Explaining Your Transition to Kids/Younger Family Members
There’s an abundant amount of information and resources on the internet about coming out as transgender to parents, friends, and coworkers, but not a lot that takes into consideration the specific issues involved with explaining gender transition to children. Whether you’re a parent, older sibling, aunt/uncle, or work with children, it is likely that you’ll be put in a situation in which you need to discuss your transition with kids who are too young to understand your transition in the same way as adults. Here are some tips*:
1. Make sure you frame things in an age-appropriate manner. For preschool age children, just explain that “___ is really a boy/girl”, nothing really more complicated than that. For school age children, using metaphors like “born in the wrong body” or feeling “stuck” in your gender is a good way to help explain things. Young teenagers are usually pretty capable of understanding more of the complexities of gender transition and can usually handle an explanation similar to that given to parents and other family members (depending on their maturity level).
2. Only give children the amount of information they ask for or seem to require. Don’t go into detail about hormones or surgery if the child doesn’t ask (it’s really probably too technical or gory for them anyway). Tell them the basic information and then see how they handle it. This is very much like telling children the “birds and the bees”, parents often assume children will want to know more than they actually do. Don’t pile everything on them at once, either. If you know you’re going to start hormones in the future, but not the immediate future, you don’t need to deal with that just yet.
3. Younger children need to be reassured that this isn’t going to happen to them, and that there isn’t any way they can catch it. Stress to them that this only happens to a small subset of people, that it’s very rare and that it really isn’t that big of a deal. Keep it casual. Understand that the older the child, the more likely he or she is to see it as a big deal. Younger children are more flexible in the way they see the world, and are likely to accept whatever they are told.
4. Understand that children may cling to the gendered familial terms they have used with you, particularly if they have spent years only calling you that. This is true particularly if you are a parent. Explain to the child that you will always be there for them, and play the same role in their life regardless of your gender. If the child can’t get used to calling you the gendered title that you’d prefer (uncle/aunt/mom/dad), try coming up with a gender neutral title together (my 4 year old niece calls me “T”), or allow them to call you by your first name.
5. Explain to the child that this is a personal matter, not something to be talked about to grocery store clerks and other strangers. However, make sure to tell them that it isn’t something to be ashamed of or a deep secret, either. Make sure there’s another family member or other adult figure in the child’s life that they can talk to about this. Let them know you are open to hearing about their feelings if they are struggling with it.
*These tips are based both on personal experience and asking my mom, who is a child developmental psychologist, for her input