Talking to kids about transgender individuals and characters: What to say the first time a child learns about what it means to be transgender

Talking to kids about transgender individuals and characters: What to say the first time a child learns about what it means to be transgender

By Shelby Kretz

If your kids or students watch MrBeast, you may have heard that Kris Tyson came out as transgender. This is important because lots of kids watch MrBeast, and for many of them, this is their first exposure to a transgender person.

Whether or not your little ones are watching this particular show, at some point or another, they will be exposed to trans people or characters. If you haven't already talked with them about what it means to be trans, they will probably have a lot of questions at that time.

If you plan to talk to them about it now, or just want to be prepared for when this conversation does come up, these resources should help:

Tips for getting started

  • Don't avoid this conversation. Kids take in a lot of media all the time, so they're likely seeing something about it, even if you haven't. Bring it up directly if they don't. You don't want them to feel that there is anything wrong with talking about it!
  • Try not to discourage or shame them for asking a question, even if it comes off as insensitive or non-politically correct. Responding with “don't say that!” for example can make kids feel like they can't ask questions or that the topic is taboo to talk about. Instead, answer their questions honestly, and kindly correct any harmful language they may have used.
  • While it may seem confusing for adults, most of the time learning about pronouns is easy for kids to understand. They don’t struggle with it as much as adults tend to, so don’t assume it will be difficult for them. Kids get it.
  • If you mis-gender someone, simply correct yourself and move on. It can be tempting to make a big deal of apologizing, but that only centers you and makes it more uncomfortable for the person. Apologize, correct yourself, and move on. This is true whether or not the person you're speaking about is present. Be sure to model and practice this with kids, so they also know what to do if they use the wrong pronouns.
  • Talking about gender identity is also connected to the topic of gender stereotypes. Use this as a jumping off point to have conversations about gender more broadly as well.

Vocabulary to learn together

  • Gender identity | One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
  • Transgender | An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender | A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Non-binary | An adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do.

All about pronouns

  • Personal pronouns or pronouns: When talking about pronouns, use “personal pronouns” or just “pronouns.” Saying “preferred pronouns” is harmful because it suggests that pronouns are a choice or a preference. Pronouns are necessary to adhere to, so a person's pronouns are not a preference but a fact.
  • There are many different pronouns besides he and she. You might be most used to using “he” and “she” to refer to people, but in reality, there are many other pronouns that people use as well. For example, some people use “ze/hir/hirs” (pronounced “zee/here/heres”) or “ey/em/eir” (pronounced “ay/em/airs”). Do some research together to learn about some of the other pronouns that people commonly use.
  • Our pronouns can change. Over time, we may learn more about ourselves or change and decide our pronouns need to change, too. That is normal! If you decide you want to change your pronouns, or if someone you know changes their pronouns, know that is completely okay.
  • We can't tell someone's pronouns by their appearance or their name. Sometimes, we try to guess a person’s pronouns based on their name or how they look. But the truth is, we never know someone’s pronouns just by looking at them. To find out somebody’s pronouns, we can ask or we can listen for how they describe themselves.

Want to learn more? Check out our Pronouns, LGBTQ+ Representation, or Celebrating Pride kits here 

Want to create a safe learning environment for trans and nonbinary students this year? Join our FREE mini-course to learn directly from trans educators about how to better support your trans students!


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