I received an email recently from a mother who asked for my advice. I think it’s a great question and not an easy one to answer, but I tried, because I think it’s so important.
I’m curious what you think about this question and my response. I’m sure others have encountered this situation and I wonder how they dealt with it. Please let me know what you think!
I wanted to ask you a question because you as a parent of a transgender child might be able to help me. I have a 5 year old daughter and one of her closest friends at school is a transgender child, a girl that sees herself as a boy. This child, Maya*, is as boyish as they come come, dresses, looks, and refers to herself as a boy. When I first met her I called her by her name, “Maya,” and she looked at me and said, “It’s ‘Max.’” It’s easy for everyone to assume that Maya is a boy, and the reality is everyone does. When I first met her, I assumed she was a boy, and referred to her as a “he” to her mother. I was corrected by her mother on the pronoun and apologized for my mistake. When I refer to her as “she” to my daughter, she corrects me and tells me, “Maya is a he, stop saying she.”
My question is, should I respect the wishes of the parent, or the wishes of the child?
Should I tell my daughter her friend is not a boy but a transgender child? What can I say/do that is fair to everyone but not feel like I’m lying? Every time I let my daughter think Maya is a boy I feel like I’m not being honest in a way. I’m afraid she’s going to find out and have a reaction that is not respectful, as a 5 year old may. I just don’t know. My feeling is that I should talk to her about Maya being transgender and prepare her and tell her that she should treat Maya as a boy because that is how her friend wants to be seen, but my husband thinks it’s best to not to even mention it because it could deeply offend her parents. Maya keeps asking for a play date but I avoid it because I don’t want an uncomfortable situation if Maya’s mom is present and sees my daughter refer to Maya as a boy. Is there any insight you can give me that would help me figure out the best course of action?
That’s a tricky situation and I think it’s wonderful that you’re being so thoughtful about it. My advice would be to use this as an opportunity to explain to your daughter what transgender is (“Some people who are born with girl bodies feel like boys, and some people born with boy bodies feel like girls”). You wouldn’t need to mention Maya/Max. If your child knows that Maya has a girl’s body, then she will figure it out. And in my experience, she won’t care either way. Kids seem to accept this stuff much more calmly and smoothly than the parents. They’re generally far more interested in getting back to the important business of playing!
If it were me, I’d advise my child to listen to and respect what her friend is saying about who they are. It’s not about the child’s mother. It’s about what message YOU want to send to YOUR child. Do you want to teach her that we should listen to and accept what our friends say about who they are? I’m guessing the answer is yes. That doesn’t mean you tell your daughter that her friend is transgender (and frankly, we don’t know if the child is or is not – that’s someone else’s call and there’s plenty of time for that child and their family to figure it out). I’d simply say to my child, “Your friend is who they say they are,” and leave it at that.
As for the mother of the child, that’s tricky. She is probably struggling to figure this out. Sometimes it takes a long time. The family is lucky to have you in their circle, so you can be supportive if/when they need it.
* I’ve changed all names to protect the privacy of these children and their parents.