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Kids should learn about transgender issues — it’s just a matter of timing

There’s no question about it: children should learn about transgender issues. It will affect some of them directly and if we want a kind, inclusive, equal society we need to teach our kids to be all of those things. 

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What isn’t as clear is how transgender issues should be introduced and at what age. Former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, who was assigned male at birth and transitioned to female last year, has claimed that neither the age of introduction nor the method outlined in new proposals is appropriate.

The Gender Identity Research and Education Society, a charity which works with transgender children, revealed last week that it would like transgender issues to be taught to kids as young as three. The Society has recommended the use of a range of Penguin Land books, with stories revolving around two transgender penguins (Polly who was “always really Tom” and John who is now Sally) to spread messages of love and acceptance.

According to Maloney very young children are unable to grasp gender issues or concepts and using animal, rather than human, characters only confuses things further.

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“In my experience, both as a transgender person and a parent, children that age aren’t questioning their sexuality or gender and nor do they understand it,” she told Closer magazine.

In Maloney’s opinion a better age to discuss the topic with kids is after their sixth birthday, when they have a better understanding of gender and the world.

It’s hard to say who’s right. Is it better to weave transgender issues into a kid’s dialogue before they are able to grasp it so that it becomes seamless and organic? Or is it better to wait until you can have a two-way discussion? Are kids able to suspend their disbelief and relate to penguins or is it problematic and confusing to dehumanise the issue?

I don’t know when I’ll discuss the topic with my own daughter, who is currently a year old. I hope that I’ll be able to use my parental intuition to pick the right moment and that my message of love and acceptance will be powerful enough to hit home even if the material (or illustrations) are not ideal.

Without a doubt, any debate on this topic is a positive thing. Open conversation and constructive criticism will hopefully lead to a well-executed education strategy that will help parents, teachers and carers promote acceptance, equality and understanding within the younger generation.

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