Monthly Archives: October 2014

Children and Transgender People Part 2:

I received some great responses from part 1(you can read that here) and some really fantastic questions to answer in this section. As always you can ask questions here in the comments, on facebook or tweet me @aud_gabriel.

First I’m going to start of with the questions I received from a friend via tumblr. V.L writes;

“One thing that has been hard for me and maybe you can address more eloquently? is that I’m getting the more difficult questions from my almost tween.  She wants to know why trans folk are discriminated against.  Like she doesn’t quite grasp how evil the world can be.  How do you talk to a kid about that?  It’s so hard for me to explain why people are being shitty to one another because it doesn’t even make sense to  me.”

These kinds of situations are where a “no labels”/”we are all human” only rhetoric and understanding falls apart and inhibits your child’s ability to be a successful ally to trans people. Because even if you teach your kids “labels are for soup cans!” not everyone else does, and kids will bully and take notice of how others treat transgender people. A no labels approach is noble, but it isn’t an effective ally strategy. Humans do notice difference, and some people act very hostile and even violent towards that difference.

You can explain that the world is a very complex place, and that people often react with fear, anger and even violence to these complexities. In the case of trans people our existence challenges some very,very deeply held beliefs. The idea that there are, and only should be two mutually exclusive genders that your gender is immutable after birth and no changing can happen, is literally one of the foundations of western society.Transgender people shake that belief. It causes a very fundamental fear  in people. “if they are transgender, if their gender changes..what about me? Could that happen to me?” For many cisgender people this is a terrifying prospect. Gender is something that we base a lot of ourselves around. Transgender and especially genderqueer/non binary /gender non conforming people shake that base. When that is shaken some people would rather react with oppression, violence, bullying instead of taking a look inside themselves and examine their gender and answer tough questions.

“Another topic I’ve come across is the inevitable interest in parts and the different genitals people have and what that all means.  Believe me kids that age, if they are brought up to not be ashamed of their bodies like mine were, do not hesitate to ask for the details.  So maybe just a way to explain how genitals =/= gender in kid terms even though they’ve been immersed in a society that tells them the two are one and the same.”

It is great that kids are open and comfortable with their bodies. While telling kids that questions about genitals are rude and should only be asked by doctors is a good route it doesn’t always stand up to persistent kid curiosity.

Genitals are body parts. Just like our hands our. We all interact and use our hands in different ways. Some people havebig, strong hands and use them for working, other people have small delicate hands and might play piano. Some have fat chubby baby sausuage fingers and use them to type up blog posts. Each person has hands, but interact with them and have very different relationships with their hands. You can’t tell a person’s gender from just their naked, unadorned hands. Lots of women have big,tough hands, men might have tiny, delicate fingers and keep their nails in perfect condition. Some have short stubby hands that look like a childs even though they are 28. So if we went around and looked at everyones hands and assigned them labels, and lives based on what we thought their hands meant, for example making a woman with big hands do construction work, even though she loves to paint, and someone with small hands play picolo even though they hate music, would be wrong and make everyone miserable.

Genitals are just another body part that each human relates to in a different way. Like hands we all have them, they all look different, but they don’t define us and our relationship to the world or gender.

For parents with younger kids you can get around this question by emphasizing  that genitals are VALUE NEUTRAL.

Instead of “boys have penis’s and girls have vagina’s’ teach them that “some people have penis’s, others vagina’s and other people a mix of the two and that is normal”

“Another thing as kids get older is they tend to want to hear the history of trans activism and why it’s important.  And the reason they want to know more details is that they don’t hear about that sort of thing in school or anywhere ever.  So a kid’s history of trans activism would be super helpful.  It puts everything in context for them.”

This is an incredible question. I’m actually going to branch it off into its own desperate post about trans activist history for kids.

