For the past few years, I have sought the ideal babysitter. Like other parents, I wish for sitters who are responsible, child-loving individuals whom my six-year-old Blaine, my spouse and I all like. Living in Watauga County, I also need to ensure that the babysitter won’t be appalled if my child comes out with a zinger like when he told our 13-year-old neighbor, “If you don’t want to date a girl, you can always date a boy. Did you know men can marry other men in some countries and in Louisiana?” (His grasp of geography is hysterically fuzzy.)
After being dissatisfied with our sitters on one level or another for some time, my child bonded with one of my former student employees from Appalachian State. Jaden has now been watching Blaine regularly for about one year. Blaine adores him. Jaden is a perfect sitter — he loves children, has a happy disposition, will read and play Mouse Trap unceasingly, gives my child the “guy time” he doesn’t often get, and — very important — has a car. And, as an officer of ASU’s transgender student group transACTION, Jaden’s politics regarding sexuality and gender align neatly with my family’s. Yet, this relationship opened an educational opportunity I never expected and sent me onto a new quest — how to best explain transgenderism to young children.
Now, Blaine is growing up in a nuclear family that embraces gender and sexual variance in part because I identify as bisexual and his father acknowledges being genderqueer. Plus, incorporating the concept of sexual fluidity and third gender options helps ease children’s understanding into a wholistic and reality-based gender paradigm and will gradually change society. Richard was a stay-at-home parent until he recently got a job out-of-state, so by age four, our child had “read” all the LGBT easy reader books at ASU, hung up a RuPaul photo, could articulately describe what drag and hijras are and regularly greeted ASU’s first public transsexual student. But all this did not prepare Blaine for the concept of a non-binary gender schema that incorporates third gender identities.
When Jaden and Blaine first met, Jaden was still using his birth name and female pronouns. Shortly after being dubbed Blaine’s “most favoritest babysitter,” Jaden masculinized his name and began using the gender neutral pronoun “ze.” My child seamlessly adopted Jaden’s new name and so easily shifted his conception of Jaden to that of a guy that Blaine doesn’t remember calling Jaden “she.” Later, when Jaden recently decided to proceed with gender reassignment, Blaine was surprised that I stopped using “ze.” He thought Jaden was a bio-man and “ze” was a nickname. Many explanations and one re-watching a “Bride and Prejudice” scene with hijras later, Blaine still growls when he hears “ze” but has decided Jaden is a “shejra.” Obviously, understanding the meaning of third gender has been more challenging than that of transsexual.
Incorporating a multi-dimensional view of gender that complicates our socially ingrained binary system is challenging for many adults. But, how do you explain what a third gender pronoun is to a kindergartner? Afterall, he doesn’t fully understand what nouns and verbs are yet. At first, Blaine’s thinking that “ze” was a nickname resulted in his calling out, “Bye, Z.” He became frustrated when he learned Jaden’s partner also goes by “ze.” After a few conversations and meeting even more transgender students, he had seemed to understand the function of “ze” as a pronoun. Then on the way to a transACTION fund-raiser, Blaine asked, “How many other Zs will be there? I wanna be called B.”
Although Blaine understands that Jaden and his other third-gender “friends” are people whose biological sex don’t fit their gender, he simply views them as cool adults who feed him desserts and give him piggie-back rides. He’d rather view his friends as either man or woman. Afterall, that’s how gender is described by everyone but his parents, but I think he’s gotten more and more comfortable with the use of “ze” as he hears it being increasingly spoken.
Could this approach confuse children about their own gender as conservatives fear? Blaine seems pretty secure in his identity as a boy amid fighting to the end when classmates tell him only girls play with dolls or like pink. I can only imagine what else my child tells his classmates when he wears his favorite camo transACTION shirt to school. But more importantly, as transgenderism and transsexuality becomes more broadly acknowledged and addressed in public schools, our children who’ve been raised knowing about and accepting gender diversity will be the leaders in advocating understanding and acceptance.
Q-Notes strives to provide the Carolinas LGBT community with an open forum for discussion and commentary. The views of guest commentators do not necessarily represent the official views or positions of Q-Notes, its editorial staff or publisher.