To say that my family has had our fair share of surprises would be an understatement. Between life in the military, my own personal journey, and just general family things, we've been through a lot and have always come out stronger together.
One of the biggest surprises came during my junior year of high school. My parents sat my 12-year-old brother and I down and we immediately thought the worst. Whenever parents sit the kids down at this age, it's usually divorce.
Lo and behold, my mum was pregnant and the family welcomed my little sister right before my 17th birthday.
I went to college the following year, and my parents moved to California after I graduated. I never really felt like a sibling to my little sister because I wasn't around while she grew up. When I came out as transgender, it was an awkward and trying time. How do I explain it to this little girl who is actually my sister but whom I know so little about?
It's tough, but it's not impossible to explain what it means to be transgender to a younger person. Children are extremely intuitive and I've found them to be more accepting of transgender folks than their parents. It all depends on how they're introduced and exposed to being trans.
Here are a few tips for teaching your child about transgender individuals:
Children learn from their environment and their parents. If a kid hears their mother being disrespectful toward an individual, that kid will take that to heart and believe that it's OK. Though being transgender may not be something you fully understand, it's important for your kid to see that it's something you're willing to accept and understand in time.
One of the most important things when it comes to teaching your kids about transgender individuals is to be respectful of that person's chosen pronouns. Not only does it hurt the individual if you use incorrect pronouns, but it creates confusion for your children. Picture this: a friend or family member comes out as transgender and begins the appropriate physical transition. If you refer to a transgender woman as "he," but your child sees that they present as a woman, how confusing would that be for your kid?
Avoid Sounding Too Clinical
One of the hardest parts about coming out to my younger sister was finding a way to explain things to her without sounding like a physician or reference book. I hyped myself up and wrote numerous letters over and over again, scratching out technical terms and overused cliches.
You know what actually helped? Just talking to her like a human being. I didn't view her as a student or someone I needed to "change." I just told her that I was born as a girl, but I've always known that was wrong somehow. I was a boy on the inside and it just made sense to make my outside appearance match how I felt inside. I didn't use clinical terms or a presentation or scientific articles or anything. It was a two-minute discussion and that was that.
Answer Their Questions
Just as a rule of life, kids have a ton of questions about everything. You can expect your kids to have questions about this new journey, so be patient and answer what you can to the best of your knowledge. There are going to be things you don't know or aren't familiar with. In these cases, I recommend finding YouTube videos of transgender individuals who can explain things in ways that are understandable.
Give Them Time
This isn't going to be something they understand and accept overnight. It took my little sister several years to get over the "loss" of her big sister. Just be patient and be there for them. It's confusing and it can honestly be really hard for a young child to accept such a huge change, especially if it's a friend or family member who's transgender. Don't chastise them if they slip up and use the wrong pronoun or name; just remind them that "He or she prefers this pronoun and their name is (insert name here)." Just be patient.
Children are resilient and adaptable, but that doesn't stop them from experiencing conflicting emotions or confusion regarding understanding what it means to be transgender. As a parent, the best thing you can do is provide them with education and a safe place to ask questions.
And the greatest way to wrap up the discussion? Give them a hug and tell them you love them.