How to Talk to Kids (and Others) About Transgender People

posted: 06/08/15
by: Courtney Reimer
bruce jenner reveals new transgender identity caitlyn jenner on cover of Vanity Fair magazine
Vanity Fair

Everyone's been talking a lot about Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings (star of TLC's own "I Am Jazz") lately, but sometimes we struggle to find the right words for talking about what it means to be transgender. It's particularly challenging with kids, who (depending on their age) may just be figuring out what gender alone means.

One of the rules of thumb that often comes up in conversations about gender identity is the difference between homosexuality and being transgender. The saying goes: "Homosexuality refers to who you want to go to bed WITH while transgender refers to who you want to go to bed AS." Which is helpful and handy if you're speaking to other adults. Kids? Not so much.

A new crop of books about transgender youth aims to destigmatize for children the idea of being inwardly different than what one's outward appearance and "assigned-at-birth" sex might be -- which, by the way, is probably a better way of talking about transgender identity with children than going into the details of grownup bedtime.

Other do's and don'ts we've learned (thanks to GLAAD's handy Transgender FAQ and Tips for Allies of Transgender People):

1. Pronouns matter. They matter before, during and after transition from one assigned sex to another. And if you're not sure if someone would prefer to be referred to as "he" or "she," just ask.

2. Names matter, too. Usually when someone transitions from one sex to another, so does their preferred name (see: "Call me Caitlyn"). It's appropriate to start calling a transgender person the name they prefer to use when referring to themselves.

3. Don't ask personal questions. Often people assume because someone is open about their transgender identity and experience that they are also open to fielding questions about their current biological makeup. Don't go there unless you are invited to.

Then there's this great how-to video from Jazz Jennings, which she made with Cosmopolitan.com. It's called 10 Things You Need to Know About Transgender People, and we highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quick way to inform people about what is and is not okay when you're talking about gender identity. We also recommend bookmarking it and referring back to it often, because the conversation is just getting started!

Watch "I Am Jazz" when it premieres on TLC on Wednesday, July 15th at 10/9c.