Guest post originally shared on Sproutable supporting parents growing remarkable kids.
I am the mother of a tiny unicorn. She is funny, smart, goofy, and full of love. She is just like your child. I love her just like you love yours.
However, maybe unlike your child, my child is transgender.
This beautiful being has given me a gift. The gift to see the world through a new perspective. I’m now offering this to you, this gift that my daughter has selflessly and bravely offered to me.
Now, you might be thinking, oh, I’m supportive of gender identity. I’m supportive of transgender rights. Or maybe you are thinking, I don’t need this yet. My kids don’t need this yet. They are too young.
I want you to keep reading. This isn’t about being an ally but a call to change our entire human perspective on gender. Some First Nation/ Native American tribes already figured this out – even without science. Now we have science and I love science, so I will share that with you too.
First, let’s talk about common misconceptions:
Gender is the same as sexuality.
Nope. Some people have the misconception that gender has something to do with sexuality and that kids can’t know or understand until they are in puberty, but sexuality is completely separate from gender.
Gender is a choice.
Wrong again. There are neurobiological origins of gender identity. Our gender is literally wired in our brains. Using fMRI’s, we’ve been able to see that transgender people’s brains are almost identical to cisgender people with the same gender identity. In fact, it is a beautiful kaleidoscope of gender expression in each of our brains. We all have a mix of both ends of the spectrum (female/male).
Toddlers and preschoolers are too young to know about gender.
You guessed it. Wrong again. This is the time to teach about gender and what it means in humanity because they are already learning about it. Young children have already learned a great deal about gender and will continue to over their lifetime. At 2 and 3, they are forming the concepts of what gender means in society. By three or four, most humans have a strong sense of their own gender identity.
“Most children typically develop the ability to recognize and label stereotypical gender groups, such as girl, woman and feminine, and boy, man and masculine, between ages 18 and 24 months. Most also categorize their own gender by age 3 years.”
And here is why perpetuating stereotypes isn’t good for children…
“We communicate with children about gender from the moment they are born. They are receiving messages and stereotypes about how boys and girls are supposed to look and behave, not only from adults, but also from peers, books, media, and through product marketing and advertising. Research indicates that these messages place children in strict boxes which can prevent them from reaching their full potential. Studies show how the messages kids receive about gender influence them at very early ages. For example, one study published in Science in 2017 showed that ‘At age 5, children seemed not to differentiate between boys and girls in expectations of ‘really, really smart’ — childhood’s version of adult brilliance. But by age 6, girls were prepared to lump more boys into the ‘really, really smart’ category and to steer themselves away from games intended for the ‘really, really smart.’ If we don’t proactively teach different messages to children about gender, they will simply absorb the messages out there – and we all lose out.”
A new perspective
If I were to wave a magic wand and change the way we all talk about gender it would go something like this.
“Humans are diverse and beautiful just like our planet. We are so lucky to live in a world where there are not just one or two or even three ways of being, but so many we can’t even count them. Humans aren’t just boys or girls. Gender is a spectrum. It’s like a rainbow of possibilities. First, there’s how we identify: girl, boy, neither, both, or more! Then, there’s how we want to express ourselves through our clothes, hair, etc.”
We need to explicitly talk about gender in an inclusive way with our kids. We need to be direct. We need to name it. If we don’t, we are telling our children that transgender people don’t exist or that there is something wrong with them, that they are outside the norm. The truth is, they are perfectly normal. It is biological. We have just been omitting the fact that a spectrum of gender possibilities exist and instead, expressing that the gender binary (only girl or boy) is the only option.
“What we learn in the early years is the foundation for our adult prejudice. Stereotypes, omissions, and distortions all contribute to the development of prejudice.”
Often this prejudice comes from what we are NOT told. The distortion of reality. And the gender binary is a distortion.
So how do we grow kids who are NOT prejudiced when it comes to gender identity? By talking about it openly, without shame. Don’t be afraid to ask your kids how they feel or what pronouns they want to use. And yes, you can ask this around 3 and 4 years old. You can also model this perspective on gender by asking adults their pronouns, “What pronouns do you use?” or “What pronouns would you like me to use?”
“Many people with penises are boys, and some are girls.”
“Many people with vulvas are girls, and some are boys.”
“That person/kid could be a boy or a girl or neither or both. We don’t really know unless we ask. Gender lives in our brains and hearts and not our bodies. We can’t see it, so we have to ask the person.”
Name it and share stories
Here’s where books are so crucial. You may not have any transgender friends but you do have access to some amazing children’s books. Here are some of my favorites:
Red: A crayon’s story by Michael Hall
It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A book about gender identity by Theresa Thorn
One day we will live in a world that celebrates difference, that embraces the beautiful diverse humanity that we are. In the meantime, we cannot keep omitting the realities of our fellow humans. We have to stop distorting the truth.
“Children cannot be what they cannot see. It’s about all of us. We cannot be a better society until we see a better society. I cannot be in the world until I can see myself in the world.”
~Disclosure, a documentary
My child deserves to live her authentic truth. She needs role models and friends that are like her. She needs to see how she fits into the world. We all want to belong. We all want to be seen. You can help.
Speak the truth. Speak it loud and clear. Speak it without shame.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn.
Be humble. Be brave. Be love.
Mother of a transgender child
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