss you good-bye, but I don’t want to confuse your daughter.” I pulled him aside and we shared our first, secret kiss. I quietly remarked, “You kiss like a woman,” and would have immediately regretted the comment it if it weren’t for the fact that he smiled, as if flattered, when I said it. A few weeks later, my budding love-interest filled me in on a big secret: “he” didn’t identify as a “he” at all, and, as a transgender woman, was beginning the process of transitioning to look more like the woman she saw herself as.

The first thing I thought was, “I have no idea how I’m going to explain this to my daughter.” After all, it had only been a few days since I’d explained to her the basic biological differences between boys and girls. How could I let my three year old know that Mommy’s boyfriend was actually Mommy’s girlfriend, and that she’d be changing her appearance to reflect that? It gave me enough pause that I considered ending our brand-new relationship right then and there. But love will make you do crazy things, and those crazy things often turn out wonderful… and I’m pleased to say that my soon-to-be-wife, who my daughter accepts as “kind of like a daddy and a mommy at the same time” is acknowledged and loved within my little family for the wonderful woman she is.

How did we get to this point? Talking to kids about transgenderism isn’t easy, but I feel like my family did it right. Here are five simple tips that, should you need to broach this topic with your own child, can help you navigate the potentially confusing topic of transgenderism.

1. Don’t make it a big deal.

If your child has a friend or relative who is transgender, your instinct might be to sit her down for one of those serious talks and have a deep, detailed discussion. This isn’t necessary and really might do more harm than good. Kids take things in stride when you introduce new or possibly confusing topics nonchalantly, instead of making a huge ordeal out of them. Keep the conversation casual and friendly, not formal and intimidating.

2. Explain that some people’s bodies and brains don’t match up.

You don’t have to go into the actual detailed definitions of gender and sex, but it’s important to clarify that how a person looks (or how a person was born) may not match how that person feels or presents. Before you bring up the person you’re talking about, you might tell your kiddo, “Remember how I told you that boys have penises and girls have vaginas? That’s true almost all of the time, but there are some people who feel like girls when they were born with boy-bodies, or feel like girls when they were born with boy-bodies.” Listen to any feedback your child has and answer any questions that may arise,
factually and respectfully.

3. Teach respect for gender identity.

This is easier than most parents expect. After all, if your kid has known Uncle Jake for 10 years, what is he going to do when he’s suddenly asked to call his “uncle” Aunt Jackie? It’s really not as hard as you or your child might think. Just explain, “Even though Aunt Jackie is still the exact same person, she feels sad about the fact that she looks like a man right now, and she feels sad when people call her Jake. I need you to be respectful of Aunt Jackie by calling her by the name she wants and talking about her as if she is a girl, because she doesn’t feel like a man and it’s not fair to call her one.” Of course, model this by consistently using correct names and pronouns around your child. Remind your kiddo that it’s okay to slip up every now and then (accidental use of “old” name or pronoun is, unfortunately, something that trans people encounter often), but make sure your child is making an effort to be respectful. Your kid will adjust more easily than you might think.

4. Explain transitioning in kid-friendly terms.

No, your child doesn’t need to know about everything that transitioning (or a “sex-change”) entails, but, if your child knows someone who is transgender, she deserves to have some idea of what’s going to happen to her loved one. One simple way to explain it might be, “Since Aunt Jackie looks like a man right now and that makes her sad, she has to take medicine that will make her look more like a lady. She might not look like a man at all anymore pretty soon, but she’ll still be the same person inside.” Your kids (especially tweens and teens) might have questions about surgical treatments, but it’s best to avoid discussing these with kids. The details of surgery, and whether or not a trans person will have it, is unnecessary and violates that person’s privacy unless that person is freely sharing the information. You might simply say that you don’t know if Aunt Jackie is having surgery because her private parts aren’t anyone else’s business, but you can add that it would be nice to send her cards or flowers if she has to be in the hospital at some point.

5. Offer reassurance and real answers.

Learning about transgenderism can be confusing and intimidating even for adults, but kids may be especially befuddled by the concept. Kids have naturally open minds and most have no problem accepting it, but others might have a lot of questions (How does a person know if she’s transgender? If there are transgender women, are there also transgender men? How do those medicines work?) or be confused and worried (Are these treatments dangerous? Does this mean I might grow up to be the opposite sex, even though I don’t want to? Are people going to make fun of me for having a transgender friend or relative?) To all of these concerns, it’s best to have simple, easy, and reassuring answers ready. Nothing about this conversation, or the experience of knowing a transgender person, has to be stressful. Keep an open mind and a compassionate voice and you’ll find that this seemingly difficult conversation is far easier than you might expect.

