Talking about transgender

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The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community has been in the spotlight and amidst controversial topics, not only in Michigan, but across the country. In the past couple years, the transgender population has received both positive and negative attention with the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner as the first transgender person on the cover of Time magazine and with Laverne Cox as the first openly transgender person nominated for an Emmy.

With social media being so easily accessible, it’s difficult to shield your children from things that as adults or parents we don’t understand or don’t want to have to explain. Regardless of your position or views on this topic, hopefully you will find some of the tips below helpful or things to consider when talking to your children and teens about transgender people.

What does “transgender” mean?

Transgender is about gender identity not sexual orientation. Everyone has a gender identity and most people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, male or female.

Gender identity isn’t visible to others. Gender expression, however, may involve roles that are typically associated with a particular gender. For example, girls may wear makeup and paint their nails, and boys may prefer to play “cops and robbers” and be more aggressive. Such behaviors aren’t set in stone and there is some flexibility (girls may want to play “cops and robbers” too, but this doesn’t suggest transgenderism).

However, for persons who are transgender, they may feel uncomfortable in their body and with the gender they were born with. People who are transgender identify with the opposite gender and can feel as though they are in the wrong body.

When did Aunt Jackie become Uncle Jim?

Transgenderism has existed for several years and history is full of heroes and “sheroes” fighting for equality and justice. It is also full of people living in shame and embarrassment, and trying to avoid hate and violence.

There is no right age or specific time when one knows for sure that they are transgender. There are reports of children expressing discomfort with their assigned gender and there are other individuals who acknowledge their authentic self in adolescence or adulthood.

Transgenderism is not a choice that a person decides to do or be. Transitioning into being identified by society from one gender to the other is a process that can be complex and involve medication, surgery and even sex reassignment surgery. It is a process that is deemed necessary by that individual to live the life they believe they were always meant to live.

I don’t get it

So even after reading this or other information about individuals who are transgender, you still may scratch your head in disbelief or confusion. That’s OK. We don’t have to understand everything that we encounter in life. However, what is important is respect. It’s possible to disagree with someone but still show and have respect. Different doesn’t mean bad, vile or disgrace. As humans, we sometimes have a tendency to show hate when we are confronted or shown things that don’t make sense to us or that go against our own personal morals and values. Before reacting to something that you disagree with, ask yourself what your intention is, what do you want to accomplish, and let this lead you.

What do I tell the kids?

The difference between kids and adults is that kids will ask questions when introduced to something new. With kids:

  • Be honest. If you don’t know how to answer a question, then let the child know that. State that you will get back with them.
  • Stick with the facts. Opinions without facts can be confusing for kids.
  • Take yourself out of the answer or conversation unless your child asks you what you think.
  • View this as an opportunity to shape your child’s moral compass: one of tolerance and respect or hate and discrimination.
  • Listen to what your child has to say about the topic. This gives an opportunity to see your child as their own person.

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology

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