laverneIf 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.”

“That’s cool.”

“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.

“What 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.

10 thoughts on “Laverne!

  1. The biggest shame is that you have to explain Human Rights to your daughter at all, that Laverne has to appear to make being transgender a civil rights issue.The moment an operation has been performed to change gender a new birth certificate should be issued automatically and/or the original records should be changed to reflect the gender the child/young adult/adult has always felt themselves to be.
    It’s time to show some basic humanity to people.
    xxx Massive Hugs all round xxx

  2. Well, Gendermom, just like the TIME article said, the agitation for civil rights for transgender individuals and those who love them has begun. It won’t be easy, there will be rough spots and some successes. The fight is a worldwide one about human dignity. I am so proud of those like Laverne who stand up to be counted and fight the good fight. It is because of them, their honesty, their heart and their authenticity that M will one day say to others that she is transgender and the others will nod with recognition and acceptance and move on. No big deal. I’ve said before, M is so blessed to have you there by her side as she grows thru the years into womanhood. Please give yourself a big kudo for the outstanding work you do every day.

  3. Wow, you are indeed a wonderful Mom, As an older transwoman, I am so excited to see todays parents not only more excepting but, much more proactive….. I hope that you introduce M to other Trans* kids both her age and older who can act as mentors and role models.

    I had one of my best experiences at the Peoples Fair last Saturday… this might have been one of my most touching experiences ever, and I have been going to fairs and festivals for many years now. Each one has touching experiences But none like yesterdays….

    A young 11 yo transman came into our booth (his mother waited outside) His eyes widened as he saw that we are The Gender Identity Center of Colorado…. With a huge smile he came in slowly and carefully and asked his own questions. One was were there many other transmen? Many! Were there other transkids his age? Many! With each answer his smile got wider and his eyes opened more (I still don’t know how just that they did). Then I slightly broke his heart as he asked his most burning question. How old do you have to be before surgery? I confirmed with his mom that he was on puberty blockers already (Mom really had a great grasp of the situation, though I did give her my card so that I could connect her to other trans parents). Then I told the young man (he was a perfect gentleman, some one that I am proud will someday take the trans* activist role) that currently he would probably have to wait until he turned 18.

    Rather then allow him to walk away on a bad note I reached over and gave him one of the trans flag pins that we have and sell at these events…… His smile and eyes widened right back up, you would have thought that I had given him a solid gold coin.

    I am so thank full for today’s parents who are putting their childrens lives ahead of their own antiquated values and teachings…. I also so amazed as we hear and see more stories like these…. I can not wait to see this young man grow up and take over the world. I suddenly feel the need to work harder to make the world safer and better for him.

    That is why I do this work!.

    Denver People’s Fair

    Denver People’s Fair

  4. I love that you and M use the term “girls with penises.” That’s an important piece of degendering genitals which itself is an important step in overcoming the biological essentialism most of us trans folk have to deal with.

  5. As someone who’s gender identity is quite fluid I have found it fantastic to read your blogs, but this one in particular has struck me. I think your talk was amazing, you did really well, and I hope if I ever have children (or am asked difficult questions by other people’s children) that I can handle the talk as well as you did 🙂

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