What I will say for now is that this is another time where “no labels/people are people” rhetoric is incredibly harmful to children, cis and trans. The reason kids don’t learn about trans people in history in school right now is tied in with the previous question, and sociatal cissexism and transphobia. Refusing to talk about people who are/were trans because “it isn’t important” erases them from history and a larger cultural context. For trans kids this means they suffer in silence, not knowing that their are others like them who have come before, that they have peers now. They loose out on the ability to find their culture, and yes transgender people do have a culture and a history. This is erasure and cissexism hiding under a blanket of psuedo progressive rhetoric. With out knowledge of trans history trans kids don’t know their rights, what they can do in the face of transphobia that has helped others. Cisgender kids have cissexism reinforced, after all if trans people had a history and really mattered, why don’t adults talk about them? By refusing to address trans issues with your kids, no matter their gender and no matter the reason you reinforce societal cissexist notions. Then when your child does encounter a trans person they may respond in a negative way, because they are having their implicit assumptions about the world shaken and have no previous positive frame of reference.

“Along with that comes the discussion of what to do if they see someone being bullied for being trans.”

This is where discussing trans issue with kids in order to make them successful allies becomes very important. If they know transgender people exist, that we are often hurt and bullied then dealing with this when they see it is much easier. A strong foundation of allyship needs to be laid. If the child is old enough you can explain that as a cisgender person they are incredibly lucky that they don’t have to deal with that (in social justice terms this is “privilege”) and they can use that luck to help. Because of transphobia and often unconscious cissexism trans/gender varient children are often victim blamed by others. “If they just dressed “normal” or “didn’t make a big deal out of it”(often this “big deal” is what would be considered a normal desire for acknowledgement and respect) they would not be bullied. Even otherwise perfectly kind teachers, administrators and parents might believe these things and not intervene or take the trans child seriously. Here is where your child can be an ally. They cann stand up for the trans child/person and confirm the happenings. They can get other children in on it as well. When 5 cisgender kids all back up Sally about being bullied by Bob, Sally is much more likely to be believed then if she mentioned it on her own.

If the bullying is violent they need to immediately either find an adult or if they are out of school or feel that they are unsafe as well dial 911/999 for help from police or to get the harmed person medical attention.

If the violence is more subtle or verbal teaching them to stand up for trans people by saying “stop that!” or “don’t use those words!” to bullies is one way. And trans people and kids will be so incredibly thankful for it.

Wow this was very long!

I still have a few more questions from other people to answer so it looks like this will be a 3-parter!


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Filed under LGBT Writing, Trans, Trans*

Your Kids and Your Trans friends Part 1

This is the start of a series on what cis parents can do to help raise good trans ally children, or at the very least not screw it all up when their trans friends and relatives come around. A lot of these are reader/friend submitted. If you have a question or concept you want to have addressed you can post it in the comments here or on my facebook page (if you have it).

Round one of submitted questions come from my friend A.C:

“… I don’t know is what to say if she sees a trans person and tells me that that boy is dressed as a girl, or girl dressed as a boy”

Kids say all kinds of things. At this point in their lives (under 10) most kids say stuff like that and don’t mean to make a transphobic statement. It still is a transphobic and cissexist statement though. Now before you get upset at me, yourself, your kid remember something; Cissexism (the belief that being cis is the normal, default and good state or the only state) is heavily ingrained into our culture. The world is divided into cissexist catagories and rewards people for staying within those catagories and not challenging them. It is everywhere and no matter how hard you try, you and your child both have internalized this to some degree. You have to work on this much more as an adult, but luckily your kid doesn’t have as much to work through to undo the damage.

You can first say ” Clothes are for people, not any one gender. That person is wearing clothes that are their’s and that make them happy. Clothes are made of cloth and don’t have a gender of boy, girl or another.” you can elaborate and go deeper into things if the situation and child’s age are appropriate (this won’t work on 2 year olds for example).

Explain that there are many, many more genders other then “boy” or “girl” and that some people are both, or neither and that you can’t tell what gender a person is just by looking at them or what they are wearing. Explain that gender is how a person feels inside and that feeling is what really matters.

A.C goes on to write: ” especially since I have male friends who identify as male who do drag shows. How can I help see the difference between transgender and drag, as well as people in general who identify as their sex, but dress the opposite, such as a woman who identifies as a woman, but who wears masculine clothing and hair?”

