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Monday, December 27, 2010

Prejudice in preschoolers: talking about different types of families

Children can be very cruel.  Even at 4 years of age, children notice and comment on differences- sometimes innocently but occasionally with intent to bruise. Whether it's a man on the street who 'walks funny' or a peer with a different family structure, children who are seeking a position at the top of the kids' pecking order will often see this 'oddity' as an opportunity for misguided sport.

It's particularly difficult to explain sexual preferences to a young child.  One year I had contact with a preschool group which contained two children with alternate family structures- one with lesbian parents and one with a transsexual parent- and the same group was rich with alpha male children who decided to use these children's differences for target practice.

Teaching these children empathy wasn't my brief that year, but later I reflected deeply on best practice and how I would have done things differently if I were in charge. Both children were clearly having difficulties coping with the attitudes around them.  In the end my thoughts became two children's stories in which different types of families play a significant part.

Feel free to read these to your children, or to use the concepts as a basis of your own discussions of prejudice with your children.


My Dad's a Girl

"Who's picking you up today, Becky?" asked Mrs Baker.

"My dad is," said Becky.

"Well, can you remind her to pick up all your drawings from last week? They're in your locker."

"Okay," said Becky. "I'll tell her." She started walking off to get her bag.

Zac looked confused. He said to Mrs Baker, "Why did you call Becky's dad a her? Becky's DAD's picking her up, not her mum."

Becky stopped walking and shook her head sadly. Zac was a new kid. He just didn't understand.

"No, Zac," said Becky, "you don't get it. My dad's a girl."

Zac stared at her, and then started to laugh. "You're so dumb. Dads are always boys."

"Well, mine isn't," said Becky.

"Your dad's weird," said Eric, who had been listening all the time. "He dresses like a girl, but he's still a BOY."

"She's NOT!" said Becky. "My dad's a GIRL!" She was hopping mad. Then Eric stuck out his tongue at her, and that was the last straw. Becky ran at him and hit him so hard that Eric started to cry.

"Becky, that is NOT OKAY!" said Mrs Baker. "You sit down here with me till you cool off." She looked at Eric's arm where Becky had hit him. "You'll be okay, there's no blood. Go and ask Miss Turner for an ice pack, and then stop annoying Becky, please!"

Just then, Becky's dad Jackie arrived to pick her up. Sure enough, she was dressed in girl's clothes, and she was wearing makeup, and she walked like a girl. But when she asked Mrs Baker why Becky was in trouble AGAIN, she had a deep boy's voice, and there was something about the shape of her face and the shape of her body that made you wonder.

Eric forgot about the ice pack. He walked straight up to Jackie and said, "You're a boy, aren't you?" Zac giggled.

Jackie just smiled at them patiently. She was used to questions like that. "I'm a girl on the inside. I got put in the wrong shaped body, that's all."

"Then you ARE a boy," said Eric, and he and Zac ran off laughing.

Mrs Baker apologized to Jackie for the boys' rude behaviour and said goodbye. Then she sighed. This was the third time today the boys had made Becky lose her temper. And Mrs Baker had noticed that only a few of the girls would play with Becky. Maybe it was time to talk to the class about Becky's dad, to try to help them understand.

The next day before lunchtime, Mrs Baker had two big boxes. One was covered in Spiderman stickers, and the other one was covered in Barbie wrapping paper. She said, "I'm going to choose two people to open these boxes. If you open the box, you can play with what's inside all lunchtime. Today I'm choosing Zara and Eric."

She asked Zara, "Which box would you like to open?"

Zara said, "The Barbie box! The Barbie box!"

She asked Eric, "Which box would you like to open?"

Eric said, "The Spiderman box looks cool."

"Good, we're not going to have a quarrel then." Mrs Baker let Zara and Eric come to the front. Zara opened the Barbie box, looking really happy and excited.

Inside was a Spiderman suit. Zara looked like she was going to cry.

"How do you feel inside, Zara?"

Zara sniffled back her tears. "I'm cross. THAT'S not right. It's meant to be a Barbie."

"I think you're sad as well as cross. Look at that big tear running down your cheek. Do you think there's been a bit of a mix-up? Could you see what was on the inside when you looked at the outside of the box, Zara?"

"No. That's not fair!" She stomped back to her place and sat down, still sniffling.

"Alright, Eric, what do you think's inside the Spiderman box? Can you tell without looking inside?"

"I suppose it's a stupid Barbie," said Eric crossly. He went and sat down without even looking.

Zac put his hand up and said, "Can I have a look, Mrs Baker?"

