Gay Dad Life

How to Talk About Gender and Trans People With Your Kids

When I was pregnant with Birdie, people surprised me with their acceptance of our family. Some people took some time to come around, but for the most part, by the time Birdie was born our community of family and friends were excited for her arrival. But, everything wasn't all rainbows and sunshine either; I lost people very close to me because they couldn't/wouldn't/didn't know how to tell their kids, who I was very close with for a very long time, that I was pregnant.

The loss of those kids from my life is painful to talk about and I usually avoid writing about it, but there it is. These folks, who are part of the GLBTQ community themselves, just couldn't tell the kids I was having a baby. Now I have an almost 2-year-old daughter and she has never met the two young people who helped shape me into the parent I get to be today. They don't get to be a part of this, the best part of my life, and to be honest, it is heartbreaking.

It just doesn't seem like such a big deal to me to talk to kids about gender. But I am transgender myself so maybe I am biased because I have no choice but to have these conversations, especially with my child. So, I decided to ask other people in my life how they talked to their children about our family. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 18 years and while the range in reaction and content of the discussion varied, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Some kids had questions, some questions led to bigger conversations about gender and reproduction, some kids took it completely in stride, but all of them were excited that their uncle/godfather/nanny/friend/neighbor was going to have a baby. Because babies are generally something to celebrate and children tend to understand that.

Birdie reading, "A is For Activist by: Innosanto Nagara"

I nannied full time for a family of a 2-year-old during my pregnancy. As my pregnant belly grew and we told her, “Stephen is growing a baby in his belly and when the baby is born you will have a new friend," she was largely unfazed. When she snuggled up to me for a book or fell asleep on me at nap, Birdie would kick her through my belly. My goddaughter, who was 7 when we told her we were having a baby, had some questions about how it was biologically possible, which her moms answered in an age-appropriate way. They also extended the conversation to talk about "more of the nuance of gender and how that can be different from sex. How we need to respect people's choice of how they identify regardless of what they look like on the outside and how we never ask people about their genitals and we respect pronouns." My neighbor's son was 7 too when his mom told him that we were having a baby; he said, “How can he have a baby in his belly; can boys do that? (Poor guy, I think he got a little excited.) His mom told him, "Stephen was born a girl but knew he was a boy and so that's what he is now. But he still has the uterus inside him that can carry a baby." He smiled and said, “I'm really happy for Stephen."

I understand that it may seem daunting to talk to your child about transgender people, especially if you don't have any transgender people in your circle of friends, but you should talk about it anyway. And honestly, you can, at any age, shift the way you talk to a child about gender, you can examine your own internalized beliefs about sex and gender roles, you can embrace your own gender expression and encourage your child[ren] to do the same. I am by no means an expert on how to talk about gender with kids, but I am transgender, I am a parent, and I have been a nanny for 15 years, and my advice comes from these lived experiences.

Where to begin? You have a gender; you may identify as cisgender or transgender or gender-fluid or gender-variant or male or female or neither or both. You express your gender; you may have been assigned female at birth, feel solid in your gender identity as female and feel comfortable and powerful expressing your femininity. You may have been assigned male at birth and feel comfortable as a male but do not feel comfortable with the expectations put on you because you are a man. We all have a gender, we all express our genders differently, so we should all be talking about gender; not just as it pertains to the trans community. Your child has a gender too, one that is developing along with everything else as they grow, learn and change. If you believe that children should have the right to autonomy and self expression it would be wise to encourage them to express their gender however they see fit. Firefighting super princess? Sure. Boy children wearing baby dolls and hosting tea parties? Why not. You hoped to raise your child free of gender norms but you ended up with a daughter who loves all the things girls are expected to love? That's ok too. Some girls are just fancy; ask a femme about it.

Watch your gendered language. I find it surprising how often I hear other queer parents using heteronormative and unnecessarily gendered language. For example; your 2-year-old male child is not “all boy" because he likes trucks and dirt. Lots of toddlers like trucks and dirt and it has nothing to do with their gender expression. It's not cute to ask a 5-year-old girl if she has a boyfriend. Why would you assume she will grow up to like boys? Why are you asking a 5-year-old if she is dating; instead, ask her what books she likes to read. Don't dress your baby in sexist onesies that reinforce gender stereotypes. (Seriously, google “sexist onesies." There are some pretty terrible ones out there.) When you are reading your child a book, try replacing the pronouns with the singular pronoun “they." When you talk about someone you don't know, don't make assumptions about their gender; use gender-neutral terms instead, "Yes, that person is wearing a hat. That kid is riding a bike. The grownup is taking care of their baby." I am not advocating that you always and only use gender-neutral language, but I am advocating that you use it more often and especially when you don't know someone's gender. Words can have a lot of weight and changing your language is a very small thing to do.

Tell your children about trans people. You probably already have started talking about gender, like when little ones start to notice differences. Instead of saying, “Boys have these parts and girls have those parts," try, some/most/many girls have these parts or some/most/many boys have these parts. Tell them some people are born assigned male at birth but as they grow up to feel like a girl and visa versa. Tell them that some people don't feel like either boys or girls or a little of both. Tell them that gender really comes from within even though some people like to think gender is about playing with certain toys or wearing certain kinds of clothes. Tell them that you can be a boy who likes to wear dresses and still be a boy, or you can be a girl who wants to play football and still be a girl. Tell them gender expression is a choice, their choice, and then support their choices.