First let’s tackle drag. Drag is a performance. A person who does drag is performing a character they made up. That character is not them 24/7. You can explain to your child that drag shows are like a play or movie. The people in them are acting and performing characters. Just the same as how Michael Crawford is the Phantom of the Opera only when he is on stage but not when he is at home with his family, drag performers are their drag persona on stage and at events, but are everyday people who also have everyday lives.

It is important to point out that while drag performers can “change out” of their gender, transgender and transsexual people can not. They are always, and have always been their identified gender. Also some members of the trans community find drag hurtful and degrading. If you have a trans friend it is best to ask them (away from the kids) how they feel about this, and follow their lead on the subject.

Now onto the next part of A.C’s question;

as well as people in general who identify as their sex, but dress the opposite, such as a woman who identifies as a woman, but who wears masculine clothing and hair?”

First  banish the term “opposite” in regards to gender from your lexicon. Once you do that, things will be much much easier. Since there are inumberable genders there really can’t be opposites. Also viewing gender (any gender) in terms of “opposite” sets the ground work for “us vs them” or “this vs that” thinking that is one of the groundings of cissexism in our society. Men are not “the opposite” of Women or non-binary people, they are “different” Try saying “different” where you would normally say “opposite”. Now that you have done that you as the adult can start clearly seeing how, in light of that, how easy things are.

Part of this is very similar to the first question about how clothes are for people. Most kids might not give a second thought to someone using she/her pronouns and identifying as a woman who dresses in what would be considered a “masculine way” but if they do notice there are things you can do.

Tell the child that like a huge box of crayon’s (the 90+ opening binder kind) with many shades of colors, there are just as many ways to dress and act to feel comfortable in your gender. (Shout out to Bryan for this analogy!) Some people feel comfortable some ways, and others in a different way.

Reinforce that there is no one right way or wrong way to express yourself through clothing, play, make up or what you like being called.

If your child says “those are boy’s clothes that Sue is wearing/ Sue is dressed as a boy” correct them gently and say something like “No, those clothes are Sue’s clothes and Sue is a girl so they are her clothes/girls clothes/ Sue is dressed in a way that makes her feel happy, she is dressed like Sue!” (swap names and pronouns around as needed)

Most children accept this easily and might even go on to correct other kids or adults!

Now for some non-reader submitted things.


Always, ALWAYS use the correct pronouns for your trans friends and family. Yes, even when they are not around. Even when your child is not around. Even if you think their pronouns are “weird”. Because it is the right thing to do, and because your child will inevitably rat you out in a terribly embarassing situation along the lines of “but mommy and daddy don’t call you him/her/the/sie/etc why do I have to” then you will most likely be out a friend or family member and thanksgiving just became even more unbearable.

If you slip up and use the wrong pronouns simply correct yourself. ” So when he said..oops I mean when ey said” you don’t need to make a big deal out of it, simply treat it as you would any other time you misspeak while talking. Doing this keeps conversation flowing, is good practice and doesn’t make the trans person uncomfortable. A 3 minute apology everytime you mess up a pronoun is both unnecessary and uncomfortable. We know you didn’t mean it. You corrected yourself and that is what matters. In terms of being with children it normalizes things. If you feel extremly bad you can apologize off to the side in private later.

You can introduce pronouns to your child by saying things like “my name is Andy and I use he/him” or ” My name is Sherri and I use they/them” you could invent a game where each toy has a different pronoun set and you and your child take turns practicing introducing yourselves and the toys to each other.

Another fun game might be something like “pronoun warrior/superhero” where you or the trans person tell the kid their pronouns and it is the “pronoun hero’s” job to make sure everyone use the right ones. They are allowed to step in and say something like “BAM! Use -insert pronoun- instead!” kids love super hero’s and correcting adults. Also I could see this getting a bit annoying after a bit so it will definetly act as reinforcement for adults to use the right pronouns. At the end of the visit you or your friend/family member can reward the child in some way for being a good pronoun hero.

Only do this game if the trans person is comfortable with it and they feel safe.Kid’s are likely to also correct waitstaff,clercs and other people which might put the trans person in danger.

That is it for part 1!

Ask questions you want addressed in the comments below


Filed under LGBT Writing, Trans*