"Sure," she said. Zac came out and opened the Spiderman box. To Eric's surprise, inside was ANOTHER Spiderman suit. Zac punched the air. "Whoo-hoo! I get to play with it!"

"That's not fair," said Eric. He was crosser than ever.

"You had your chance," said Mrs Baker. "It always pays to check what's inside the box."

She reached into her bag and pulled out a Barbie doll. "Both these boxes had toys inside that the boys like best, didn't they? Barbie wasn't even there. People are the same, you know. Some have girl stuff in them and some have boy stuff, and you can't always tell what's inside by looking at the outside."

She put Barbie into the Spiderman box and shut the lid. "Can you see Barbie? Has she turned into a Spiderman suit just because she's in a Spiderman box?"

The boys and girls shook their heads. Mrs Baker opened the box again so they could see Barbie. "I can't fool you twice, can I? But some of you got fooled by a person the other day. You looked at the outside and thought you could see what was inside, even though Becky TOLD you what was inside the box."

Zac said, "Are you talking about Becky's dad?"

"I sure am," said Mrs Baker. "Eric, Zac, how would you feel if I made you play with Barbie all afternoon? Would it feel right?"

"It'd be DUMB," said Eric. He was still very cross.

"Well, that's how Becky's dad feels. By mistake he got put in a boy's body...'

Becky's arm shot up in the air. She was frowning.

'What's up, Becky?'

'You said HE. You've got to say SHE. My dad's a GIRL.'

Mrs Baker smiled.  'You know Becky, even teachers make mistakes sometimes.  I'll try again, shall I? 

'By mistake, SHE got put in a boy's body, but on the inside she's a girl. When she puts boy clothes on and plays boy games, it feels DUMB. It feels WRONG. Inside, Becky's dad is a girl."

Zac said, "Well, I got put in the right box. If I wore a dress and played with Barbie I'd feel stupid."

"That's because your inside matches your outside. You're lucky because you got put in the right box, but sometimes when we're born, little mistakes happen. Quite a lot of people get put in the wrong box, or get important things left out of their box. Do you remember Miriam? She didn't have any thumbs on her hands. That was just a mistake, but she got pretty good at doing things with her hands anyway, didn't she? She worked out other ways to do stuff.

"Well, Becky's dad is just working out other ways to make her outside match her inside, so people won't keep expecting her to do stuff that feels all wrong. If she wears a dress, people might see that she's a girl and they won't keep expecting her to be interested in Spiderman and racing cars and stuff like that."

She handed the Barbie doll to Zara, who stopped crying at once. "Zara, I can see you're a girl inside, so you'd better have a toy that makes you feel good inside. It wasn't a nice feeling, was it, when you got the wrong toy for what's inside you?"

Zara shook her head. "I hope Becky's dad feels better when she wears girl clothes," she said. "Do you think she'd like a turn of Barbie too?"

Mrs Baker smiled. "Why don't you ask her?"

Willow put her hand up. She looked worried.

"I like wearing jeans and climbing trees, Mrs Baker. Does that mean I got put in the wrong box?"

Mrs Baker smiled. "Not at all, Willow. Girls and boys like doing lots of the same things. There are girls who race motor bikes and there are boys who look after their babies all day, and they aren't in the wrong box, they just like doing those things, and that's just fine.

"If you were in the wrong box you wouldn't even have to ask me about it- you'd know. It'd feel like you were wearing someone else's skin. Everything would feel all wrong."

After school Eric followed Becky out of the classroom.

"Your dad's a mistake," he whispered.

Mrs Baker heard him. She said to Becky, "Please don't hit him. It won't help."

Becky shrugged her shoulders. "I don't feel like hitting him any more. I feel sorry for him."

"Really?" said Mrs Baker. "Why is that?"

"Because HE'S the mistake," said Becky. "When they made Eric, they forgot to put the kindness in his box."

She ran off to give her dad a big hug.

Finn's Happy Pants

Friday was dress-up day at Finn's school.

All the kids were excited. They'd been talking for days about what they were going to wear. But Finn didn't know what he was going to do.

Zane and Dean were going to wear their Superman costumes. Greg and Zac and Lewis were coming as Spiderman. Eric had a new Batman outfit, and Chris was coming as a cowboy.

Finn would've liked to do something like that, just so he looked like everyone else, but Finn's mum wouldn't let him have a superhero costume. She said superheroes did too much hitting and hurting, and stuff like that. Finn wasn't allowed to watch the superhero cartoons in the morning like the other boys.

Instead, he went outside and played in the yard. That was okay, he liked that. There was lots of cool stuff to do out there.

Mum's girlfriend Rita said a cowboy costume wasn't okay either. Finn wasn't allowed to play with guns, not even pretend ones. Rita said guns were bad things that hurt people.

