8 Things This Teacher-Mom Wants You to Know about Trans Kids

Jan 24, 2023 11:00:00 AM


Since last summer, I have been speaking with a number of parents of trans children in elementary school. Some live in districts where it is still safe to speak openly about gender identity with young kids. These parents tell me it has been a blessing to have their children’s identities fully supported in school, and inclusive curriculums have built more trusting, safer and more-informed classrooms for all students–including the brothers and sisters of children who are trans or gender non-conforming.

Yet, even in this situation, parents didn’t want to speak on the record. Even in communities that welcome this kind of learning, parents fear for their children’s safety.

A friend who is a primary-grade teacher and the mom of a young trans girl wrote her thoughts on this topic and asked me to share them with you. To preserve her family’s privacy and maintain her daughter’s safety, we are publishing this teacher-mom’s thoughts anonymously. Here’s what she has to say.

The Idea My Child Was ‘Groomed’ Is Laughable

As a public school teacher at a school with many conservative families, I do worry about backlash for reading children’s books that truly should not be controversial but have been thrust in the middle of a parent rights’ movement. As a parent of a trans-daughter, I often remind myself of my rights when I am nervous, but mostly, of her rights.

To be clear, my goal isn’t to make kids trans. The idea that my own child’s gender was groomed is laughable.  We were heavy on gendered parenting—blue gender reveals, gendered toys, “little brother” shirts and “mom of boys” swag. 

One day my youngest “boy” interrupted my work to tell me her ninja costume was for girls, so she was a girl. I let her know that it was technically from the boy’s section and that ninja costumes are for anyone who likes ninjas. 

“Well, I am a girl, so my ninja costume is for girls,” she replied. 

Admittedly, I did try and gently steer her back toward embracing her “boyhood;” I didn’t want her to be trans because I am afraid of how the world will treat her, but it really isn’t about me or what I want—it is about who she is and how lucky I am to parent a kid who could teach that to me before she even entered kindergarten. 

My Dad Would Kill Me If I Came Home with That Sticker’

On Trans Day of Remembrance, my young elementary students and I read a sweet little children’s book, “When Aidan became a Brother,” and passed out stickers of the trans flag. Kids were clamoring for them as I let them know they could wear or share so trans people like Aidan would know that they want to be a safe person for them. 

One student called out, “Yeah, but that wouldn’t be safe for me. My dad would literally kill me if I came home with that sticker.” The hate for trans people is so violent that even this cis child fears it.

In moments like these, silence is complicit. We cannot afford to look the other way as trans-genocide grabs a foothold. We must refuse to allow false narratives to proliferate, and demand that hate be abandoned. This is the responsibility of parents, teachers, elected officials, everyone. 

8 Things You Need to Know

Here are 8 things I hope will help us all speak up as the right-wing works to erase my daughter and make my classroom an unsafe space for kids like her or kids who love people like her.

  1. Genitals are not gender. Our language, specifically pronouns, has taught us to conflate the two, and language is powerful! People who can speak a language that has a name for a color that our language doesn’t name can even distinguish that color on the spectrum while we can’t! There are also cultures around the world that have many genders in their language and unsurprisingly anatomy and gender are not conflated in those cultures in the same way that they are for cultures with languages that uphold a gender binary in their language. When my daughter came out, she still struggled with pronouns. She would call Grandma “he” and rarely used “she” at all. Her world wasn’t boxed-in by our language, she could see all the colors and she could see herself.

  2. Gender is biology AND culture. Honestly, I used to conflate external anatomy and gender, but seeing my trans daughter as a girl just isn’t confusing anymore. I really appreciated a blog I read that helped me break that linguistic box and understand scientifically how biological sex is anything but binary. 

  3. Womanhood includes all women. My daughter wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up and she talks a lot about it! She hasn’t asked if she has a uterus, but I imagine she will be devastated when she learns she cannot carry a baby in her belly, not unlike every other woman who faces that devastation when they long to bear children. (I would also like to take this moment to remind teachers that JK Rowling’s attempt to define womanhood is wrong and deeply hurtful. There are so many other imaginative worlds to indulge in, abandon hers so your trans students can feel safe.) 

