Last evening after dinner, my husband and I were comparing notes from our social-media news streams while our 7-year-old daughter was doodling. My husband was reading aloud from a statement that a personality (who shall remain nameless) we follow had posted on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner. A conservative with deeply rooted religious beliefs — very different from our own — this person expressed that in his mind it would never be acceptable for a man to choose to become a woman.
Suddenly, our daughter’s ears perked up. “A man can become a woman?” “Yes,” I replied, “if he wants to.” My husband’s eyes widen and he lightly shook head his to signal “let’s not go there.”
“How can a person do that?” she asked, clearly intrigued. I looked at my husband, gave him my “we’re going there” smile and continued.
“Sometimes, when people are born, they may look like boys and girls on the outside, but on the inside, they know something is not right. For example, there are people who may look like boys, but know that they are really girls, and would be much happier if they could look like the way they feel on the inside. And, there are people who look like girls, but feel like they are boys on the inside. They would be much happier if the world saw them as boys. We are lucky enough to live at time where doctors and science can help people like that be who they are really meant to be.”
She got up from her seat and walked over to me and crawled onto my lap. She knew this was something serious. My husband, watching the exchange, laughed as if to say, “I warned you.”
“Mom,” she asked softly in my ear, “do the boys that become girls still have, you know, their things?” She nodded her head toward her own lap. “If they want to keep them, yes,” I replied. “They can decide.”
She gave me a kiss, walked back to her seat, picked up her colored pencil, and started doodling again. That was enough … for now.
Our girl has not yet encountered the Vanity Fair images of Caitlyn Jenner that were released last week. If she did, we’d have talked a bit about Caitlyn’s journey, and also about ideas of beauty and how magazine cover images get made. Luckily, she’s still in a childhood phase that is not affected by pop culture and media. I am hoping we can stay there a bit longer.
Want to know more about talking to your children about transgender issues? Here are a few sources you may find useful.
- GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program
- Human Rights Campaign: Talking With Kids About LGBT Issues
- TIME: How to Talk to Your Kids About Caitlyn Jenner
Angela Matusik is the executive digital editor at InStyle, and she is not afraid to talk to kids about the tough stuff. You can follow her on Twitter @angelamatusik