A few day ago, my daughter was colouring. When she was done, she came to show me her work and proudly announced that she had coloured it for “C”. I praised her for her work and asked if she was proud of it like I always do, but at the same time, the wheels in my brain were working overtime. With her seemingly innocent comment my daughter had unknowingly put me on the spot. Right then and there, I was faced with a decision.
What you need to know is that “C” is someone that my children were very close to. What you also need to know is that “C” has quite recently announced that he was transsexual and that his name was now “S”.
My daughter is four and I seriously wondered whether I should tell her or not. I wasn’t afraid of her reaction – I mean, as young as she is, anything is possible in her mind and her interpretation and reactions of the world are constructed according to her parents’ reactions. I was, however, unsure how well she would comprehend that the person she knew as a woman was a man. However, I knew that this was a subject that my kids would be exposed to eventually and so, I decided to take the plunge.
I started by telling her that “C” had a new name now and that we should call him “S” now.
I let her process the information and waited to see if she’d noticed that not only were we using a different name than the one she was used to, but I was also using the pronoun “him” instead of the “her” my daughter was used to. Of course, she picked up on it immediately.
I told her that “S” was a boy.
She looked at me and giggled and told me that I was mistaken, “S” was definitely a girl.
To be honest, I was amazed that Amélie had integrated the new name so quickly, so seamlessly. It really was no big deal to her. But the more complex part was coming up.
I asked my daughter if she was a girl or a boy. She answered that she was a girl. I asked her how she knew. She shrugged her shoulders “I just am”. I went on to explain that we are all born in a body with girl or boy parts. I told her that most of the time, we are born with the right parts. I gave her examples, telling her that she had girl parts and she felt like a girl so she was a girl. I went on to tell her that I was also born with girl parts and I also felt like a girl so I was a girl too and that daddy was born with boy parts and he was a boy because that’s how he felt. I wanted to help her see that there was a difference between biological sex and sexual identity.
She nodded. “What about “S””?
I continued my explanation, saying that “S” was born with girl parts, but felt like a boy instead of feeling like a girl. I tried to keep it simple by telling her that “S” had decided to pick a boy name and had started to tell people that he was a boy instead of a girl. I told her that “S” now felt happy in his heart and that was the most important thing.
She smiled. “So now, instead of saying “C”, we say “S” and we have to say him/his/he now too, right mommy”.
She understood. I nodded.
She gave me a big hug and went back to the table to get some more colouring done. The whole conversation had lasted about five minutes and it had been extremely simple.
When Charles got home from kindergarten that day, the first thing that Amélie told him when she saw him was that “C” was now “S” and was now a boy because that’s what made his heart happy. Charles looked at me, slightly confused and I sat him down and had the same conversation with him as I’d had with his little sister. It went just as well.
In short, there really was no cause for worry on my part.
If you would like to approach the subject of gender identity with young children but are unsure as to how to get started, here are four recommendations to help guide a discussion on the subject:
- Use a prompt to start the discussion (if you don’t know anyone personally, an age-appropriate book can be a wonderful starting point).
- Use simple language and follow their lead (if they’ve asked the question, they’re ready to receive an answer).
- Put emphasis on the fact that the most important part is feeling good about ourselves (happy heart).
- Don’t make a big deal out of it.
What difficult/complex themes have you had to discuss with your children?