That was okay too, except when he was at school. He had heaps of cool toys at home. But at school the other boys always wanted to play shooting games, and he always felt sort of bad inside when he joined in.

Finn bet Dad would have let him go as Spiderman, or have a pretend gun like the other boys. Finn's dad didn't live with him and mum any more. He lived miles and miles away, up the coast, and now Rita lived at his place instead. Finn only saw Dad in the school holidays. That made him feel really sad inside. Rita was okay, but it wasn't the same as having Dad around all the time.

The night before dress-up day, Finn was feeling really miserable. He still didn't know what he was going to wear.

"What's up, Finn?" said Rita. Rita was looking after him, because Mum was still at work at the hospital.

Finn thought about saying he felt sick. Then maybe he could miss school tomorrow, and he wouldn't have to worry about not having a dress-up. But that was no good- Mum would know straight away that he was fibbing. She was a doctor. She'd take his temperature, and look at him all over, and say "You're fine. Off you go!"

So Finn said, "It's dress-up day tomorrow. ALL the other boys will be superheroes and cowboys and stuff, and I don't know what I'm going to be."

Rita frowned. "Oh dear... I see. Do you really want to dress up like that?"

Finn thought for a bit. Then he said, "Well, not really. But the other kids won't want to play with me if I don't."

Rita said, "That's sad, Finn. But do you really want to play superheroes with them?"

Finn said, "Not really. It makes me feel all funny inside, because I know Mum doesn't like it."

"Well," said Rita, "what does make you feel good inside?"

Finn thought a bit. "I feel good when I sit up high in the apple tree and look up at the sky. It's sort of peaceful. I can see rainbows up there sometimes. And I feel good when I wear my happy pants that Mum bought me. They're really comfy."

Rita said, "Well, why don't you go dressed up as happiness? You can wear your t-shirt with the peace sign on it, and your happy pants with the rainbow stripes."

Finn looked a bit worried. "But the other kids might laugh at me."

"Well, if they do, laugh right back at them. What's more important, Finn? Looking good on the outside, or feeling good on the inside?"

Finn wasn't sure about that, but he hated feeling like he was making Mum sad. He went straight to his room and got out his peace t-shirt and his happy pants, ready for tomorrow.

On Friday the playground was full of kids in Spiderman suits and Superman suits and Batman suits. There was a cowboy and a policeman, and they both had toy guns.

Then there were the girls. They all seemed to be wearing princess dresses or butterfly wings, except for one girl who was all in brown with a big green wig on her head. At least, Finn thought it was a girl. It was hard to tell under the wig.

All the boys looked at Finn in his peace t-shirt and his happy pants, and they stared. Zac started to laugh.

"You've got girl pants," said Zac. Then everybody laughed.

Finn felt very, very small inside, and very, very angry too.

"They're not girl pants," he said. "They're happy pants."

"Girl pants, girl pants," said Zane. Soon all the boys were calling out "GIRL PANTS, GIRL PANTS" at the tops of their voices.

"Boys!" said Mrs Turner sternly. "Stop that right now. I don't like it, and neither does Finn."

The boys stopped, but they wouldn't play with Finn. They went off to the other side of the yard to play superheroes, and left him all by himself.

Finn heard Miss Sykes say to Mrs Turner, "Fancy sending a boy to school in those silly pants. What was his mother thinking?"

Finn didn't like Miss Sykes. She was always saying mean things about the kids and their parents to the other teachers, right in front of them, like all the kids were deaf or something. She didn't seem to notice if she hurt people's feelings. And she had a mean mouth that always looked like she just ate something nasty.

Finn felt like saying, "That's not okay, Miss Sykes!", just the way Miss Sykes said it to him once, when he was still reading a book instead of sitting on the mat at group time. But he didn't. He just stared at her hard with his worst grumpy look.

Miss Sykes saw him and gave him a creepy smile, the one where her mouth smiled but her eyes didn't. "Off you go and play, dear," she said in her special talking-to-children voice.

Finn didn't go off and play. He sat down under a tree and watched Spiderman and Superman and Batman climbing up the fort and leaping off, and the policeman and the cowboy shooting at each other. Then he watched the pink princesses and butterflies bossing each other around near the sandpit. Everyone looked like they were having the best fun.

Well, everyone except him, and one other kid. Finn noticed that the brown girl with the green hair wasn't playing with the other girls. She was lying on her back in the sandpit, making angel shapes with her arms and legs all by herself. After a while, she stopped making angels and came over to where Finn was sitting.

"I like your rainbow pants, Finn," said the brown and green girl, taking off her green hair and shaking the sand out. "They're cool. Where did you get them?"

