Family / News & Politics / Parenting

Lessons in Transphobia

Giengen an der Brenz Driving my seven-year-old to art class this last week, we saw someone walking by on the sidewalk whose gender appeared to be ambiguous. When we passed by, my daughter asked:

“Was that a boy or a girl?”

“You know, I don’t know. Maybe a boy or a girl. Or maybe both or neither.”

“Both or neither?” she asked with a nervous giggle.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable being called just a girl or a boy. They feel more like a little of both.”

“But people have to be either a boy or a girl.”

“Sometimes it’s more complicated. Remember the book we read about the girl who felt like she was always a boy, but she didn’t look like a boy on the outside? And then finally, she was a boy, a he, and that felt right. Sometimes, people are born looking like a boy, but they’re really a girl on the inside.”

She paused to think about this. I could see the top of her light brown hair nodding slowly in the backseat. “I feel like a girl,” she announced finally.

“That’s fine, sweetie. But just remember not everybody does. You’re kind of lucky that your insides match your outsides.”




I am not transgender and don’t have to deal with the challenges that come with being gender-nonconforming. But for some reason, I’ve always come off a bit defensive when talking to my kids about issues around gender, perhaps a reaction to my own internalized transphobia. Like when my older daughter giggled because I mentioned a boy who likes to wear dresses, I corrected her sharply. Maybe I corrected more sharply than I needed to given that I don’t want her to be afraid to talk to me about this stuff. Since they were old enough to tell colors apart, my daughters have both been hearing from their parents that color has no gender, that boys like pink and girls like blue. Boys like dress-up and girls like trucks. Boys like glittery nail polish and girls like dinosaurs. Some girls do. Some boys do. Not all like this or that.

Those are the easy lessons. I don’t know how to begin to explain to my girls that some people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes are hurt, beaten, killed for their transgressions.

But we need to be talking about it, in age appropriate ways, just as we are starting to talk about how two women or two men can love each other and get married and how some people don’t think that’s right and that’s why we weren’t allowed to get married before but now we can.

We need to be talking about it and not just once a year on Transgender Day of Remembrance, which we marked this past Wednesday. Once a year just doesn’t cut it given the amount of violence suffered by our trans brothers and sisters. A 2012 report from the National Coaltion of Anti-Violence Programs found that 73% of the victims of anti-LGBT homicides that year were people of color, and 53% of those murders were of transgender women. In the past year alone, there have been 238 cases of reported killings  of trans people, 16 of those in the U.S.

Transphobia: Islan Nettles


One of them was Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old woman from Harlem, fatally beaten in August by Paris Wilson, a 20-year-old man who had been flirting with her and then discovered she was transgender. Wilson was charged with misdemeanor assault, which was already an outrage. Would such a violent crime be reduced to misdemeanor if the victim had been a ciswoman as opposed to a trans woman? How about if that ciswoman had been white?

The charges against Wilson were dropped last week after Wilson’s mother found another man to come forward and confess to the crime. Even though this man could not remember the details of the crime, and witnesses saw Wilson beating Ms. Nettles, it was enough to convince the District Attorney’s office not to bring the case before the grand jury. Although the DA’s office has said it is still investigating the murder charge, the latest news was far from encouraging to a community that already feels marginalized and often abandoned by the larger LGBT community.

As a community, we need to educate ourselves on language and deal with our own fears.  We need to express our outrage loudly over these injustices. We need to draw on the numerous resources available, including the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s dedicated site for trans civil rights.

As parents, we need to ensure that our children are not contributing to transphobia in even the smallest ways. We need to talk openly about these issues so that our children are outraged by trans bullying they see in the halls of their school, in the playground and on the street. We need to not teach them hate.

If we’re able to teach these lessons now, perhaps the next generation will not fear difference and finally let people be who they are.

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  1. Is this the sane CJ that wrote at “Don’t lick the ferrets?” If so, hi again! If not, hello, and I agree, people need to be more conscious of the injustices that Trans people go through.

  2. Ah, there’ve been two C.J.’s around these parts. CJ of Don’t Lick the Ferrets fame (still lickin’ after all these years; she’s now swapped the site to a registered reader model) helped us enormously when Lesbian Family had to dust off the cobwebs a year ago. But this C.J. is another one, with VQ as a regular since this past July. 🙂

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