One of the most common question topics I have gotten since coming out has involved children. Many people have asked about my own children; have I told them? how did I tell them? was I concerned about them? Other friends and family have asked how to tell their own children and when. Some have expressed concern about their children being confused or not understanding. In light of this I decided to write today about this sensitive topic.
Your decision about how or when to tell your children about a transgender loved one or the subject of trandgenderism itself is of course your own. The most common fear I have encountered among friends and loved ones is that their children will not understand. I can understand that sentiment, but I would argue that children are much more accepting than we adults are most of the time. The picture on the right pretty much sums up children.
Tolerance or a lack of it is taught. Your children may have questions but for the most part friends and family have been surprised to see just how easily their children have accepted me. Another less mentioned concern is that their children or my children will become transgendered or gay because they talk to them about me. Social norms about what is feminine and what is masculine are partly taught. We can't deny this. Consider that when my second son was born the color blue had been claimed by my first. So we chose the color green to differentiate. We included lots of green toys and clothes and as he grew up my son decided his favorite color was green. Now here is the tricky part. What if tomorrow my son told me he wanted his favorite color to be orange, or blue? This is the same for transgender people, we transcend the gender binary (idea that there are two distinct genders). Folks, Scientists don't know why gender variations occur. There are many popular theories with scientific evidence but the one thing we know with certainty is that it isn't taught. The phenomenon most likely happens during pregnancy or within the first year of life and is not environmentally influenced. Simply put, your children can't catch it.
Pre school: The first group of kids I will talk about is elementary school kids. These kids need the least explanation. Honestly they will probably take what you say at face value. When you tell them that person X would now like to be called by a different name their response will probably be "OK, can I have a cookie?"
Elementary school: What a fun age. My children are both in this age. By now kids have a firm understanding of boy vs girl and probably associate each by their primary and secondary sex characteristics. There are a number of techniques you can use to talk to your children. You may choose to use barbies and GI joes as props. I had my boys close their eyes and had them describe themselves. not surprisingly, neither mentioned their gender until I asked. Then i explained that when I close my eyes I think of myself as a girl. We talked a little bit about what that meant and that I felt like my body was wrong. I explained that some people like me choose do more girly things or even to make their bodies more "girly". With the compassion of a saint they both instantly told me that's what I should do. If you are uncomfortable talking to your children there are web resources and even books such as Lost and Found from publisher Rainbow Rumpus.
Tweens and Teens: Lord hep me when my children reach this age. I have had an opportunity to share my gender identity with a handful of teenagers and the most common response I have received is "cool!". Shows like Glee have done much of the work for me. It's 2015 folks, your kids already know a lot. Having said that, chances are they have some misconceptions and have learned terms that some may find offensive. When talking to kids this age I have found that the best thing you can do is ask them what they know. Take the time to listen and teach them the right language and using proper pronouns. Some kids may have learned intolerant behavior through the media and friends at school, You may have to explain to them that being transgender is not a choice and help them to find the same acceptance that you yourself had to find. a book for teenagers is called Still Me, Still You from Rainbow Riot.
If you are a transgender individual your teen may have some additional concerns. They may be afraid of getting made fun of if their friends find out. We love our children and we never want to do anything that may hurt them. It's important to work with your children to find solutions for their concerns. Additionally, children of all ages may benefit from counseling to help them work through their feelings about this topic. Your feelings are never wrong, they are your own, but we must all learn the right ways to deal with our feeling. Click here for a resource for children of transgender parents.
Please consider this. Prior to meeting or discovering that a friend or loved one was a transgender person you may have never considered talking to your children about this subject. Your children may know a classmate who is transgendered. They may have bullied a transgender person because nobody has talked to them about it. People don't like to think about this but your child may be questioning their own gender identity. Right now you are saying "no way, not my child". Friends, my parents can attest that there are not always signs. You want your child to feel safe coming to you about anything..
Transgender teen Leelah Alcorn recently took her life because she was not accepted by loved ones. In her suicide testimonial she wrote that she wanted her death to mean something. None of us want our children to feel like Leelah did. And none of us want our children to grow up feeling the type of intolerance that caused Leelah to feel so hopeless. By talking to your children and teaching them love and acceptance you can make Leelah's death mean something. You can ensure that they accept schoolmates, friends and loved ones.
Thank you for listening to me ramble. This was not designed to be an all inclusive guide, but simply a forum to get you thinking. How and when you talk to your children is up to you. What I know is that the primary role models for acceptance and love in a child's life are their parents. Our children's ability to love is endless, teach them to unleash that ability.
"Nothing is too girly and nothing is too masculine. But I do love color, and maybe that's a little girly - especially pink." Stacy London