The key to bringing young children up to speed on the rainbow array of gender identities in our modern world is to normalize it from the beginning. The good news is that’s easy. You just make a habit of being nonspecific about gender when it comes up in everyday conversation with your toddler.
Whenever I or my son would say something like, “Look at that man over there walking his dog.” I would quickly tack on, “Or woman or we don’t know.” I do this when we’re talking about animals, too. If my son says, “Look at the Papi giraffe and his baby.” I tack on “Or Mommy giraffe, or we don’t know.” Basically, I make it a habit to normalize ambiguity of gender.
Eventually, at about 5-years-old, my son asked me (after one of these comments), “What do you mean, Mom? What do you mean ‘or you don’t know’?” And I gleefully dove in to an explanation about how there are some people born with sex organs of both genders and people who look and dress more like men but who feel in their hearts like women, etcetera. I emphasized that the moral of the story is that we can’t decide whether a person (or animal) is a man or woman or something in between based on how they look and dress. Every person has a gender identity that is based on what has always felt natural for them.
A side benefit of being non-specific about gender identities is that it also breaks down the barriers of gender roles. If we can’t be sure whether that person who looks like a woman who is getting food for her kids self-identifies as a man or as a woman or what have you, then it becomes impossible for us to use that person of unidentified gender to represent the gender roles that supposedly all women should conform to.
My son is only 5-years-old, but we are building the platform for conversations in the future about using correct pronouns and explaining about how some people choose to have surgeries to change their gender, etc. You don’t have to hit your kids with every piece of knowledge about gender identity all at once. Let these conversations be casual and matter-of-fact just like all the conversations you have together.
Your tone is as important as your words when trying to make sure that your kids grow up to be inclusive and celebratory of all peoples. This is just the way that we human, kids. Follow me!
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