Straight Talk: Discussing Gender Identity and Teaching Tolerance

February 28, 2014, Parenting Success Network

My 9-year-old son and I were lounging on the couch one evening, enjoying the Winter Olympic ice skating competition and he turns to me with a mildly perplexed look on his face and asks, “Is that a man or a woman?” Unsure of why he was asking, I asked him “Which skater are you referring to?” He replied, “The one with the pants.” At this point, I felt conflicted about what to say next. Mostly because I really didn’t know the sex of the skater, and our enjoyment and understanding of the broadcast did not seem dependent upon the answer, and most importantly, I wanted to respond with honesty, tolerance, and sensitivity.

The topics of gender, gender roles, and gender identity are very personal and complex for many of us. It becomes even more complex when we feel that we have little knowledge about gender identities that we are unfamiliar with. As a straight, cisgender parent I find it challenging to discuss LGBTQ issues, in many ways because I do not have the personal experiences of those identities to speak about. However, it is important to me that I have conversations with my own children that reflect the openness, sensitivity, and acceptance that I want them to have when understanding people and things that may be unfamiliar to them. So how can parents talk to their children appropriately and sensitively about gender, gender identity, and gender roles? For me, the most important part of the conversation is that it conveys tolerance, acceptance, and a desire to learn. After all, that is how I would want someone that is first meeting me and my family to act. I recently read an article posted on by Heather Spohr titled, Talking to Kids About LGBT People and Issues. Heather’s personalized post provided me with a deeper understanding of my role as a parent in the development of my children’s perspectives of LGBTQ people (and people different from them in other ways). Check out Heather’s post and join me as I continue to work toward my personal goal to teach my children tolerance, sensitivity, and awareness of the lifestyles and cultures of others.