Sexual identity has been thrust into the news these past weeks as Bruce Jenner officially came out as Caitlyn Jenner. Following in line with other articles I have done in the past, I thought it was time to discuss this coming out and parenting techniques that can help children gain a greater understanding of sexual identity.
When I am parenting, I believe in a simple model of showing, telling, explaining and final message. Showing starts with visual aids whenever possible. Watching television shows that are age appropriate or showing books are all easy to find. Baring this, you can use photos off the internet that explain the situation.
While you are showing you should be telling. Don’t let children wonder what you are up to. Be bold and tell them in age appropriate language what you are talking about. Then, engage the child in an age appropriate conversation about subject at hand. This means letting your child give input and directing that input toward tolerance. Finally, leave the child with the a message simple enough that the child can repeat it to you.
For the Caitlyn Jenner issue, I would suggest the following: start these conversations by asking children to engage by using questions. Some introductory questions are:
- Are you a boy or a girl?
- What makes you a boy/girl?
- Do you think everyone is either a boy or a girl?
These questions are meant to start a conversation about gender, what gender is, and what gender can mean. Once the conversation is started, introduce the idea that not everyone is sure whether they are a boy or a girl because of how they feel inside.
- Did you know that some people are born looking like a boy but feel like a girl inside?
This should lead to discussions around feeling like something and looking like something else. Sometimes children feel mad and look mad and sometimes mom/dad might look mad and be happy. Not everything is as simple as how something looks.
Once you have started to engage in this conversation, bring up a picture of Bruce Jenner from on line during the time he was an elite athlete.
- [showing picture] Is he a boy or a girl?
Discuss the physical characteristics that make Bruce _look_ like a boy. This is a great time to talk about how girls can be good athletes, too.
- Bruce might look like and act like a boy here but deep inside he wanted to be a girl. Inside he WAS a girl he just didn’t look like it on the outside.
Now call up a picture from Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair spread and show that to your child.
- This is Bruce now, only he has decided to call himself Caitlyn and made his outside look like his inside felt.
Now spring the bottom line on the child.
- Do you feel like a boy or girl inside?
The important thing to leave your child with is a sense of self. So asking what they feel like inside is important. They may say that sometimes they feel like a boy or a girl depending on their mood. Assure them that this is completely normal and ask if they ever want to wear boy/girl clothing. Assure them that however they feel is fine and then end with the over whelming message.
- So not matter how you feel on the inside, that is okay and people like Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner are okay too. They can grow up and be whatever they want to be if that makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else.
For children in the tweens and teens, this discussion can move on to discuss the difference between how you feel (the gender you identify with) versus who turns you on (the gender you prefer to be sexually active with). This is an important delineation for the transgender community. Who you are attracted to is not ruled by your gender self-identification. Since this discussion involves sexuality, you should take the time to talk about safer sex practices with your tweens and teens.
The goal of all these conversations with your children is to ensure that your child has information from the world given with a view to kindness and tolerance and that their own sense of self is validated.