Five More Tips for Explaining a Transgender Family to your Kids

Kendra Gayle Lee  the wife of a trans guy and brings her own unique perspective to the issue

When my partner Simon came out as transgender, the first thing both of us concerned ourselves with was how this would impact our daughter. We fretted. We made plans to move to a larger, more liberal city. We played out various coming out scenarios (most of them looked like the emotional equivalent of a zombie apocalypse). Eventually, we reached a point where we needed to just move forward, for better or worse. So we just took the plunge, telling the people closest to us first, and moving outward in concentric circles until we finally were ready to tell everyone — via Facebook, of course.

Instead of emerging as emotional zombies, as we’d feared, we were inundated with support for our family. We are so grateful for the transgender people who came before us fighting for increased visibility and acceptance. They’ve made our journey so much easier.

Even telling our daughter about her Baba’s transition only involved one meltdown — and that was simply a communication issue (at first, she thought transitioning meant her Baba would be going away). Unbeknownst to us at the time, we lucked out on the timing of Simon’s transition, since preschool-aged children tend to have fewer issues with a parent’s transition. They may adjust easier because their notions about gender are just being hammered out. Or it could be because so many things in their world seem topsy-turvy that a gender transition doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary.

Either way, Jane adjusted to Simon’s transition spectacularly — well, barring that one time at Starbucks when Simon gave his name at the counter, and Jane fell on the floor laughing, yelling, “Simon! Ha! He said his name is Simon!” Typical preschool hijinks. Nothing to see here, folks.

Now that our cataclysmic fears regarding the destruction of our entire social network have been laid to rest, I get to resume the normal parenthood worries. The latest: I worry that people will exclude our daughter not because they hate our family, but because they don’t know what to say to their kid about our family. Parents have an inherent fear of being mortified by their children (this parent included).

So how should you discuss a transgender family with your kid?

Don’t Project

Kids are way more open than adults. New experiences and situations are the norm for them.
Explain gender to your child simply:
· Biological sex has to do with private parts.
· Gender identity is how someone feels inside (like a boy or a girl—or both or none-of-the-above).
· Gender expression is how people show the world their gender (the frilly dress, the swagger, the long princess hair, the bowtie).

Sometimes all three of these factors match up. Sometimes they don’t. When biological sex and gender identity don’t match up, a person sometimes identifies as transgender. (While it may be more difficult to explain, depending on their age, it’s important to note that some folks fall somewhere on the gender spectrum. They may identify as non-binary, gender diverse, agender, or gender expansive, to name just a few other identities. These people may present their gender in a non-traditional way although they may not technically be transgender, and they fall under the encompassing trans* umbrella.)

Emphasize that environmental factors can’t make a person transgender. It is just simply a unique part of who they are.

You can also help by keeping an open mind about gender norms in your own parenting. As a society, we’ve assigned gender to everything — including toys — so, it is natural for a kid to be gender-transgressive once in a while. Which is why, if your son plays with that Barbie, you might want to dispense with all the fretting and let it go (Elsa style, of course). Tutus for everyone!

Be Mindful Of The Preferred Name & Pronouns

What’s in a name? For a transgender person, a helluva lot. If your child knew the transgender child or adult before they began to transition, it may be a difficult switch to using the new name and pronouns. Practice with your child before they spend time with the person. Using the correct name and pronouns shows acceptance, support, and respect. Remind your child that, if they mistakenly use the wrong name or pronoun, they should simply apologize, just like if they spilled milk on the carpet.
No one expects your kid to be perfect. Sometimes even my partner still slips up and says his birth name instead of Simon. He gets some pretty confused looks but everyone emerges unscathed.

Focus on Safety

Unfortunately, people feel really strongly about upholding the gender binary. This puts transgender people (particularly transgender women of color) at much higher risk for violence. For this and other social and personal reasons, some transgender people choose to go “stealth.”

“Stealth” is when a person transitions and lives a life in which they do not publicly acknowledge that they are transgender. Whether or not the person is public about their gender identity, it is never OK for you or your child to out someone as transgender. Only the transgender person and/or their family can choose who to tell and when. Be sure to teach them that.

Remember That It’s OK From Them To Have Lots Of Questions

My daughter asks approximately 400 questions before breakfast. For some kids, encountering someone who is trans* unleashes a litany of questions. Encourage your child to bring honest questions to you and then do your best to find answers — this is where the Internet gets really handy. Some transgender folks (or their parents) are even happy to field respectful and relevant questions.

But if it that question is about genitalia (or as my daughter calls it “your privacy”), it is neither respectful nor relevant to ask a trans* person.

Emphasize That Love Makes a Family

Gender conformity shouldn’t be a requisite for love. Kids don’t stop loving their transgender parent. And many parents love — and strive mightily to protect — their transgender and gender non-conforming kids. For trans* kids who aren’t fully supported at home or at school, your child can be a caring and supportive force in a world that constantly tries to invalidate gender non-conforming identities.

The more your child hears and understands that love makes a family, the more they will embrace their classmates’ and friends’ identities and family structures, however diverse they may be.

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