baby proof: talking to kids about what it means to be transgender or non-binary.

March 31, 2021
international transgender day of visibility

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility—a day dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide. For parents, grandparents, or caregivers hoping to talk about and celebrate what it means to be transgender or non-binary, longtime Reading My Tea Leaves reader and supporter, Kit Ballum Cohen, has one of the most succinct and loving explanations I’ve seen. Like me, they’re a parent to a six year-old and when approaching the conversation with kids about what it means to be transgender or non-binary, Kit frames the conversation this way:

When we’re born, the doctors and nurses and our parents make their best guess as to whether we’re a boy or a girl. And the doctors and nurses and our parents are really smart, and often they are right—but sometimes they make mistakes, too. Sometimes when a child gets older, they tell their parents, “You know what? I know you thought I was a boy, but I don’t feel like a boy. I’m a girl,” or “I’m not a girl, I’m definitely a boy.”

And that’s great! Because then the child and their parents can figure out together how to make things right and for the child to be happy as their true self! Sometimes, people with this experience will call themselves ‘transgender’. 

Other times, a child might say to their parents, “I actually don’t feel like a boy OR a girl. Is that okay?” Yes, it is! Lots of people don’t feel like a boy or girl, or feel like both, or feel like it changes. Sometimes these people will call themselves ‘non-binary’, which just means ‘not one of the two’.

And finally, how can you tell if someone is a boy or a girl or is non-binary? When they tell you! You cannot tell by the way someone looks—we are the only one who can know this about ourselves. So be grateful and honored if someone shares this with you!

If you’re looking for ways to keep the conversation going, head to Kit’s Bookshop lists

+ Kids Books on Gender and Identity

+ More Kids Books to Expand Your Cisgender, Heterosexual, White, Boy-Centric Bookshelf

and follow Kit on Instagram!

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16 Comments

  • Reply Jen March 31, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this. As a parent of a transgender child, I appreciate the wording and the sentiment of this explanation. I hope it helps all parents have these important conversations with their children.

    4
  • Reply Sid March 31, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    I really appreciate this simple, clear explanation. Useful for important conversations with little and big people. Thanks!

    5
  • Reply Olga Massov March 31, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    This is so, so lovely. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1
  • Reply Emily March 31, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    This is so lovely and helpful! Thank you for sharing it.

    1
  • Reply Liz March 31, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    This is so wonderful. Love the way you phrased this. Trans rights are human rights.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 31, 2021 at 2:24 pm

      All thanks to Kit!

      1
  • Reply Isa March 31, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    This is great, thank you Kit and Erin! ♡

  • Reply K March 31, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you for this, Kit!

  • Reply Jenna March 31, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    100%. Absolutely. Thanks, Kit!

    When my cousin’s daughter came out as trans (at maybe 18?), she was asked to keep it from her 12yo brother because the “adults” in the situation thought it would be too hard to understand. I was SO angry. I was also thankful that my parents came to me for advice about how to support her because they had no experience and knew that I had many trans and friends. Meanwhile, my younger child was like “Um, what’s the big deal? Is she changing her name? What does she want to be called?” Kids have zero problem getting this when given the chance.

    4
  • Reply Cait March 31, 2021 at 9:46 pm

    This is .

  • Reply B April 1, 2021 at 12:01 am

    Thank you for looking into this topic. I’ve been calling myself ‘bi-gendered’ recently. I wonder if ‘transgender’ has been misappropriated as it currently means a person who has adopted the other gender, which is more like ‘other-gendered’. I believe ‘transgendered’ is a more accurate description of bi-gender: having both genders and so transcending them both. As ‘transgender’ is in popular use I feel like I have to make do. Non-binary does fit, but it doesn’t communicate that both genders are adopted like ‘transgender’ or ‘bi-gender’. If we are not disciplined when we use words then we lose the language that gives us freedom to express our reality. ‘Trans’ means ‘transcend’ and coupled with ‘gender’ it refers to that. Currently it seems to mean transcending the gender one is assigned at birth on the basis of sexual difference, which is ‘trans-cultural’. A similar thing has happened with ‘gay’ and in contemporary academia ‘philosophy’. The only person who is gay, transgender and a philosopher all at once is a yoga practitioner.

  • Reply maryann April 1, 2021 at 8:25 am

    This is so helpful – thanks to Kit and Erin for sharing! I honestly feel like my middle school and high school kids have better words on this topic than I do (thanks public schools!), so I’m constantly learning from them. But I want to be better in general and I appreciate Kit’s clear, concise phrasing.

    1
  • Reply Dotty April 4, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    My 4-year explained this to me perfectly one day when she said “Miss Macie is not a boy or a girl, she is just a person” and I was floored and realized that she had just said all that needed to be said.

    2
    • Reply B April 8, 2021 at 11:19 pm

      Hi Dotty, I like your comment for its simplicity and truth, although it is reductive. This is a complicated and important subject made difficult by words that to my mind don’t quite fit. Perhaps a solution to this is to create new words that exactly explain the situation, like “other gender” and “same gender” and ‘both gender”.

  • Reply Anna April 5, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    This is so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1
  • Reply Samantha April 7, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! As a new mom, I’m using your posts about kids books to build our kids library and when others ask what books we would like.
    Seperate conversation, maybe risking co-opting this conversation, but I feel it pertains to helping cisgender kids understand gender in a healthier way:
    Do you have any recommendations for books that have compationate, open-minded, adventuresome male-identifying characters that go beyond talking specifically about gender identity? I feel like there are now many books about strong, empowered girls, but maybe not as many that offer boys an alternative narative about who they can be in the world beyond traditional male roles/behavior. I’m realizing I felt totally prepared to raise an emotionally healthy, confident girl (or try to anyway) but now feeling much less sure of myself as I think about raising my son and what I want for him.

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