If you have not purchased a copy of this week’s TIME magazine, it is officially time for you to do so. Go! Right now! Run to the store and buy it!
Why? Because on the cover of this week’s issue is the lovely, smart, and inspiring transgender “It” girl, Laverne Cox, who plays a transgender character on the popular TV series Orange is the New Black.
Ms. Cox has been all over the place in the news lately, talking about her life as a trans woman, and providing America with a much-needed example of what it means to be a successful, happy, and unapologetically assertive trans person. (She’s not the only one, of course: Janet Mock, Lana Wachowski, Chaz Bono, etc.)
When I heard that TIME was going to feature Cox on the cover, I was pleased, but then I saw the headline that would accompany her cover photo, and I found myself crying tears of joy. “Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.” Could this really be true? Have we really reached a point of no return in the struggle to achieve recognition and basic human rights for people like my child?
I wasn’t quite sure when the issue would hit the news stands, so I paced the grocery store aisle every day, scanning the racks for the lovely Laverne. This week, finally, there she was! I bought a stack of copies and sat in my car in the parking lot to read the article before picking M. up from daycare.
M. didn’t notice the magazine on the front seat. I hadn’t intended to show it to her. How to explain it? This is my constant conundrum: How do I tell her that people are struggling for her rights without frightening her with the reality behind this struggle: That in most parts of this world, she has no rights.
I only recently introduced M. to the word “transgender.” It seemed like a really big word for a little girl of four or five years old. Too formal, too political. Up to now, we’ve relied instead on simple and concrete language: “girls with penises” and “boys with vaginas.” This has worked well, but the kid is growing up. She graduates from kindergarten this week, she just lost her first tooth (!), and she’s learning to read (!!!). She hears the word “transgender” drift around her in conversations, and she’s going to put it together soon. She needs to know more about this.
So I decided to let Laverne Cox help me teach my daughter a little more about herself and her world.
I showed M. the cover of TIME. “This lady in the pretty blue dress is a really famous and talented and smart actor and people really like her, so they put her on the magazine cover.”
M. nodded, examining Laverne’s dress.
“And she’s also…when she was born, they thought she was a boy. Like you.”
“Yeah, it is.”
I told M. that this woman was on the cover because she’s a really famous actor, but also because of something else.
So I launched into Civil Rights 101 – the Kindergarten Version. “Remember Martin Luther King Day?”
If you have parented a young child, you know that it is no minor miracle that my child listened attentively for the next five minutes to a lecture that included no iPhone videos nor other digital enhancements of any kind.
“When my grandmother was your age, people with brown skin were told they weren’t as good or smart as people with white skin…”
“When your grandmother was your age, girls couldn’t have cool jobs because people said girls weren’t as smart as boys…”
“When I was your age, no one had two mommies or two daddies – you couldn’t get married and have kids together if you were both girls or both boys.”
M. was pissed. “That’s so ridiculous. Seriously.”
“I know! And people like Martin Luther King worked hard to change these silly things, so everyone can be equal. Because all people are equal.”
I pointed to the magazine cover. “And today, some people think that it’s not OK to be a girl with a penis, to be transgender. And this woman, she is fighting to tell everyone that transgender people are the same as everyone else. She’s like Martin Luther King. And she’s like you.”
My child reached out her hand and rested her pointer finger on the headline. She ran her finger slowly over one of the words.
“T….trrrrrr….trrrraaaannnzzz….tranzzzz….. gender! Transgender!” My budding reader smiled, pleased with herself.
We high-fived. I left it there.