Dear trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, non-binary children, and all the kids whose genders don’t yet have words,
I love your beautiful wisdom, your defiance, your joy. I love the way you make your own language and choreograph your own dance through the world. I love the way you imagine yourself into being. I love your wonder. And I can’t wait to see all that you do in the world. I am so excited about it! It’s the kind of excited you get when you can’t sit still because you just know something good is about to happen — like there might be a snow day tomorrow, or it’s the hour before your birthday party. That kind.
I’m 31 years old now, which is a whole lot older than I was in this picture with my grandpa. I’m a teacher that teaches teachers, which is kind of a tongue-twister to say, but it means I work in elementary schools where I wear really boring clothes like khaki pants (ugh!!). But in this picture, I’m a very genderqueer four-year-old with a short haircut in a shiny pink OshKosh swimsuit sitting on my grandpa’s lap, admiring the super-rad knockoff Tinkertoy tower we built together. I was so happy — you can tell, right?
It was just that simple for me and him. We built stuff and learned stuff together. Sometimes grownups make it seem like being transgender or non-binary is soooooo complicated, but I think that a lot of adults just get out of practice when it comes to listening to kids.
I’m not sure my grandpa knew the word transgender before I told him that’s what I was. But you know what? He still loved me, and he told me so. The first thing he said was, “You are the person that all your ancestors strived so mightily to produce, who will make this world a better place.” I’ll never forget that. That’s what adults should do. Although it wasn’t always easy, I am so lucky to have had him, and lots of other adults in my life who listened to me and loved me no matter what. My grownup life is awesome because of it. I have lots of friends — some of them are trans, and some of them aren’t. We have lots of fun together. I know that they love me and always have my back (and they’ll have yours, too). My life is bee-yoooo-ti-ful!
On February 22, the current President of the United States and the people who work with him did an ugly thing: they turned their backs on trans kids. And for those of you who are Muslim, Native, Black, Brown, immigrants or refugees, this wasn’t the first time. The President is wrong, and all of you deserve better from the adults in your lives. I don’t think the President knows any trans or non-binary kids, or at least not very well. He’s certainly not listening to you, because he doesn’t know about your brilliance and creativity. He doesn’t know about how much you know, that special knowledge that trans & genderqueer & non-binary (and more!! See? Once you become an adult you start running out of creative words) kids have to offer — you know about the world in a way that most adults don’t. You know that grownups tell stories about the world to kids that are just a little too simple — like that kids are only listening when you’re sitting with your legs crossed and your hands in your lap, or that your teeth will fall out if you eat candy, or that there’s only boys and girls and that always gets figured out when you’re born.
The President is wrong, and all of you deserve better from the adults in your lives.
The thing is, sometimes grownups say things to children because they think it makes their lives easier. Most grownups are looking out for you (I’m not talking about the President right now, you get to be plenty mad at him!) — they want you to learn and work hard in school, and sometimes it’s easier for lots of kids to listen to one adult talk when it’s quiet. But when you’re outside on the playground, lots of people are talking at once and you can totally still listen to your friends, right? And of course eating candy doesn’t make your teeth fall out just like that, but adults usually want you to eat food that’s healthy for your body. So, sometimes they might tell you stuff to make you eat less candy because it seems easier to them than explaining that as long as you brush your teeth afterward, you’ll be fine.
Gender is just another thing that a lot of adults haven’t figured out a great way of explaining. You and I know that there’s lots of different genders in the world. How cool is that, right?! There’s so many different ways to dress, to express yourself, and lots of different words you can use to describe your body. You know all about that, and that’s part of what makes you special. And no one can ever take that away from you, not even the President of the United States. Nobody can ever take away your knowledge, and nobody can ever take away your joy.
Nobody can ever take away your knowledge, and nobody can ever take away your joy.
OK, here’s where I do that totally adult thing where I tell you about history, but stick with me for a minute: Trans people have existed all over the world for as long as the world has existed. We are older than the President — and he is really old! We have been doing incredible things for all of that time. We’ve been making art, building things, teaching people, and creating families for centuries. In fact, there are lots of words that have been used throughout history to describe people who don’t quite fit into being a boy or a girl in the way some people might think about it. “Trans” is just another word that adults came up with to oversimplify the world, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
Trans people have existed all over the world for as long as the world has existed.
That’s where you come in, and that’s why I’m so excited. You, your friends, and all the thousands of adults all over the world who love you (there are so many of us!) are going to build stuff and learn stuff together like I did with my grandpa. We are going to fight so hard for you, because we love you so much. You are not alone.
Your job is to keep playing! Leave the work stuff to the grownups, so that you can focus on learning new things and building your imagination, creating new words and new ways of understanding things that will help to make this world a better place. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like — we need you for that — but I know that it’s going to be really, really, amazing to watch. Just promise me one thing: when you do become a grownup, please remember to listen to the kids, okay?
P.S. If you are a grownup teacher or who works with kids, here are a couple of tools for you:
- GLSEN’s “Ready, Set, Respect!” Toolkit for Elementary Schools
- The Ackerman Center’s Gender and Family Project
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Resource List
- Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Trans Youth in Schools (put together by the ACLU, Gender Spectrum, HRC, NCLR, and NEA)
- Transgender Law Center’s Youth Resources Page
- Trans Lifeline: Hotline for trans folks in crisis
This post originally appeared on Medium.