Suburban Butch Dad Report: talking trans to our kids

I saw a link to this article on Twitter yesterday (thanks, LivingSexuality) and my immediate reaction was, Duh! Of course!

Should We Introduce Children to the Concept of Transgender People?

This is a pretty short post on The Huffington Post by transgender writer Joanne Herman.  This is the line that made me snort out loud “Critics will cry that introducing all children to the concept of transgender people will cause children to “become transgender.”   Wow.. you know, that’s about as stupid as the idea that queer parents will raise queer children, despite the fact that most queers are raised by heterosexual parents.  And not many kids become clowns, animated sponges or purple dinosaurs despite early introduction to those concepts.

Or, as the article puts it “… children who develop a transgender identity seem to do so in spite of often unwitting but nevertheless pervasive efforts by schools to enforce gender conformity.”

Yes, I do think we should be talking to our kids about the reality of transgender people, the same way they need to know about queer people, blind people and people of different cultures and religious beliefs.  This is the reality they live in.  Better to talk to them, present them with factual information than have them learn about them from their peers.  Considering that kids still use ‘gay’ and ‘lame’ and ‘retard’ as insults, do you really want them to learn about diverse peoples through the language of insults, jokes and lurid stories?

My opinion comes from my own experience.  The first time I talked to my 11 year old daughter about transgender people, she was about 7 or 8.  We were at the local Pride Day rally, checking out the booths run by local organizations.  One booth was staffed by New Boyz, (an organization for transgender and genderqueer people identifying as transmasculine) and as we walked past, I gave ElderSpawn a brief introduction to transgenderism.

“Some people realize that they weren’t born in the bodies that match their true gender, for example, those guys were born with girl bodies.  The same thing can happen to people born as boys, who are actually girls.”  I would have said more, but her attention span had been crossed and she was veering over to a rainbow laden booth offering stickers and buttons.

Since then, as I’ve become more aware of my own transgenderqueer identity, I’ve been able to talk to her about gender identity as opposed to physical sex.  I told her about growing up, feeling like I should have been born a boy and how through-out my life, I’d sometimes felt more like a guy than a girl.  I’ve talked to her about how use the word ‘genderqueer’ to describe my feelings of not being completely a woman or a man.

Related topics come up in conversation, very naturally, a few times a month.  Today she was listening to The Cliks, one of her favorite bands, fronted by one of her favorite singers, Lucas Silviera.  My wife asked who she was listening to, not recognizing the song from their first album, Snakehouse.  ElderSpawn answered her, adding that the guy singing used to be a girl, but was now a guy and that she really liked his voice because she could sing along with him.  My wife raised an eyebrow — not because she didn’t know Silviera was trans, but that ES knew.  I explained that we’d talked about all of this a few weeks ago.  I confess that I look for reasons to talk to her about gender identity.   Not just so she’ll understand the world of diversity around her better, but so she’ll understand me better.

The HuffPost article concludes that school systems should definitely educate their students on issues around transgender people, and not just for the general population.  Transgender folks often know about their true gender identity at a young age (much as some of us discover our sexual identity early).  If they go through their school years without hearing anything positive or reaffirming about who they are, they are at greater risk of dropping out or harming themselves.  Same as any kid who thinks they’re so different that no one else could be like them.  And it’s hard to imagine a happy future where you are the odd person out all the time.  You should read the article for their findings and opinions, but here’s the punchline, in case you don’t:

If a school system tried to coerce any other group of individuals to become people they are not, to regard an inner core of their identities as illegitimate, and prevent them from expressing their identities freely, particularly from a very young age, it would be characterized as barbaric. … The [resulting] internalization of self-hatred, guilt, self-doubt and low self-esteem in childhood affects transgender people throughout their lives. Any education system, or indeed society, which allows this state of affairs to continue is neither fully inclusive nor fully humane.

Well, hallelujah, am I right?  I like how this paragraph is agnostic as to the nature of deviance it is addressing, because these words apply to everyone.  Be proactive, talk to your kids about trans people, and queers, and people of different religious and political beliefs, and vegetarians and cat lovers and people who insist on driving Hummers…

Remember, the kid who’s self-esteem you’re saving… could be your own.

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