Discussing Transgender with a Pre-Schooler

My daughter is five years old, and she is part of a local preK program where there is big focus on a set learning for Kindergarten readiness. I love this facility so much. My oldest daughter spent preK there, and my niece and nephew, as well. The school is run well, as they have a curriculum system that works, and has worked for both my children who started attending before they turned 3yrs old. They have an amazing summer program with so many activities; which my kids are impatiently waiting on.  And. It is a place where there is diversity. Which, in the town I live in, is pretty sparse. A whole lotta white people, and old white people at that. So, growing up where I did in a type of inner city where there was diversity, and how I grew up with immigrant parents, it is what I prefer for my kids. To be around all types of children and people, without it being a thing to notice.

Well.  I ma not sure how to start this, but my daughter’s classmate, Tony, not his real name, started school little by little wearing girl clothes and hair accessories, until now where he is wearing entire outfits.  There had been times at parent pick up that I’d see him in full-out Cinderella costumes from the dress up bin, or just sitting there with colorful hair clips and awkwardly small pigtails.  Which is no big deal cause it’s just dress up.  He is the boy who ran to hug me at the end of the Valentine’s Day party this year, in which I blogged about in February. I lead the bracelet craft table for the class that morning.  There was a lot of children that day participating in the party.  He stuck out to me. Well, because he was so thankful that I was a part of the day, which I think was because I gave him all the pink and purple beads without much fuss during the craft. But he stuck out, namely, cause he was wearing an outfit that was clearly for little girls.  A grey hooded tunic with green and pink hearts speckled all over it, and a pair of lime green capris to match.  Super nice kid that my daughter never has had a bad thing to say about. At that party, though, I didn’t say or think much more about his appearance, cause he is young and could have impressionable older sisters or be expressing himself in that way.  I can’t say anything about that. Honestly. But it became every day and quite noticeable for other parents.

So, a few weeks after that Valentine’s party, my baby girl was all excited to share her new news from school as I walked in the door. She tells me that her friend Tony asked the class to start calling him Tonia.  Uhm. Ok. Which for me it wasn’t much of a surprise, as I mentioned above he has been transforming since the school year started basically, but still a slight bit shocking that a boy so young, I believe he is four, could feel so compelled to change his life in this matter already. And that I’d have to have this type of conversation with my daughter being so young.  I replied to her, “OK. So, you respect his wish and start calling him Tonia. If that is what he wants. How does that make you feel? How did your teachers talk to you about this?”  She replied with an, “I’m fine with it. He thinks he is a girl. Our teachers told us that his new name is Tonia.”

Hmm.  So, I think she was not surprised by it as he has been evolving all school year. I am not sure. And honestly, and thankfully, she seemed to digest that information quite well, accepting this name change and the fact that he wants to be a girl. Or at least, dress like one.  So, I kept asking questions cause, I, on the other hand, felt like I was thrown this curveball of a conversation topic with my daughter; and older daughter, eventually. And I wasn’t sure how much they understood and I honestly didn’t want their thoughts of acceptance to be tattered, if this makes sense.  I have always left my kids with an open mind when we talk so they are free to ask questions or lead me into more questions.  But they are five and seven. Though their questions are normally quite simple, sometimes they are complex for me to answer cause I want to throw so much knowledge at them in one sitting but refrain cause I know they can only handle so much.  Both, my husband and I are pretty liberal in our point of view on life matters. And we are always talking to our girls about everyone being equal in every way, though other people may not think the same way, or, may have thought differently at some point in history or even today. But, when this topic came up, I did have flashes of so many thoughts though. Maybe Tony had influential sisters that he wanted to be like. Maybe Tony just likes girls clothes like a TomGirl likes wearing boys tee-shirts and jeans. Or that his Mother was living out her last wishes on having a daughter on this little boy. Seriously, my mind was streaming with the craziest ickiest thoughts. But I knew that this boy probably felt like he is truly a girl inside, probably wakes up everyday thinking so.  How do I really explain this to my kids?   Plainly right?  All I said was, “Tony, now Tonia, may feel like he is a girl on the inside. Which is probably why he had been trying to wear girls clothes to school.  Doesn’t change who he is as a friend, on the inside as a person.  Even if he doesn’t feel like he is a girl on the inside, he might be figuring out what being a girl feels like.  And girls clothes are pretty super awesome, right? So, let’s make him feel like nothing has changed, and keep being his friend. Does this sound OK to you guys?”   They nodded and seemed to be ok with it as they moved on quite quickly from the topic.

I just don’t want my kids to make this boy feel any more different from he already feels himself.  Or anyone else in their lives they encounter with this same issue, or similar. I feel so silly, and, I really hate that even in my own description of this situation it has a tone like I am tippy toeing. But I am!  I don’t know anyone who is transgendered, or at least I don’t think I do.  I have a diverse group of friends that I love dearly, but my kids are too little to understand what transgender means, don’t you think?  Though the school handled it quite simply, and well enough for my daughter, that is all I care about, and I am happy about that. It is the duty of my husband and I to take the reigns from them on further discussions.  Which I think we did the best job possible for them in this department. This learning moment hopefully left my kids with the information they needed, and they can look back at it and say oh ok I get what my parents were saying. But that it doesn’t change their feelings for their friend.

The kids are graduating preK tomorrow morning, and it will be the last time that my daughter will see him in a classroom setting, probably ever as we live in different towns. My heart goes out to this little boy and his family. In good and sad ways. I mean, hooray for him. That his family is accepting, giving him the freedom and emotional space to change. Totally, kudos there. But, this is truly a difficult feeling to have. It must be. And to be so young in age to feel this way, well, like I said, I am real happy to see that he is trying to find his way in his life knowing how he feels so young.  I wish him the best of luck out there, and that the people he encounters in life can be just as understanding or better.


4 thoughts on “Discussing Transgender with a Pre-Schooler

  1. I have a good friend who I’ve know since before she was born (she’s now 8) who has been clear since she was 2 (that age when kids first develop a sense of gender) that she is a girl despite what her anatomy would dictate. It’s been amazing to see how her family and friends (myself included) have figured out to support her. I’d be really glad to talk with you more about it next time we see each other.

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