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Talking to Kids about Gender
I'm wondering how people talk with 4&5 year olds about gender in a developmentally appropriate AND inclusive way if you want to address the fact that gender is not only determined by one's sex. It seems that most people say, ''boys have a penis and girls have a vagina'' but that simply isn't always true, and yet I wonder how to frame the ambiguity of gender appropriately for my child. We also spend time with a child who already feels she/he is a different gender than her/his biological sex, and I want to be inclusive of her/him and transgendered people in our community.
Are there books out there for children this age about sex/gender identity and transgendered people? I don't want my child thinking that biology alone determines gender. How do transgendered people on this list feel about this issue? How am I simulaneously developmentally appropriate while being inclusive? A challenge I'm running into is that my child's asking that if a penis doesn't make a boy a boy, then what makes a boy? I don't want to get into gender stereotypes, because I don't believe them.
I'd welcome thoughtful responses from transgendered parents as well as people who have thought a lot about this issue already. Thanks Anon
There is a support group in SF for families with transgendered kids, perhaps your friend already knows about it. They have moderator lead support groups for parents and get togethers with the kids and their families. Good luck!
I try to talk about gender in basic no-nonsense terms. I tell her that most people who have penises are boys, and most who have vulvas are girls, but not everyone and that some people decide they'd like to switch, but it's a lot of work. As for your son's insightful question about what makes a boy a boy my answer would be that it's about how society treats you- and some people are born one thing but decide when they're older that they'd feel more comfortable being treated as something different. I would also stress that it's nothing kids have to decide. That these are decisions grown-ups make- that kids can be a boy one day and a girl the next and it's fine to experiment.
Another thing i would suggest is including trans adults in your son's life if possible. Recently i asked a friend who's a talented artist, and trans, to do art with my daughter once a month; we camp with another trans friend. Then it's easy to talk about these people casually-- ie did you know Sarah's name used to be Eric when she was a little boy? Or Thomas has a vulva too and he's a boy. If you don't have trans friends to include in your son's life what about looking up some info about prominent trans folks and talking about them with your son. I'd recommend Susan Stryker, Veronika Cauley or James Greene (who's names I've probably spelled wrong). They're all prominent Bay Area trans activists and parents too. I did this with two dad families because we don't know any but i wanted my kid to know they exist. She now talks about these families like we know them. Much luck to you, Farmerboy's Mom
although i'm not trans, i hate the way we do gender. my son (4) is a very boyish boy, but he knows mama thinks it's ok to be a girl one day and a boy the next. we have a very butch (female) friend who he thought of as a 'boy' for a long time. he has a pink and blue stuffed animal that i call pinkie-blue, and i say pinkie blue is a she- he. the one transperson he knows is so clearly a daddy, my son wouldn't guess he'd ever had a woman's body - i wish we had more trans friends...
the way gender is enforced is terribly oppressive (see http://www.nclrights.org/ publications/gvchildren.htm), and i owe it to my child to teach him to see with wider eyes. this is important not just for transkids sake, but for our boys to know they don't have to always follow the 'boy rules' - it's ok to express their feelings, and to nurture, etc
looking forward to family camp at 'camp it up!' (a camp for all kinds of fmailies) sue
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