One day after school, my 7-year-old daughter casually mentioned that she’s cis-gender. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that this clueless binary millennial had to Google the term before validating her statement. It turns out that my daughter’s first grade teacher, Julian Barlow—an incredible educator who also happens to be a transsexual man—included a discussion of gender identity in the curriculum, in the most thoughtful and age-appropriate way. Part of this conversation involved sharing his personal journey with the class. (His earliest memories of feeling like a boy date back to the first grade, although he says he didn’t come out until he was in his twenties, largely due to the fact that he had neither the language nor the understanding of what this meant until then.)
I found his choice to tell all this to his students incredibly courageous and inspiring; I also felt grateful because, well, better him than me. Indeed, this brief interaction with my daughter made me realize that I had very little confidence in my ability to discuss gender identity with my small children in a way that made sense to them and didn’t result in a foot-in-mouth moment for all the adults in the room.
Do other parents feel the same? And are there tactics we can use if we’re not lucky enough to a have a teacher like my daughter’s? I went straight to the source, and asked Barlow for a few tips on how to initiate an effective conversation on such an important topic. Here’s what he had to say. (Spoiler: Books are your best friend.)