Talking to Your Transgender Kids About Erasure


One of the biggest questions parents ask me is about keeping their trans kids safe. Bullies and physical or emotional safety are the topics we can most easily identify.

Erasure and the negative impact of discriminatory policies are a bit more subtle; even while their influence can have farther reach.

When talking about the LGBTQ community and their exhaustingly higher rates of negative outcomes, erasure needs to be brought to the forefront.

Our understanding of gender is changing rapidly; erasure is an immune response from the dominant culture. When the body detects something new or foreign, it perceives the threat and dispatches a response to contain. Now flip that script to those in power, with a vested interest in maintaining status quo.

We could break down the flaws of their arguments. We could also point out the not-so-thinly veiled attempt to further remove an already marginalized group of people. I want to take this in a slightly different direction.

I want to talk to the ambivilents. People who live in the middle and, for whatever reason, have never needed to consider what it means to be trans.

First, visibility matters. Part of the incentive behind erasure is preventing people from being counted. Services and resources are allocated based on the needs and make-up of the community. The proposed 2020 US census does not capture any data around sexual orientation or gender identity. Policy decisions like these ‘disappear’ non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people from existence.

Yes, it’s true that similar data has not been collected in the past. Let’s put some perspective on that one. The national census is conducted every 10 years. When the last census was conducted in 2010, social progress on LGTBQ rights was in a very different place. Marriage equality was still being debated in most states and ‘male’ or ‘female’ were the only two options when issuing identification cards. Now several states offer a third gender indicator. The National LGBTQ Task Force has an amazing timeline of progress toward being counted.

More recently, erasure came through an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to limit the definition of sex under Title IX as, “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth”. Title IX is an important protection for students experiencing discrimination in schools. Defining gender as “immutable”, kids who transition fall into a significant gap. They can’t claim gender-based discrimination if the government considers male and female as a fixed state.

My question is why? Why is a gender binary so important in categorization? It’s a use of social privilege to determine the level of humanity, and representation, that another person deserves.

Social privilege often means not having to think about specific things, because of entitlements. People with power and privilege can decide whose humanity has value; which people are recognized. The root issue is when those in the dominant culture are forced to “see” people from marginalized populations. Queer people, people of color, homeless people, disenfranchised communities – when these groups push their way into the public eye and demand equality, it makes the dominant culture uncomfortable.

Essentially, the perspective is “my comfort in not changing is more relevant than acknowledging your humanity” and this rejection is acceptable by others.

So, what does all of this have to do with talking to your kids? Good question. Queer kids are at much higher risk for negative outcomes in non-supportive environments. Not just within the home, school system, and peer group; discriminatory legislation creates a message of “less than”.

Stigma acts as a barrier. It prevents open dialogue and creates a subclass of legal protections. If a transgender or gender variant person is assaulted or harassed during a visit to the restroom, their actions, appearance, and very presence will be scrutinized as contributing factors.

This “less than” status puts kids (and adults) in jeopardy. Our laws signal to kids, and people of all genders, what it means to be queer. Parents are scared for their child’s safety and future opportunities. Some may redirect gender variant kids into more “traditional” roles, to prevent harm or bullying. However well-intended, these attempts are extremely damaging to the child.

They begin to internalize conflicting realities between what a parent is insisting, and what is going on within.

The answer now is the same as it was during earlier generations – become more visible, vote, and fight back. If you are one of those ambivilents, instead of asking why this is such a big deal for transgender people, think about the many reasons your privilege acts as a buffer.

And, parents, trust me – your kids need advocating, not redirection. Let them explore the entire palette of human experience. Model inclusionary behavior and get involved. Because someone is watching and hoping you will lead.

Originally published at goodmenproject.com on October 26, 2018.

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