My kids have a lot of questions these days. And by questions, I mean the BIG ones. The hard ones. The "who is God?", and "what is divorce?" and "does sex feel good?" ones! And they only ask me these questions - never my husband. And yes, I know, I know, this is all my own fault. Mainly because I am the one that insisted on teaching them that a vulva is a vulva. Anatomy and words, two things I am a bit of a stickler about.
Anyways, I digress...
When I started doing the Parent Panel on Dinner TV last month, another question came up that I was unsure of how to answer. My kids asked me why my co-panelist, activist and transgender woman Marni Panas, has such a deep voice. I answered that everyone is different and that this is simply what her voice sounds like and left it at that.
But I wondered... Should I tell them more? Is this the time to discuss what transgender means? And how exactly does one explain that to kids who are almost ready for the FULL talk about the mechanics of how a baby is made and sex*, but maybe not quite?
So, with the risk of sticking my foot all the way into my mouth, I asked Marni about this. And in her incredibly eloquent, wise and gracious manner, she answered me in a beautiful email. She has given me permission to share parts of that email. I figure that if my kids are asking about these things, others might be too and there are some aspects of these kinds of conversations that Marni explains better than anyone else could and that I think we should ALL consider - grown-ups and kids alike.
Phew, looks like I was on the right track!
Gendered differences have never been something that we've focused on with our kids. We don't think pink is a girl colour or that there are specific girl and boy clothes or toys, regardless of what many stores and manufacturers tell us. We talk about how no two people are ever completely alike, not in voice, height, body type or hair/skin colour and we never make fun of others because they are different than us. I strive to teach my children to love and accept that our differences make us interesting, and our world, and our world views, bigger and better.
This was the part that was an AHA! moment for me. (And I blame that squarely on my fully acknowledged, hetero, cis-gendered privilege.) My need to explain what transgender means to my kids would effectively have me outing another person without their consent. To what end? There is literally no reason to do this. Like Marni said, until my children have some kind of relationship with a person prior to a transition, this kind of information about a specific person is not relevant to our family's ongoing conversations about gender, or sex, or anything else and is not mine to share.
And if/when that conversation does need to happen...
This is the crux of a lot of discussions about LGBTQ people that has always seemed weird to me. Everyone becomes so focused on what kind of sex people are having and with whom and "how it all works?". We don't ask our straight, cis-gendered friends about their sex lives, and I know I don't generally ask people about their genitals or what happens between them and another consenting adult. Just because someone is gay, or transgender, doesn't mean that this is some kind of free pass to ask ignorant and rude questions. EVER. And while, like I said at the beginning of this post, I am a fan of proper language for proper body parts, other people's body parts are NONE OF MY BUSINESS.
The more complicated discussion about sex and gender may yet happen with my kids. It would be naive of me to think that their lives will not be filled with people from all walks of life. Truth be told, I want their lives to be full like that. And I'll take the tough questions when they come. I'll embrace the fact that I've created open lines of communication between us so that they trust me enough to ask me ALL the BIG ones. Even when they choose to do so while we are at the Starbucks drive through window as I awkwardly thank the barista for my grande flat white, manage to stall them for a bit, and take the time to find an outside source for help with the answers I don't have.
I am also incredibly grateful for people like Marni in my life. People who are honest and giving, who live their lives truly and openly, and who show all of us the very meaning of loving one's self for who they really are.
Thank you for letting me share your wisdom and your words Marni - and the Happiest of Birthdays to you!!
*In a related note, I finally found a copy of the book that was recommended to my by a few people, Marni included, that talks about the facts of life (SEX) "without any nonsense and with illustrations." I'll let you know how it goes after we all read it!