When you do talk to your kids about trans people, don't use your trans friends as an example unless you explicitly have their permission. I am comfortable with people talking to their kids about me and our family because I am open about my gender. Not all trans people are comfortable being out to everyone, or out at all. And even is someone is out to you that doesn't necessarily mean they want to be out to your children. Let's be honest, kids aren't known for being able to keep information private. If you want to give your child real-life examples of trans people in their life, talk to your trans friends first and don't get upset if they say no; it is your job as an ally to be respectful. There are books, websites, and celebrities out there about their trans identity now, so if you don't have someone in your life who wants to be out to your child, you can look elsewhere for examples.

Lighten up about gender. As a kid I ran around shirtless in the woods with a baby doll strapped to my back. I did things boys like to do and I did things girls like to do. I turned out to be transgender because that's who I am, not because I liked blue more than pink or trucks more than dolls. Recently I was shopping at a store and an employee came up to us to say hello to Birdie. As Birdie was sitting in the cart looking at some pants, the employee [who assumed Birdie was a boy because of the outfit she was wearing] informed Birdie, “Oh, those pants are for girls. Those are girl's pants. For girls!" As she walked away Birdie touched the pants and said, “Girls?" And I said, “Birdie, those are pants. And anyone of any gender can wear those pants as long as they feel good in them. There aren't really just boy and just girl clothes, it's just clothes and clothes are for anybody." She nodded, ate more crackers and then said, "Not girls! Not girls. Hahaha." Yes Birdie, not just for girls. In fact, the pants in question were some rainbow striped leggings and I know plenty of boys who could rock those pants. Sometimes pants are just pants and toys are just toys and we should just let kids be kids.

When we start to break it down, the easiest way to talk to your children about trans people is just to make space to talk about gender, early and often. The more we as a community normalize openness and honesty around gender and trans experience, the more space we make in the world for families like mine to feel safe, welcome, and celebrated.

Check out and purchase some of these children's books as a way to start gender conversations in your home:

To see more examples of S. Bear Bergman's books visit his website Flamingo Rampant here, and to read a Gays With Kids article on the author, click here.

Check out our list of children's books about surrogacy.

See our list of children's books about adoptive families.

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Life

A Gay Dad Wonders: What Will the 'Roaring Twenties' Bring?

Jim Joseph says he's looking forward to "moving forward in 2020" and in the decade to come!

The Roaring Twenties are upon us, and with the new decade comes great anticipation.

I remember as a kid that whenever a new decade came, it felt like "out with the old and in with the new." It seemed like pop culture and the way of doing things suddenly shifted. Witness 1979 into 1980 and the dawn of a new era in music, fashion, entertainment, and culture. Same with 1989 into 1990. Bam!

As I got older and started my own journey of growth, I started tracking decades by the milestones I had hit during each of the ten-year increments.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Life

Gay Dads Tell Us Their Parenting Goals for 2020

Some are hoping to expand their families — others are hoping to keep the members they already have alive!

We asked our community on Instagram what their parenting goals were for 2020. Here are some of their responses.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Life

10 Ways Gay Dads Inspired Us in 2019

No two gay parents have the same family creation story, but they still have one thing in common — they inspire us.

Every week, we bring you the stories of gay men and their families. While no two of these stories are the same, one thing they have in common is this — they inspire us. Check out 10 (out of the MANY!) ways gay dads moved us in 2019!

Keep reading...
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Gay Dad Gains Clarity After a Health Scare

A recent health scare helped give Erik Alexander clarity.

Sometimes fear can cripple the mind and hinder ones judgement. Having children of my own, I have come to grips with accepting the things I cannot change and learned to take action when there is no other choice. When it comes to my own personal health, the future and well being of my family gives me all the clarity I need to make the right decision about any kind of health scare.

This episode is dedicated to all the parents out there that are going through or have gone through similar situations.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Family Stories

This European Couple Became Dads Through a U.K.-Based Surrogacy Program

Janno, from Estonia, and Matthias, from Belgium, were accepted into the "Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy" Program.

Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.

Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."

Keep reading...
Surrogacy for Gay Men

Interested in Surrogacy? Check Out These Bay Area Events This Weekend

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, two major events are happening that will be of interest for dads-to-be and surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF)

If you're in San Francisco or the surrounding area, clear your calendar this weekend. Two events are happening simultaneously that are significant for dads-to-be AND surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF). For an outlines of both events, check out below.

Keep reading...

Gay Dads Show Up at Boston Event to Drown Out Anti-Trans Protesters

When Trystan Reese found out protesters were planning to show up to an event in Boston he was presenting at, he put out a call to his community for help — and gay dads showed up.

A couple months ago, Trystan Reese, a gay, trans dad based in Portland, Oregon, took to Instagram to share a moving, if incredibly concerning, experience. Reese, who works with Family Equality Council, was speaking at an event in Boston, and learned before his appearance that a group of protesters were planning to attend.

"As a trans person, I was terrified to be targeted by anti-LGBTQ people and experienced genuine fear for my own safety," Trystan wrote. In response, he did what many LGBTQ people would do in a similar situation — reach out to his community in Boston, and ask for their support. "And they came," he wrote. But it wasn't just anyone within the LGBTQ community that came to his defense, he emphasized — "you know who came? Gay men. Gay dads, to be exact. They came, ready to block people from coming in, ready to call building security, ready to protect me so I could lead my event. They did it without question and without reward. They did it because it was the right thing to do."

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse