How to Talk to Your Child About Gender Identity
It’s essential to raise our children in a compassionate and inclusive environment. Here are some tips on how to equip yourself to handle the conversation about gender identity at home.
Toy guns are for boys, while dolls are for girls: this is probably the first thing we learn about gender identity. I was brought up that way, and I’m quite sure that was how most of you were brought up as well. This is not necessarily wrong nor right — as we are all products of our time — but we must all admit that it’s an entirely different world now than the one we grew up in.
As much as it can be tricky to explain gender identity to our children, it is essential to do so if we are to raise our kids in a more compassionate and inclusive environment.
Taking the first step
The necessary first step we must take is to confront our own preconceived notions about gender identity. I realize that this is easier said than done, as you and I grew up in decades of patriarchy and gender bias. One way of confronting our biases on gender is to educate ourselves on what gender identity means.
Back then, our biological sex was what was used to determine our gender. That is, sexual anatomy dictated what was supposed to be our gender identity. This notion persists to this day, and it still makes it hard for some people to accept those who identify as someone other than their biological sex.
Biological sex is not the same as gender, and according to medicalnewstoday.com, gender is not limited to being just a male or a female. One who was assigned male at birth may not identify as the gender male as they grow up. As such, gender can be fluid.
There is plenty of literature about gender identity online, read up and get as much education on the topic as possible. If you plan to start this conversation with your child, it would be best to do it in an informed fashion.
Do not dismiss your child’s curiosity
Whenever your child asks, “Is that person a boy or a girl?” do not hush them and admonish them for being curious. Doing so has the unfortunate effect of impressing upon them that the subject of gender is taboo. It is not, and it should not be.
We might think that the topic of gender is too complicated for a child to understand, but it is precisely this thinking that makes it harder for our generation to comprehend these subjects.
Starting this conversation can be as simple as telling them matter-of-factly what biological sex and gender are, and how they are different from one another. I did this with my son when he was curious about seeing gay people in our community when he was around seven. I explained biological sex and gender to him in the simplest terms. I’m proud to say that he understood them immediately, and he has shown nothing but respect for other people’s preferred gender. He would even call out his friends who would make fun of other genders, and we as parents could not be prouder.
Provide relatable examples
It’s not enough for our children to become aware of different genders. More importantly, they should become conscious of how everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of gender identity.
Give your child relatable and explicit examples. In our case, we told our son about his lesbian aunt and her partner. We told him about the hardships they went through because of their sexual orientation, and how they were regarded as anomalies in society.
Telling your child relatable real-life stories gives them a more concrete awareness of the concept of equality or providing equal rights to everyone regardless of gender. After all, this is why we need to talk about gender identity, isn’t it?
Celebrate people as people
I must confess, I was initially dumbfounded when I was asked how I would react if my son should come out to me as identifying as female or another gender. But that question forced me to confront my own biases regarding gender. For how can I not love my child regardless of what gender he espouses now or in the future? Should I love him less just because he chooses to identify as another gender?
In the end, that is what it all boils down to: people should not be judged because of their gender or sexual orientation. Rather, they should be judged based on their compassion and empathy. To a child, this is best exemplified by your actions towards others. How you talk about people and regard them will determine how they will perceive people in the future.
Perhaps this is the best way to talk to your child about gender identity. After all, actions do speak louder than words.
About The Writer
Michael is a loving father to a precocious child, enjoying the lessons being provided to him by raising a kid together with a loving partner.
He was the managing editor of 8List.ph, former editor-in-chief of Playboy Philippines, and has contributed articles to FHM Philippines, Men’s Health Philippines and Singapore, Real Living, Smart Parenting, Entrepreneur, and other publications.
Michael is currently a media and public relations consultant for various public officials.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and do not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.