If you’ve been under a rock for the last several months, you may have missed that Olympian and reality TV star Bruce Jenner has come out as transgender. Her new name is Caitlyn and she is finally living her life as nature intended – as a woman.
The idea of “gender” is confusing and “transgender” even more, so you need to get a little learning under your belt and talk about this with your children.
SEX is about biology and physiology. Are you male or female? Think about this in terms of fish. Do we talk about “women” and “men” fish? Nope, because that’s gender. We say male and female. See, biology or physiology.
Some people’s sex isn’t so clearly defined and we used to call those folks “hermaphrodite.” Times and language change and the preferred word is now “intersex.”
GENDER is social, cultural and emotional and there are two parts: identity (how you feel and connect to the gender role available to you) and expression (how you dress, talk or behave).
The words we use to describe someone’s gender are woman and girl; man and boy.
TRANSGENDER is when someone, like Caitlyn, is born in the wrong physical body for their gender identity. How they feel on the inside (like a boy or girl) doesn’t align with their sex (male or female).
CISGENDER is when someone’s gender is aligned with their sex. Like me, for example. I am in a female body and I feel like a woman on the inside and I related to and connect to the things most women and girls like and do in our culture.
Now, I have simplified things here to one degree or another because this is a complex issue that has many facets and intersecting ideas.
If you think that being transgender or something other than the typical genders most of us are familiar with, is wrong or bad, it is imperative you find a way to talk about this with your kids that isn’t negatively biased. Children who are out of “norm” with regard to any aspect of their sexuality, generally have a tough time. They have an even tougher time when their parents are assholes about it, whatever it may be. Don’t be an asshole.
Part of the reason I know what I do about this, is because of this great infographic, The Genderbread Person 3.0.
Here’s what to say:
Early Childhood – under age 8
“Sometimes, when people are born, their bodies don’t match how they feel on the inside. They might have a boy body, but feel like a girl on the inside. This is called transgender. It can be super hard and confusing for the person if they feel this way.
Most people feel comfortable in their body and are happy to be a boy or a girl.”
Tween – 9 and older
“Have you heard about Bruce Jenner? How he changed his name to Caitlyn? He actually changed a ton more. Here’s the deal.
Your “sex” is whether you are male or female. Your “gender” is how you feel on the inside – like a boy or a girl. Gender also has to do with social roles and our culture, like women wear dresses and there is work that people still think are better for men or for women.
When someone is transgender, like Caitlyn, …(insert script from above).
What do you think about this?”
Be sure to talk about your values about this as well.