Back-to-school season is winding back up. In stores all over the city, backpacks, pens, and other supplies are prominently displayed, replacing barbecue sets and lawn darts overnight. The starting school year brings so much potential—new friends, new lunchbox, new routines.
What on earth does this have to do with gender? Glad you asked, follow me.
The beginning of a new school year is a common time for gender variant kids to transition. There are a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that everyone is starting at day one. Faculty are updating records and learning about their students. The kiddo in transition is standing in line with many other students to make a name change.
That’s not to say that the process of transitioning is easy or painless. Deciding to transition from one’s assigned gender can be extremely intimidating. Going through the process can also be liberating—in ways that are difficult to describe. A sense of coming home. Of congruency. Being authentically within one’s own skin.
Whether your child is cisgender, transgender, or gender variant, it’s important to understand the influence of environmental response to their emerging identities. These responses fuel the child’s internal dialogue and directly impact their sense of self.
Support within the school, home, and community are key contributing factors in a child’s capacity for resilience.
When talking to kids about gender and gender identity, consider your own expression of attitudes. We all have unconscious bias. But the words, images, and behaviors modeled will signal your beliefs. Kids are looking to you as they interpret new information.
How you talk about gender roles and stereotypes when you’re not really paying attention—those are the early messages that kids pick up on.
So, what now? First, realize that this is a thing. Gender identity and transitioning is a thing that happens. Even with school-age kiddos. Yes, they know. Move on and learn how best to support them. When your kids mention a classmate’s transition or pronouns, they will be looking for how you respond.
Practice and incorporate this into your “kid question” repertoire. It doesn’t have to be Hamlet’s soliloquy; a brief but affirming message, followed by lots of listening. Let them explore how they feel and provide guidance as you would with anything else.
Trust me, it saves lives.
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