What a Kindergartener Can Teach You About Gender Identity

About six months ago my 6-year-old, Joshua, asked, "Mom, what is 'transgender'?" I explained as best as I could, but I also said that it's a very complicated topic that sometimes even grownups struggle with. Joshua thought about it for a moment and then issued his surprising response.
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close up of colorful plastic...
close up of colorful plastic...

The Fox News/CNN dust-ups over California's recently signed nondiscrimination law for transgender students have been on the edge of my radar all week. That being said, my rainbow issues outside work have been mostly limited to finding the seven different colors of folders that are on my two sons' back-to-school supply lists. The other night, though, I finally had a chance to watch the two different segments that have generated so much buzz. I reacted to them as a parent.

The CNN segment:

The Fox News segment:

During the CNN segment on the new law, the Transgender Law Center's Masen Davis was interviewed along with another panelist. This derisive man signed off after speaking to Davis (a transgender man) and the female host by saying, "Hey, good to talk to you ladies," plural. Really?! I immediately thought of my pre-tween son, because I spend a lot of my parenting efforts these days admonishing him for making even less obnoxious remarks. In that respect he is a typical 9-year-old boy, but I do not think any adult should feel particularly proud of engaging in the sort of behavior that's typical of a 9-year-old.

The Fox News segment included a lot of speculation about what a kindergartener would do. Ironically, while the Fox commentators ended the segment by throwing their hands in the air and conceding that they just can't wrap their heads around what being transgender is, my other son had it covered.

About six months ago my 6-year-old, Joshua, walked into our room while my husband Bob and I were watching a show in which the word "transgender" came up. He asked, "Mom, what is 'transgender'?" For a moment I hesitated over how to respond. In my work persona, I still worry that I might use the wrong pronouns or just generally not get it right on trans issues and unintentionally hurt some great people. Should I quote the American Academy of Pediatrics research? Should I cite resources from PFLAG and Gender Spectrum?

I took a deep breath, and my mommy persona took over; I always try to answer questions from my sons as honestly and age-appropriately as I can. I simply explained as best as I could what being transgender is, but I also said that it's a very complicated topic that sometimes even grownups struggle with. Joshua thought about it for a moment and then issued his surprising response: "No, it isn't, Mom. It is just like my Lego Ninjagos when I put the male heads on the female bodies. No biggie. Can I have a cookie?" The whole exchange took three minutes.

He left to get his cookie, and I sat there in amused reflection. We all quickly learn that our kids model our responses; if you make an issue out of something, then they will too. In this case, I can't help but think that adults should start learning from kids. For Joshua it was not a big deal. He figured out gender identity in his kindergartener brain using Legos.

I get it. For most of us grownups, gender identity is new territory -- but so are many things these days. It is our responsibility as parents to process all the new that is out there and figure out how to apply our family values to the conversation. For us it was just another way to reinforce the value that we in our home place on respecting the fact that everyone is different.

My job responsibilities provide me with the space and resources to learn about people who are transgender; I'm aware that that is a pretty unique case. Not everybody has that as part of their job descriptions, but that isn't an excuse not to learn about transgender issues and then to go the route of childish behavior and uninformed commentary.

Don't understand transgender issues? It's possible that this conversation will never take place in your house or in your school district. Who knows, though? How about learning about transgender issues anyway? When you do, you will discover a major value that transgender people and their families uphold that I bet you have as a parent too: At the end of the day, every parent wants to raise a good kid who is comfortable in their own skin and becomes who they are meant to be. It's no different for parents of kids who are transgender, those kids and the adults they become.

All you need to do is step back and think of it from a kindergartener's perspective.

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