From pronouns to transitioning, here parents and experts discuss the best ways to talk - and listen - when navigating the subject of gender identity with young people.
“Before my daughter Chazzie came out to my wife and me when she was nine, we hadn’t actually ever met anyone who was a transgender young person,” says John Grosshandler.
“We didn’t understand the correct terms to use, or why pronouns were important, for example.”
The parents began searching for positive stories about trans and non-binary kids to support Chazzie, but returned empty handed. Undeterred, they started GenderCool, a project dedicated to helping grown-ups and the kids in their lives understand that “transgender and non-binary youth are just like all other kids”.
“We quickly became very knowledgeable about all the important topics relevant to supporting a transgender child, because we knew it was required to provide her the best support on her journey,” says John.
Chazzie is now a happy 15-year-old girl, but plenty of parents and young people still struggle to find the right words to talk about gender identities. So GenderCool has now launched a series of books, each called A Kid’s book About… covering ‘being inclusive’, ‘being non-binary’ and ‘being transgender’.
The Grosshandlers, in other words, have become expert at helping their child and others explore and understand an issue that sometimes feels red hot. The good news is, it boils down to being kind, says John.
As the UK-based charity Gendered Intelligence puts it: “Knowledge is power.” And it encourages families to gather as much information as they can, from gender-focused charities as well as other websites, libraries, by talking to people, watching films or television programmes and then, crucially, synthesising the information you gather to form your own views.
Gender is being discussed widely these days – on social media, in school, on the news – so don’t be surprised if your child comes to you with questions. After all, says John, “asking questions is how we learn. And how those questions are answered sends a very clear message to the child asking.”
Dr Jennifer Gavin, an educational psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society agrees, saying “questions about gender can emerge at any age, as children grow, develop and begin to explore their own identities.”
Parents, Jennifer says, “play a key role in this process, which can ultimately influence children’s own expectations, attitudes, and behaviours associated with gender”.