  4. Trans bodies are a natural variation. My child is not a girl in the wrong body. She is a girl and she has a body, which, like her ninja costume, makes her body a girl’s body. Nature is beautifully varied. There are so many biologically diverse ways to be human. Trans bodies are natural human variation. 

  5. Being trans is not contagious.  Some transphobia is fueled by panic about the rising number of young people coming out as trans, as if there is some sort of cultural contagion or peer pressure at play, but there was a time when left-handed people were punished and forced to use their right hand. When people were finally free to be left-handed, the numbers of left-handed people skyrocketed for years before leveling off. There aren’t more trans youth now, we are just aware of more trans youth now and I hope one day we can look back at this punishing and ostracizing of trans people and see it with the same eyes we now see the punishing of left-handed people--completely absurd and abusive. 

  6. A child is a person, not a body. Since being out as trans my child has become less sexualized by adults. She is no longer referred to as a “little flirt;” a “ladies man;” a “heartbreaker;” or the “boyfriend” of her friends that are girls. It is fascinating how indoctrinating heteronormativity is and how it hyper-sexualizes our children. 

I am relieved, in a way, that she is free of those pressures, until I meet someone new who just sees my girl, not my trans girl, and says something like, “she’s so pretty, you’re going to have to watch out for the boys!” And in my head I think, “yes, the boys who want to kill her.” 

Transgender people are over four times more likely to be victims of violent crime and there are terrifying stories of mob-like hate crimes committed against people like my daughter. At some point people will no longer look at her as cute and instead they will immediately see her as a threat. That is terrifying. She is a person, not a body.

  1. What about hormones or surgery? Right now those options are not necessary or appropriate.  And, as a good parent, it is not my place to choose for my child, but rather to help learn alongside her from a medical professional so she can make an informed choice that feels appropriate for her. 

It would be totally cool if my daughter proudly asserts she is a girl despite whatever changes her natural puberty brings. But also, if she wants to stave off that puberty (the effects of which are *not* readily reversible) by taking hormone blockers until she feels ready to decide (the effects of which are readily reversible) then why the hell not?! I know cis-women who got a nose job as an 8th grade graduation gift, had braces and underwent gum surgery for cosmetic purposes as a young adolescent.

All kinds of people get help to have their body fit their expectations for themselves, even as minors. Even common meds for things like ADHD are prescribed to help kids meet a cultural standard for their school environment. My daughter should be afforded the same opportunity should she and her doctor decide it is necessary for her well-being.

If any elected officials are reading, we need your political courage now more than ever to protect this right for her.

And everyone who is concerned about medical interventions for trans youth should start investing their efforts into making it safer for girls like mine to choose to be a girl with an Adam’s apple or stubble. Right now, the gender expectations of our world even have me–her cis mom–plucking my stray whiskers and shaving my legs. Instead of asking her to be braver than adults, maybe adults could just be kinder, safer towards her.

  1. What if her identity changes? What if later she says she is nonbinary or a boy? Well, it is rare, but it happens! And if it happens for her, then I’ll believe her. The stakes are too high not to. High rates of suicidality among trans people are linked not to the inner experience of being trans, but to social factors like acceptance from others and reduced experience of transphobia. For trans youth, social acceptance of their gender identity from peers and adults is associated with significantly reduced risk of suicide.

Please, Fellow Parents,  See My Child as a Child Like Your Own

As any parent of a marginalized child knows, it is unrelentingly difficult when your kid’s very identity becomes a safety hazard. That’s not because of the identity itself, but because of how the world will treat her for it. 

I must listen to her as she grows. My biggest parenting struggle is maintaining that balance between following her lead (she is the expert on her!) and protecting her childhood (it my responsibility to navigate her safety, not hers). 

At the end of the day, many will now look at my daughter and see just one trait—trans. They will be blind to the other 400+ traits that make her the unique person she is. No one wants to be othered or put in a box. We owe each other the decency to see each other in our fullness, not just what makes us different, but what makes us the same. 

I am a mom who loves a daughter, a teacher with a plea. We can no longer just hope for a world where kids like my daughter are safe, we must actively create it. Please, join me in learning the truth about the fight for trans lives. Then, I beg you to take action.  A more loving world for one is a more loving world for all.

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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