Talking to Kids About Gender Identity - Part 3

Our new title I Am A Girl by Catherine Connors launched on October 11th! I Am A Girl is a book that banishes labels and stereotypes and helps girls understand and express who they truly are. 

Twigtale thinks this conversation is an important one – it is about about personal identity and gender equality. It's also a conversation that can take several forms.  Explaining why certain toys are marketed to girls or boys, why women and men typically dress in different styles of clothes, or what the word "tomboy" means are all part of a discourse on gender identity. 

We're asking people whose insight and expertise we admire to add their voice to this discussion. We're featuring their responses to one question: 

How do you talk to your kids about what it means to be a girl, a boy, or any other identity on the gender spectrum?

Allison Lefrak, consumer protection attorney and writer  

I am one of five girls with no brothers. Growing up, both of my parents told us that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up. I went to an all-girls high school where this point was consistently reinforced. All around me, in my family and at school, I was surrounded by strong powerful women. Now that I have children and one of them is a boy, I make sure to convey to all of them, not just my girls, that women can be leaders – they can do anything men can do. One thing that has been a little tricky for me is that my son is the oldest, so sometimes he gets to do the things the girls don’t – like stay up a little bit later. But believe me, I make it very clear the only reason he gets that privilege is because of his age and not because of his gender!

I feel lucky in that we are raising our kids amongst a tight-knit group of liberal-minded (lower case l) friends where not everyone fits into a stereotypical gender role. As a result, my kids have asked questions about a variety of things they’ve observed about our group of friends.  For example, my son asked why one of our lesbian friends “dresses like a boy.” It was the perfect opening to explain that people get to dress however makes them comfortable.  Clothes are made for anyone to wear. They may have labels with sizes (S, M, L) but the labels don’t say boy or girl on them. I think he got it.  

A couple of years ago, we joined a humanist Jewish temple which is led by a gay rabbi and meets in a Unitarian church. One of the great things the temple does is bring in interesting guest speakers on all sorts of topics, usually tangentially related to Judaism, but not always. One Sunday, we had an amazing transgender speaker who not only transitioned from being a woman to a man but also converted to Judaism from some form of Christianity. The reason, he said, was because as a little girl when he was struggling with his gender identity, it was an older Jewish elementary school teacher who listened to him and encouraged him to talk openly about his feelings without being ashamed. My son, who was 7 at the time, listened to this brave man talk about his childhood struggles as a little girl who felt like she was in the wrong body. At the end of the program, Luke asked me if he could go up and shake the man’s hand. In the days following the program, we continued to have discussions, always initiated by Luke and usually right at bedtime, about how hard that must have been for the little girl and how happy she must have felt once she finally got to become a man as a grown up.