Opinion

Transgender talk: Wisdom from a 6-year-old | Amy Johnson

This image of the transgender symbol comes courtesy of facebook.com/pages/Transgender-Support-World-Wide - Courtesy image
This image of the transgender symbol comes courtesy of facebook.com/pages/Transgender-Support-World-Wide
— image credit: Courtesy image

California’s recent law protecting transgender youth in schools has predictably resulted in public conflict between people who actually understand what gender identity is — and those who are overly concerned about kindergartners and bathrooms.

In a Fox News segment called “P.C. Police,” commentators worry about how to explain “transgender” to kindergartners. Much like any sexuality issue (in which grown-ups are the ones with the history, issues and baggage), talking about transgender issues with kids can feel intimidating for us.

Even those who are advocates and allies can feel a tad flummoxed. “Should I quote the American Academy of Pediatrics research? Should I cite resources from PFLAG and Gender Spectrum?” Beth Kohm, Deputy Executive Director of PFLAG National, wondered these things when her young son asked about the definition of “transgender.”

Lucky for us, kids don’t have all the history we do with the subject. If we explain something in simple, respectful, matter-of-fact terms, they’ll usually respond the same way.

If your kindergartner asks what transgender is, one thing you can say is, “Some people have the body of a man (or boy) and the brain of a woman (or girl), or the body of a woman (or girl) and the brain of a man (or boy). Sometimes, they can feel like they aren’t in the right body. That’s called being transgender.”

Note: the term is transgender, not transgendered. Just like you can be a man or a woman, not manned or womaned.

You might add that it’s complicated, but again, it may only feel complicated to us adults. Beth Kohm’s 6-year old son: "No, it isn't (complicated), Mom. It is just like my Lego Ninjagos when I put the male heads on the female bodies. No biggie. Can I have a cookie?”

If your child is older or asking more questions, you can let them know that some people don’t make any changes to their outward appearance because they are transgender, some people dress in the clothes they feel more comfortable in (like those of another gender), and some people see a doctor to make changes to their bodies.

Be sure to follow up with, “It’s important to respect all people, even if they are different from us.” You can even ask, “Do you have any more questions?” And here’s a thought: you could learn more about this issue together.

I’m also amazed at how people are obsessed with which bathrooms transgender people use. They seem particularly concerned that young girls are going to be “walked in on” by a transgender person and be scarred for life.

I find this attitude much scarier than actually seeing a transgender person in the women’s room. First of all, women’s rooms and girls’ bathrooms have stalls, so unless someone comes barging into my stall, I don’t see what the problem is — other than my potential discomfort with seeing someone who may have some male biological traits in a restroom labeled “women.”

And really, there are many more times when I’ve seen a woman I’m uncomfortable around than times I’ve seen a transgender person (that I know of) in a bathroom.

I routinely lead trainings and attend conferences where either some or all bathrooms are labeled “gender neutral.” It’s not a problem. People generally go into a restroom to take care of their toilet needs. OK, and maybe to smoke in some high schools.

But still. Behavior, such as intimidating someone, or exposing oneself, or smoking for that matter, are all separate from whether I’m a man, a woman, or transgender.

The behavior is what is wrong or inappropriate, not the person. These stereotypes are reminiscent of ignorance about ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and more. And I don’t even have enough room in this piece to do justice to the double standard of which gender is walking into which restroom.

Bottom line? It’s time to get over ourselves and sincerely get educated about a group of people that are being bullied and discriminated against, so we can make our schools and communities safe and stronger for all.

Resources for making our schools and communities safer and stronger for all:

• PFLAG: Chapters welcome people who are allies and are willing to support, educate and advocate for their neighbors or family members who are LGBTQ. For information on starting a Federal Way Chapter, contact Kathy Reim at kreim@earthlink.net. Currently, the closest chapters are in Renton and Tacoma.

• Safe Schools Coalition: www.safeschoolscoalition.org. Resources for administrators, teachers, trainers. Speakers bureau and trainings also available.

• Proud Out Wonderful: LGBTQ youth support group. Meets in Burien after school.  Contact Aaron Walsh at Aaron.walsh@navos.org.

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