Elliot Page, star of Juno and Umbrella Academy, made headlines everywhere when they announced they are trans and now use the pronouns he/they.
My 5-year-old isn't exactly plugged into the pulse of pop culture, but they heard me and their dad talking about Page's transition, so I explained it to them in age-appropriate terms and you know what? They get it.
"They changed their name to Elliot," I said. My kiddo gets it, and so does Netflix—the company updated Page's credits across the service this week.
Netflix is leading the way here and so, I hope, will my kid's generation. I think that all the conversations I've had with my child about gender identity and expression over the last year or so have led to that understanding. I'm not an expert on this issue, as a cis woman myself, but I explain it to the best of my ability in the most age-appropriate way.
There are trans people in our lives and in our community and my child has had questions. Other people have suggested that my child is too young to understand these topics, but I respectfully disagree. As a parent it's my job to make sure my kid understands—for their sake and the sake of everyone they meet in the future.
"Is that person a boy or a girl?"
When my child has wondered about a person's gender I've used the opportunity to explain that gender is a spectrum and assigned sex and gender are two different things. Just like I give my kiddo the proper language to discuss their body and my body, I gave my child the language they needed to discuss this issue, explaining what transgender means and what non-binary means.
We've been talking about this for a long time, so Page's transition was a totally understandable thing when kiddo overheard my conversation with my partner.
Dealing with questions
When kids are interested in something they ask a lot of questions. Which means they might ask some questions that society would otherwise frame as rude (like asking a teacher who presents androgenously if they are non-binary) but by having these conversations at age 5 we are giving our child the information they need to avoid being rude or hurtful when they get older. I'm trying to raise a child who values kindness and empathy.
Letting kids lead the conversation
My child leads our conversations about this, and the way they lead these talks is how I know that they're understanding. Take for example, Pokémon (stay with me here). My kid is super into Pokémon and likes to refer to the official handbook, something of an encyclopedia of all the creatures in the Pokémon universe.
The weird thing about this handbook is that most of the Pokémon are not listed as having genders, but every once in a while there will be a Pokémon in the book that has a male and female version listed (it's not actually that simple, but to a 5-year-old it seems that way). According to my kid, this means most Pokémon are non-binary, which actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. More sense than a lot of the Pokémon universe, anyway.
Whether we're having conversations about the gender spectrum and how it related to animated characters or real-life TV stars, the important thing is that we are having these conversations and teaching our children to listen to people and learning to listen ourselves.