First, a story. It’s back-to-school night and me, my partner (who is also a woman) and our two sons are introducing ourselves to other kids and families. One of the children says, “You can’t have two moms.” We say, “yes- all families look different. Kids can have two moms, two dads, or one parent, and some kids live with their grandparents.” I wish this was an isolated incident, but just in the times that I have picked my son up from school, something like this has happened probably 6 or 7 times and my son is only in 2nd grade. One boy told him, “it was gross to have to moms.” We actually talked to one parent casually at a birthday party about talking to his son about families like ours and he said his 8-year old son was, “too young to understand these things.” Too young to understand what? That children sometimes have two moms or two dads? That families look different? That gay people exist? That gay people can and do legally marry each other? My children have understood that from a very young age. They have also understood that gender is on a continuum. That sometimes, people are born with penises, but they’re hearts and minds say they are a girl so they are a girl and that some people feel like they are part boy AND part girl or somewhere in between or neither. And you know what they say to this? “cool- can you play Candyland with me?”
Children have much less biases and judgments about gender and sexuality, but they do need grown-ups to guide them to empathy and respecting difference. As with any conversation, whether it be about sex itself, racism, talking about people with physical disabilities or children with autism, children need to know that different kinds of people exist in the world. If you are uncomfortable talking about it, do some research. Learn from communities that are different than yourself and examine your own biases first.
The LGBTQ clients that come to me for trauma recovery almost always have a horror story of bullying or gender bias- and most of these incidents start not in high school, not in middle school, but in elementary school. Whether or not you are personally comfortable with trans people or with gay people, my children have the right to go to school and be safe, gay children have the right to go to school and be safe and trans children have the right to go to school and be safe and it is about teaching our children to be respectful and kind to fellow humans. I have heard countless stories of parents, teachers and students saying horrific things to children who do not fit the gender “norm.”
This brings me to another point, it is not only about protecting kids who identify as gay or trans, it is also about people who are perceived as gay or trans. A young boy might like pink and ballet dancing and knitting AND still be heterosexual and cisgendered identified. If we do not talk to our young children about these types of difference, they will have to navigate these topics on their own, guided only by their peers. What if your child is responsible for name-calling or bullying another child? Regardless of your opinions on the topic, if your child is responsible for hurting or bullying another human, there can (and should be) consequences for that.
Here are some simple sentences I have said to my children (and yes- I started having these conversations with them when they were 2 years old and maybe even younger)
“Sometimes bodyies don’t always match how people feel inside. Sometimes people are born with female body parts, but their hearts and minds feel like they are boys (and vise versa).”
“Sometimes people feel like they are part boy and part girl and some people don’t feel like either one.”
“Boys can love and marry boys and girls can love and marry girls. And sometimes people can love both boys and girls and fall in love with the heart and not the body parts.”
“If you ever have any questions about what it means to be gay or transgender, I will do my best to answer them. And if I don’t know the answer, I will help you find a good and safe person for you to talk to.”
“I will love and support you no matter who you love and I will love and support any of your friends.”
Feel free to leave your own stories and conversations bellow. Be well my badass people.