Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Rated G: Diversity for All Ages

My 10 year old daughter is transgender. Overwhelmingly, when people in our lives find that out, they are surprised but supportive. She, of course, doesn't go around introducing herself to everyone she meets as transgender, but when she gets close to a new friend she usually tells them. More often than not, they simply don't believe her. They know her as their friend, Rebekah, and they can't conceive of her ever having appeared to be anything else. They see her as a girl through and through, which is good, because she is. In those situations, I get the sticky task of contacting parents and trying to facilitate a conversation with them. We have been lucky beyond words that most of these parents have been very receptive, eager for resources, and happy to help. We send home some children's books and websites for parents, and everyone leaves the situation feeling grateful to have a little more understanding and connection.

Photo by Maegan Dougherty
Of course, Rebekah could choose not to tell them. She has no responsibility to out herself to anyone. However, for her, it seems important to share this part of herself with those whom she builds community. 

Unfortunately, even supposedly supportive people don't respond this way. Some people don't want to tell their child about my daughter's identity. They say things like... "Oh she's too young to know." "I don't want to have to explain that." "That's not a conversation I'm ready for..." If you're not the parent of a transgender child, perhaps you don't realize how those statements feel like a punch in the gut. They are saying my daughter's identity is somehow inappropriate, is mature content, is not G-rated. They are suggesting she is scandalous, dirty, or somehow seuxal. She's not. She's 10. There's nothing inappropriate about who she is, and pretending to be okay with who she is while hiding it from your children isn't helping anyone.

Oh no, they'll say. We don't have a problem with Rebekah. We just don't want to tell our daughter about that yet.

But what if the that  you were referring to wasn't my child's gender identity, but some other type of diversity seen in children. What if the child had a limb difference? Surely, we all agree that averting your child's eyes and rushing away so as to not have to explain that is wildly inappropriate. What if it isn't something seen on the outside, what if the child has type 1 diabetes and a parent contacts you because their child wants their friends to understand who they are and what they live with? Surely, no one would imagine saying "oh I'm sorry, I just don't want to have to explain that to my child." How about a child in a wheelchair? A child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder? We all rejoice when these children are featured in books and media. We all agree that to create empathetic and accepting children, they need to learn about their peers in all of their diversity. Why is my daughter excluded from that? 

This is who my child is. She was born this way. This isn't a choice. It has nothing to do with sexuality. Teaching your child about it will not suggest to them that they should be transgender anymore than teaching them about diabetes makes them want to start taking insulin. She deserves to been seen, valued, and celebrated for who she is the way every other child does in their uniqueness, and she deserves peers who are taught about gender diversity just like any other type of diversity. 

It's why we're so thankful for books for all age levels that tell the rich and varied stories of transgender and gender diverse people. This list is a great place to start for children's books. So grab a book and have a conversation. Or join in a reading of I Am Jazz on HRC's National I am Jazz Reading Day coming up on May 18. No reading happening by you? Maybe you're just the person to host one. They have some fantastic resources on having age-appropriate conversations with children about gender (nothing scandalous here, promise!). Anyone can host a reading - parents, educators, librarians, faith leaders, Scout Leaders, and beyond. Check out a copy from your local library, grab a copy from your local bookstore, or order on Amazon and you'll have it with plenty of time!
 
I'll thank you in advance on behalf of my little girl who is anything but a reason to cover your child's ears or avert their eyes. She's just a 10 year old girl who takes dance class, goes to Girl Scouts, works hard in school, loves her friends, and happens to be transgender.

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