How to Tell Your Kids What Transgender Means

How to Tell Your Kids What Transgender Means

One of my kids’ best friends is trans. He’s not the only trans person in their life. Their nanny is trans, and they have more trans friends than just their best friend. My kids, I’d like to remind you, are 6, 6, and 3.

They didn’t know their friends, or their nanny, were trans. All they knew was their best friend is a boy, their nanny is a boy, another friend is a girl… it’s the exact same things they’d know about their other friends. They knew which pony was the favorite, they knew favorite colors, they knew what games they liked to play, they knew what foods they didn’t like to eat. The stuff that matters in friends when you’re in preschool or kindergarden.

Then one night, they overheard me talking with my father about our trans nanny, My father said something about being born female, or having a female body. He didn’t mean anything offensive by it, in fact, he’s a very supportive, progressive guy. But not knowing a lot of trans people, he didn’t know how hurtful those phrases could be. I carefully explained to him that no, our nanny wasn’t born female. He was born with his gender identity, and it took some years to learn to embrace and transition to it. No, he wasn’t “female bodied,” he had HIS body. My father listened and nodded, grateful to have been corrected and to now know how to address these ideas in a way that wasn’t hurtful to the trans community.

Of course, though, we were in the car with the children. And they piped up. “What does trans mean?”

Despite better than a year of constant involvement with trans people in their lives, I had never really explained what that meant. I told them the proper genders and pronouns for the trans people in their life, but I didn’t feel the need to explain what was in their pants. Because you know what? That is nobody’s business. And the private shape and mechanisms of anyone’s body are not an acceptable subject for conversation, debate, or ridicule. But now here we were, talking about what “trans” meant. And that meant having a real conversation about it. And this is how that conversation went.

“You know your friend — is a boy, right?”
“Yes, he’s a boy.”
“And you know — is a boy, right?”
“Yes, he’s a boy.”
“And you know your friend — is a girl, right?”
“And you’re a girl?”
“Yes, we’re ALL girls!”
“Well, MOST girls have vulvas, and MOST boys have penises, but not all. Sometimes, girls have penises, and sometimes, boys have vulvas. And sometimes, boys OR girls have something else, which isn’t really being transgender, it’s being intersex. But the thing is, having a penis or a vulva doesn’t make you a boy or a girl. It’s something about you that’s part of who you are. And when somebody tells you, ‘I’m a girl,’ or ‘I’m a boy,’ that’s that. It’s not up to you to decide if they’re right or wrong. It’s up to you to say, ‘Okay! Let’s play a game!’ and get to know that person. Because you have lots of friends who are boys, right?”
“And you have lots of friends who are girls, right?”
“Yes! And we’re girls!”
“Right. And what kinds of body parts you have doesn’t make any difference to the kind of games you like to play, or what you act like to people.”
“So is — a boy?”
“Yes, — is a boy with a vulva. And — is a girl with a penis. And you’re a girl with a vulva. And Daddy’s a boy with a penis. And all of us are friends. And if you see somebody being mean to — because they say he’s not REALLY a boy, you tell them they’re wrong. He’s a boy. When you have a friend who’s a little different, it means sometimes you have to help them when other people don’t like them because they’re different.”
“Like when people were mean to Rosa Parks because she had brown skin and wouldn’t let her sit in the front of the bus?”
“Okay, mommy. Can we go to Jason’s Deli and get ice cream?”
“Nope. But maybe this weekend.”


And that’s how you talk about what it means to be trans and to be a trans ally with your kids.

In fact, that’s how you should talk about it with everybody.


This post is written in support of the 2016 Transgender Day of Visibility.

Read more about having difficult conversations with children here: You Need To Talk To Your Kids About White Supremacy
Read my latest post here: Why I’m Grateful For Disaster

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