“Let kids be kids, don’t ruin their innocence.”
It’s a common argument against teaching children about the LGBTQ community. When a teacher in California read a book about a young transgender girl to her kindergarten class, this trope came out in full force. Some parents were horrified and two families actually pulled their kids out of the school completely.
I agree with the sentence ‘We should let kids be kids and protect their innocence’. But intentionally shielding them from the LGBTQ community does the exact opposite.
Children are born blank sheets of paper. They don’t place value or judgement on anything until they are shown, through words or life experience, what to think about something. The idea that exposing children to ideas such as homosexuality and transgenderism will ruin their innocence implies that they would automatically see it as something sinister. They don’t.
If we tell them it is wrong, they will believe it is wrong. If we tell them it is a variation of normal, they will see it no differently than they see cis gender or straight people. As part of a big spectrum, just as people have different skin colours, eye colours, and hair colour.
“But I don’t hate trans people, I just don’t think kids should hear about them until they are older and can understand it better.” We’ve all heard that too, right? I genuinely believe people who say this think they are being tolerant and fair. They believe they aren’t teaching their children to be transphobic, just that they want to shield them from it entirely.
We’ve all heard that too, right? I genuinely believe people who say this think they are being tolerant and fair. They believe they aren’t teaching their children to be transphobic, just that they want to shield them from it entirely.
There are problems with this. Believing that transgenderism is something that needs to be hidden, or that children need to be protected from, automatically gives the impression that it is wrong. That it is a grown up issue. It’s not. It is just another type of person, simple as that.
Trans people are more than just their gender identity, just as cis gender people are more than theirs. I’m a woman. It’s a part of my identity. I also like to read, I suck at math, I’m okay at sewing. I love cats and dogs. I am university educated, I’m Canadian, I hate bacon. There are a lot of things that make up my identity, not just being a woman. The same is true for trans and nonbinary people too.
Ignoring the existence of trans people only keeps the positive voices quiet. If we don’t teach children tolerance for everyone on the gender spectrum, their paper will be filled with the words of those who have no difficulty spewing intolerance. Children need to hear the strongest voices in their lives spreading messages of tolerance, drowning out the bigoted messages. They will hear about trans people, that isn’t up to us to choose. All we can choose is the message they hear.
Children as little as preschoolers identify as trans. They may not know what it is, but they feel the discord. They are being told they are one thing when they know they are another. Imagine how confusing it would be to wake up one day and have the entire world telling you you were the opposite gender you are now. You would know it wasn’t true.
What if not only did no one believe you, but they made you feel as though you were wrong for feeling that way? You might start living as the gender people tell you you are, under the pressure to conform. But you would still know, and it would feel like you were harbouring something shameful.
This is how children who are trans feel when they don’t know what trans is. They just know that they are not what everyone says they are. And with that frequently comes shame and self-hatred. If they know there is a name for what they are feeling, and not just that, but there is nothing wrong with being who they are, doesn’t that sound like a better way to protect their innocence and let them focus on being a kid than pretending they don’t exist?
“But if we teach them about being trans, won’t they get confused and think they are trans? My little girl loves trucks and my son loves dolls.”
Being trans is about more than defying or conforming to gender stereotypes. A little girl who is playing with a truck still knows she is a girl. A little boy playing with a doll still knows he is a boy. A child who is trans female (biologically male) will know she is a girl, even if she conforms to male stereotypes.
When we teach children that people come in all different skin colours, they don’t change races. When we discuss people who are differently abled, children do not cease to be able-bodied or neurotypical. When we discuss gender as a spectrum, they do not change their gender. They simply reflect upon where they sit on the spectrum and understand that it is all different but equal. It’s all normal, without a value placement, just as they were born knowing in the first place.
If we want to let them be kids and protect their innocence, then what we need to shield them from is bigotry and intolerance, not diversity. It is much easier for a child to understand that people come in all kinds of forms than it is to understand that they should disregard or dislike someone because they are different from them in some way.
They are born tolerant. They are born inclusive. They are born innocent of hate. The way to protect that is to teach them that people are good, no matter their gender, sexuality, race, ability, creed, size, or age. They will get it. I promise you.