“My child is too young to learn about transgenderism and homosexuality. It’s confusing!” I hear it from adults all the time as a teacher of sex education. Oddly, though, those topics have much less to do with sex ed than they do with families. That’s right, families. We aren’t talking about sexual intercourse here. We are talking about who people are, how they connect, and how they orient themselves in the world.
Gender identity is a family affair because, naturally, families are affected by shifts in gender identity, and it’s not as rare as you think. Research shows that up to 6% of our population is transgender, meaning the gender these people identify with is not in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth (usually by a doctor based on visible sex organs). They may want to live their lives as the opposite gender from that they grew up in. They may not see themselves as male or female at all, or they may see themselves as both. They do not see this as a choice; they see this as their truth. We owe our children the truth, and we owe it to them out of respect for all. The world is not black and white.
Gender identity, including transgenderism, is distinctly different from sexual orientation. Gender identity – whether you see yourself as male, female, both or neither, despite whether your feelings on the matter line up with your visible sex organs (remember there are chromosomes, too, many more indicators of sex than we can see) is simply that: it’s your perspective. Nobody can argue with it. Sexual orientation is about whom you feel drawn to partner with.
So how do we talk to our kids about gender identity and sexual orientation? First, we have to get comfortable with the concepts and the language ourselves (there is no “perfect” in this department, though, relax). Then we must find out who these people are. Search the internet if you don’t know anyone directly. Learn the stories of children like Jazz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJw3s85EcxM) who have transitioned across gender lines. Learn the stories of adults, their families and partners (http://www.kristinkcollier.com). When you accept these people as part of your community and see how they are more like you than different, you will be able to share this norm with your children.
Tell your children about the amazing people you’ve discovered and their incredible accomplishments. Caitlyn Jenner (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caitlyn_Jenner) was a gold-medal winning decathlete. Lynn Conway (http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/BioSketch.html) pioneered computer technology before and after she transitioned. Ideally, share their accomplishments first and their gender identity or sexual orientation second. But stand by for questions if your child is unfamiliar with the concepts. On the other hand, some kids quietly gather the impressions you offer them with acceptance that if it’s okay with you, it must be okay in the world.
And it is okay. It really is. According to Thomas Bevan, Ph. D, evidence for a biological basis for transgenderism is “currently spread across some twenty-two scientific disciplines.” More than one hundred Native American tribes had three gender categories, allowing men to assume female gender roles and vice versa. We have known that the continuum of sexual orientation falls between homosexuality and heterosexuality since the Kinsey scale came out in the 1950’s. Transgenderism, homosexuality, and bisexuality are normal. They’re just not common.
The people who have the hardest time with such explanations are not our children, but rather US. Because we were taught differently in the first place. Is that how we want our kids to learn, too? The embarrassment and discomfort we feel around these topics is grounded in our sense of having gotten it wrong all these years or having no idea who these folks are. Many have been in hiding because there was no place for them at the table.
It’s time to welcome our family and community back to the table. It’s time to teach our kids about the world as it is in all of it’s beautiful and loving diversity. It’s time to do our homework, open our arms in compassion, and be the models our children need us to be. We owe it to them. We owe it to us all. ~ Kristin Collier - www.kristinkcollier.com