I received some great responses from part 1 and some really fantastic questions to answer in this section. As always you can ask questions here in the comments, on facebook or tweet me @aud_gabriel.
First I’m going to start of with the questions I received from a friend via tumblr. V.L writes;
“One thing that has been hard for me and maybe you can address more eloquently? is that I’m getting the more difficult questions from my almost tween. She wants to know why trans folk are discriminated against. Like she doesn’t quite grasp how evil the world can be. How do you talk to a kid about that? It’s so hard for me to explain why people are being shitty to one another because it doesn't even make sense to me.”
These kinds of situations are where a “no labels”/”we are all human” only rhetoric and understanding falls apart and inhibits your child’s ability to be a successful ally to trans people. Because even if you teach your kids “labels are for soup cans!” not everyone else does, and kids will bully and take notice of how others treat transgender people. A no labels approach is noble, but it isn’t an effective ally strategy. Humans do notice difference, and some people act very hostile and even violent towards that difference.
You can explain that the world is a very complex place, and that people often react with fear, anger and even violence to these complexities. In the case of trans people our existence challenges some very,very deeply held beliefs. The idea that there are, and only should be two mutually exclusive genders that your gender is immutable after birth and no changing can happen, is literally one of the foundations of western society.Transgender people shake that belief. It causes a very fundamental fear in people. “if they are transgender, if their gender changes..what about me? Could that happen to me?” For many cisgender people this is a terrifying prospect. Gender is something that we base a lot of ourselves around. Transgender and especially genderqueer/non binary /gender nonconforming people shake that base. When that is shaken some people would rather react with oppression, violence, bullying instead of taking a look inside themselves and examine their gender and answer tough questions.
“Another topic I’ve come across is the inevitable interest in parts and the different genitals people have and what that all means. Believe me kids that age, if they are brought up to not be ashamed of their bodies like mine were, do not hesitate to ask for the details. So maybe just a way to explain how genitals =/= gender in kid terms even though they've been immersed in a society that tells them the two are one and the same.”
It is great that kids are open and comfortable with their bodies. While telling kids that questions about genitals are rude and should only be asked by doctors is a good route it doesn’t always stand up to persistent kid curiosity.
Genitals are body parts. Just like our hands our. We all interact and use our hands in different ways. Some people have big, strong hands and use them for working, other people have small delicate hands and might play piano. Some have fat chubby baby sausage fingers and use them to type up blog posts. Each person has hands, but interact with them and have very different relationships with their hands. You can’t tell a person’s gender from just their naked, unadorned hands. Lots of women have big,tough hands, men might have tiny, delicate fingers and keep their nails in perfect condition. Some have short stubby hands that look like a childs even though they are 28. So if we went around and looked at everyone's hands and assigned them labels, and lives based on what we thought their hands meant, for example making a woman with big hands do construction work, even though she loves to paint, and someone with small hands play piccolo even though they hate music, would be wrong and make everyone miserable.
Genitals are just another body part that each human relates to in a different way. Like hands we all have them, they all look different, but they don’t define us and our relationship to the world or gender.
For parents with younger kids you can get around this question by emphasizing that genitals are VALUE NEUTRAL.
Instead of “boys have penis’s and girls have vagina’s’ teach them that “some people have penis’s, others vagina’s and other people a mix of the two and that is normal”
“Another thing as kids get older is they tend to want to hear the history of trans activism and why it’s important. And the reason they want to know more details is that they don’t hear about that sort of thing in school or anywhere ever. So a kid’s history of trans activism would be super helpful. It puts everything in context for them.”
This is an incredible question. I’m actually going to branch it off into its own desperate post about trans activist history for kids.
What I will say for now is that this is another time where “no labels/people are people” rhetoric is incredibly harmful to children, cis and trans. The reason kids don’t learn about trans people in history in school right now is tied in with the previous question, and societal cissexism and transphobia. Refusing to talk about people who are/were trans because “it isn’t important” erases them from history and a larger cultural context. For trans kids this means they suffer in silence, not knowing that their are others like them who have come before, that they have peers now. They loose out on the ability to find their culture, and yes transgender people do have a culture and a history. This is erasure and cissexism hiding under a blanket of pseudo progressive rhetoric. Without knowledge of trans history trans kids don’t know their rights, what they can do in the face of transphobia that has helped others. Cisgender kids have cissexism reinforced, after all if trans people had a history and really mattered, why don’t adults talk about them? By refusing to address trans issues with your kids, no matter their gender and no matter the reason you reinforce societal cissexist notions. Then when your child does encounter a trans person they may respond in a negative way, because they are having their implicit assumptions about the world shaken and have no previous positive frame of reference.
“Along with that comes the discussion of what to do if they see someone being bullied for being trans.”
This is where discussing trans issue with kids in order to make them successful allies becomes very important. If they know transgender people exist, that we are often hurt and bullied then dealing with this when they see it is much easier. A strong foundation of allyship needs to be laid. If the child is old enough you can explain that as a cisgender person they are incredibly lucky that they don’t have to deal with that (in social justice terms this is “privilege”) and they can use that luck to help. Because of transphobia and often unconscious cissexism trans/gender variant children are often victim blamed by others. “If they just dressed “normal” or “didn’t make a big deal out of it”(often this “big deal” is what would be considered a normal desire for acknowledgement and respect) they would not be bullied. Even otherwise perfectly kind teachers, administrators and parents might believe these things and not intervene or take the trans child seriously. Here is where your child can be an ally. They can stand up for the trans child/person and confirm the happenings. They can get other children in on it as well. When 5 cisgender kids all back up Sally about being bullied by Bob, Sally is much more likely to be believed then if she mentioned it on her own.
If the bullying is violent they need to immediately either find an adult or if they are out of school or feel that they are unsafe as well dial 911/999 for help from police or to get the harmed person medical attention.
If the violence is more subtle or verbal teaching them to stand up for trans people by saying “stop that!” or “don’t use those words!” to bullies is one way. And trans people and kids will be so incredibly thankful for it.
Wow this was very long!
I still have a few more questions from other people to answer so it looks like this will be a 3-parter!
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.