Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Vagina Power and What Is A Trans Man?

So I was sitting at the dinner table with the family and we  were chatting about our day, when  Destruction asked me what I had written about and I mentioned that Matt had written an excellent post.  I went on to list how I thought my space was special not because of the work I do, but because of the amazing collaboration that it has become. I said that Jaded is from India, Sparky (who cannot share) is gay and from the U.K and then I said that Matt is a trans man from the U.S.  This made them interrupt me with the question, "Mommy what is a trans man"?  When we have talked about the trans community, it usually has been about trans women.  My boys are quite familiar with Monica from TransGriot who they call Auntie Monica.  They know that she is a trans woman but it matters not when they get on the phone with her and start filling her ear with the details of their day. I have to be honest,  they have expressed a lot of sympathy for Monica's situation.  Nope, not what you think -- there are no Tim Hortons in Texas and they are not sure how she survives.

So when I said that Matt is a trans man, they wanted to know right away what I meant.  So I explained that when Matt was born people thought he was female, but he knew that he was a male -- and so when he was old enough to tell people who he is, he did and now when we talk about him or to him, we know that we are talking to a man.  I didn't expect that this was going to be a difficult conversation and I was right.  We started talking to the kids about gender and sexuality from a very early age and so much of what people are stuck on, my kids have no problem accepting and understanding.

We went to the computer and I showed them a picture of Matt and Mayhem's response was, of course he is a guy, followed by a scream of penis power.  I should probably explain the penis power line.  The boys have been saying this for quite sometime as a part of asserting their masculinity, even though it gets on my last nerve -- so I looked at them and said not all men have penises.   I don't know the  details of Matt's transition, and I am not going to ask, but I really felt that I could use this discussion to make them rethink their understanding of bodies.  Does that mean that trans men have vaginas Mommy? Destruction asked.  When I answered, "some do," it was followed by a very loud "vagina power".  As a woman surrounded by testosterone and that is down to the damn undog, I cannot tell you how happy it made me to hear "vagina power".

When I talk to my kids about gender and sexuality, I keep it very simple and I answer all of their questions honestly and without embarrassment.  Unlike the fundies, I don't think that children are damaged by learning that they share this planet with people who are different from them.  I believe that if we teach children to accept and welcome diversity, we will have a less bigoted society. It's when we don't talk about marginalized bodies that we send the message that there is something deviant and unnatural about them. You don't need to be actively bigoted to send a terrible message to children.  I didn't go out of my way to have a discussion about trans men with them, it just came up as part of discussing the contributors to womanist musings.  I think that if we were all to give it a conscious effort, there are plenty of opportunities to teach children about things and people outside of their everyday experience, we simply ignore those options whenever they arise.

I talk to my children about various communities because I want them to be sensitive respectful, equality minded human beings.  I also believe it is a gift not to fill them with the same biases that I am trying so desperately to unpack.  I did not learn anything about trans people until I went to college and even then I took a completely academic approach and immediately started deconstructing their very existence, like I was talking about a lab rat and not a person. I didn't think that I was being biased, but I know without doubt today I was being completely cissexist -- and I would have had a fit if someone had spoken about Blacks like that. I caused people a lot of pain needlessly, because I didn't have the good sense to shut my mouth and just listen.  Though I have told my children about various communities, being quiet is a lesson I have yet to teach. I have been so focused on making sure that they realize they should view people as their equals, I have not always paid attention to the various discrimination  that each community faces. So, even as I attempt to normalize this for them, I have yet to teach them about power.

I am always actively thinking about how I parent because I realize that if I don't actively teach my boys certain lessons, our society is more than willing to let their minds become filled with hateful nonsense, thus making me responsible for yet another generation of bigotry. So, even as I encourage them to accept difference, I know that as they age I need to ensure that they are aware of their privilege and how this translates into power.  I have yet to really come up with a good way to impart this lesson, but I know that it is very necessary -- because without a conversation about power, I have not completed my job as a parent.  I was wondering how you have included an analysis of power into your conversations with children or if you have an strategies about how best to do so?  I have learned that there is no subject that they cannot understand, if we take care to explain it in a way kids can comprehend -- and so I really would like to give this a go.