I never thought I would be thankful to “Keeping up the Kardashians” for anything. But Caitlyn Jenner messed with my kids’ limited perception of ‘boys in blue and girls in pink’ and was just what was needed for me to be able to start an honest conversation with my kids about gender identity.
Caitlyn was the first trans person that they knew about. I pride myself on raising open-minded, tolerant kids, so I was furious and disappointed when the initial reaction of my 12-year-old son was “No matter what, Caitlyn will never be a girl, it’s a he’. That ‘it’ pissed me off so much. But the more I tried to make my points on gender identity, the more I realized that I had no articulate language, no tools, to navigate these conversational waters well.
I’m still learning how to better communicate with my kids on gender issues. But here’s what I’ve figured out so far.
Every human being gets to write their own gender story.
It’s that simple. If a person decides they identify more as a girl, who the hell am I to tell them they’re wrong?
It’s not about what I think someone should be, what they look like, or what makes me feel more comfortable. More important is creating space for every human to define themselves in all ways, including gender.
So when my kid says, “But that person totally doesn’t even look like a girl,” the answer is as easy as: “Doesn’t matter, sweetie, that’s what this girl looks like”.
Navigating pronouns doesn’t have to be so complicated.
The English language makes it tricky to leave gender out of the equation. What I’ve figured out isn’t exactly rocket science. If ever unclear as to which pronoun to use, just ask the person which they prefer.
I want my kids to know that there is no shame in starting conversations about gender issues. Most people I know with alternative gender identities are more than happy to know that a child (or an adult for that matter), is trying their best to maneuver the topic with respect and consideration.
If asking isn’t possible for some reason, we go for “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
Gender really almost never matters.
I try to let my kids know that unless they are planning on having that non-gender conforming person be a biological parent to their baby, huge weight doesn’t have to be put on gender. Focus more on trying to figure out if the person is kind. What interests the person has. What they might have in common. How that person may need help (or how that person could help them).
Honestly, we almost never need to know if someone is a boy or a girl any more than we need to be sure of their race, religion, or economic status.
It’s not necessary to understand another person’s heart to honor and respect them.
So you don’t get why that person decided they felt more like a girl. You know what, kiddo? You don’t need to.
What does need to be understood is that they deserve respect and kindness and understanding. Many non-gender conforming people I know have gone through hell and back in some ways as they tried to come to terms with their gender, and often don’t have support from their own family members. Many countries still barbarically require sterilization of transgender people. Some aren’t even allowed on flights in Canada, which is usually known to be a pretty progressive place. These people sure don’t need negativity from people who don’t, and often can’t, understand even a small percentage of what they are going through.
So instead of looking away, offer eye contact. Instead of an intense stare, offer a smile. Instead of forced special treatment, offer equality. Instead of quick judgement, offer open-minded conversation filled with honest questions.