More transgender people are living their authentic lives at younger ages. My five-year-old transgender daughter is one of them. I am incredibly grateful that where I live, where my kids go to school, and where my family frequents are all very accepting and supportive places with wonderful allies. For this reason, many parents are excited to tell me stories of positive things they witness or hear when it comes to transgender kids.
I get this a lot: “Sally played with a kid at school but she can’t remember his new name; he used to be Jane and Sally just went with the flow and they had a blast at recess! Kids are so accepting!” Yes, they are. This is also a parent’s way of telling me they are accepting too.
I wish I could say it was the same with all parents. I also recognize that many parents want to be accepting, but they just don’t understand or know how to be supportive allies. The word transgender can be intimidating and confusing. So let me help you understand what it means when your kid has a transgender friend and how you can be an awesome ally.
But They’re Just Kids. How–?
We all know how this sentence ends. How can a little kid know he or she is transgender? I can’t speak to all experiences of transgender people, but to put it in simple terms, being transgender means that your gender identity (male or female) does not align with your biological sex. Your parts don’t match your brain. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, science tells us that gender identity, the feeling of being a boy or a girl, is usually locked in by the age of four.
If you are looking for relatable proof, let me ask you this: Do you question your penis-carrying son when he says he is a boy? Even though he is just a kid? No, you don’t. Kids know who they are. And transgender kids don’t see themselves as transgender. Sure, they may eventually use that label, but they first see themselves the same way your child sees themselves: as a boy or a girl.
What Do I Say To My Kid?
Maybe nothing. You may know your kid’s friend is transgender, but they may not. Perhaps you heard this information from another parent, who found out from someone else. Maybe the transgender child and their parents are not stealth, but they’re not walking around with a neon sign announcing their child’s journey, either. They’re just trying to get through each day like the rest of us.
It’s not our place to out a transgender kid, nor is it necessary. Some transgender children start their school career as their true gender, and others transition mid-year or between school years. Jane may become John. Or more accurately, John gets to be John.
If your child asks questions about this change, keep your answer simple. John was born with girl body parts, but a boy brain. He wants everyone to see him the way he sees himself. This is called transgender. And if your child doesn’t ask any questions, there isn’t any reason to have a sit-down conversation about it. Let your kid lead the way. When they come home and excitedly talk about their friend (who happens to be transgender), focus on that excitement the same way you would with any of their other friends.
What Should I Say To His or Her Parents?
You should say hello. You should bitch about third grade math. You should see if they want to join your carpool. Basically, talk to a parent of a transgender kid the way you would any other parent. Don’t go out of your way to point out the fact that you know their kid is transgender and that you are cool with it. Even if this is done with the best intentions to show support, it doesn’t feel supportive. It just reminds us that you see the spotlight constantly being cast on us, one that feels hotter when you direct attention to the topic during morning drop off. We already know our differences. You telling us how cool you are with it seems like there should be a reason why you wouldn’t be cool with it.
When my daughter’s guidance counselor asked me how he could let my daughter know he was an ally and that he accepts her, I told him this: “She already assumes you are an ally. She has no reason to believe you DON’T accept her.”
As parents of transgender kids, we know the ignorance and bigotry that could be directed at us and our children, so we can’t always assume you are an ally. But when you don’t spit at us, throw dirty looks, or have your kids deliver hateful messages to our kids, we try to trust you are okay with us. We hope you will correct people when they misgender our kids. We hope you will go to battle for us without bringing us into the fight. We hope you will Google your curious questions rather than whisper them to us at a PTO meeting.
Show us you are an ally by treating us the way you would any other parent. Please. Inviting my kid to your kid’s birthday party or a meet up at the park tells me that you see my kids as any other kid.
So your kid has a transgender friend. It means that your kid has a friend.