How to handle transgender kids like a third-grader

Two years ago my daughter came home from school in tears because she accidentally called out a classmate who was undergoing a gender transition.

The child, let’s call him Jimmy, identified and dressed as a boy but was still referred to as a girl by teachers and classmates. My daughter was brand-new to the school and wasn’t aware of Jimmy’s status when, during gym class, the teacher sent him over to the “girls'” team.

My kid correctly pointed out that Jimmy wasn’t a girl and therefore needed to be on the boys’ team. The teacher, clearly flummoxed, scolded my daughter for calling this out in front of the whole class and embarrassing Jimmy. When she shared this story with me after school that day, I was enraged.

My child did the right thing — she pointed out that the teacher made a mistake in assigning Jimmy to the female team because, even though his sex may have put him in that category, his gender did not. All of the other kids seemed to know about Jimmy’s transition in a “whisper-whisper” kind of way. However, it was clear that the grown-ups were uncomfortable with it, or someone would have taken the time to clue my kid in. She was mortified that she’d accidentally hurt her new friend’s feelings.

Two days later, my daughter told me that the class sat down together and the teachers announced that Jimmy was formally asking everyone, adults included, to call him by his male name and that from now on he was a boy — end of story.

What did the kids do? Asked a few natural questions about which restroom he’d use, and then they issued a collective shrug. They already knew Jimmy was a boy. It was the grown-ups who needed to get a clue. That was two years ago, and there hasn’t been an issue since.

My child’s generation is a much more accepting one than my own. So many adults make a big deal out of transgender issues, rending their garments and worrying about, “the children, but what about the children?” Children don’t care. I say that with authority because I have two of them who attend school with a transgender friend and they literally never mention it.

What’s between someone else’s legs is the subject of so much fascination, fright and ignorance that transgender people are socially shunned, or worse, physically attacked. The perception is that transgender is still rare — a dangerous aberration that God or evolution (depending on your stance) failed to wipe out. In reality, it’s far more common. Besides Jimmy and his parents, I know two other families whose children have come out as transgender, both at young ages.

When we approach sexuality and gender as something secret, something dirty or abnormal, we reveal our own hang-ups. Trust me, I have my own, but whenever I feel myself reverting to ignorance as my default setting, I think about my daughter and Jimmy. I say to myself, “Just think about it the same way a third-grader would.” In other words, it’s no big deal.

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