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.
Aud Traher is a Bisexual-Trans Activist, local LGBT organizer, blogger, local craftperson and board member of BiNet USA living in working in a rural community in Western Central Pennsylvania.