Finn was feeling too miserable to talk. Besides, he didn't usually talk to the girls, because the other boys teased him if he did. The brown and green girl put her hair back on, sat down next to Finn and started threading leaves onto a bit of stick.

"What are you doing?" said Finn.

"I'm making some more branches. I'm a willow tree."

Finn said, "A what tree?"

"Like my name. Willow. It's a sort of tree. I came as a willow tree. The other girls think it's dumb but I don't care. I don't want to be a stupid princess. It's boring. I'd rather be a tree. We've got a willow tree at home and I climb right up to the sky."

Finn grinned. "That's cool!" he said. "I've got a climbing tree at home too. I sit up there and watch for rainbows."

Willow smiled. She had a really nice smile that made you forget about the weird green hair; it even made Finn feel a bit better inside.

"Is that why you're wearing rainbow pants?" she said.

"Sort of. They're called happy pants. They're really comfy, and I feel happy when I'm up there in my tree wearing them and looking at the rainbows, so I'm dressed up as happiness."

"That's an awesome idea," said Willow.

Finn frowned, feeling miserable again. "No it isn't. All the other boys laughed at me."

Willow frowned too. "The girls laughed at me, too, but I don't care. That just means they've got NO IMAGINATION. Why would I want to be friends with them? Look at them down there, they all look the same and they keep saying mean things to each other and making each other cry. The boys are just as bad, they keep hurting each other. See, Zac's just hit Zane on the head and he's crying."

Finn looked. Mrs Turner was putting an ice pack on Zane's head and telling Zac to sit down next to her, and Zac was making a rude face at her.

Did he really want to be friends with those boys? He remembered what Rita said to him about feeling good on the inside. Maybe not. He never felt good inside when he played with those boys.

Willow looked at him thoughtfully. "I reckon we could climb this tree. What do you think?"

They looked up at the big tree they were sitting under. It was very tall, and the lowest branch was higher than he could reach, but when he looked hard he saw that it did have some good places on the trunk to put your feet and hands.

"Let's try," said Finn.

"Cool!" said Willow.

Soon they were scrambling up the trunk of the tree to the lowest branch. They sat there for a while and looked down at all the other kids. Nobody had seen them yet.

"Do you think we'll get in trouble?" said Finn.

"Not if Miss Sykes doesn't see us. And not if we don't fall," said Willow. "Do you want to go higher?"

Finn looked up again. It was easy now, there were lots of branches to stand on. "I'll go first," he said. "My dad told me to always pull on the branch first to test it, in case it's going to break, so I'll check them before we climb on them so you don't fall."

Up they went, higher and higher into the sky. Soon the other kids looked like tiny ants crawling around the playground.

"We're awfully high. Are you scared?" said Willow.

"No, are you?" said Finn.

"No way!"

They sat at the top of the tree, looking up at the clouds. They watched a little spider crawl along the branch. Finn was pleased to find that Willow wasn't scared of spiders. She didn't scream and squash it like most of the other girls would- she just let it crawl across her hand and looked at its pretty stripey back.

Finn said, "Hey Willow, do you want to be friends with me instead of those silly girls?"

Willow grinned. "We like the same stuff, don't we? And we don't hurt each other, and you helped me when we were climbing up here. So that means we're already friends."

Then Miss Sykes rang the bell to go inside.

"Oh-oh," said Finn. "We'd better get down, and fast. I'll go first."

"Not too fast," said Willow. "I don't want you to fall."

They started climbing down. When they were about halfway down, they realised they'd been seen. All the boys had stopped playing superheroes. They were gathered around the bottom of the tree watching them with their mouths wide open. The girls were all pointing up at them and giggling.

"How'd you get up there?" called Eric.

Finn didn't answer. He remembered that the last thing Eric said to him was "GIRL PANTS! GIRL PANTS!" and he was still cross inside.

"Don't show them the footholds," said Willow quietly. "This is our secret. We can jump off the bottom branch."

They got to the bottom branch and jumped. Greg said, "AWESOME! Can I have a go?"

He tried to jump up and grab the branch, but it was much too high. Willow and Finn just smiled at each other, and lined up to go inside.

For the rest of the day, all the other kids tried to find out how to get up the tree.

"Did you fly up there? I can do that," said Lilly.

Willow just smiled and said nothing. She knew that Lilly's butterfly wings were just pretend.

"I bet you used the ladder from the climbing frame," said Dean. "I know how to climb that tree," he yelled to the other boys.

Finn just smiled and said nothing. He knew that the ladder from the climbing frame was far too short.

When Rita picked Finn up that afternoon, he made sure he said goodbye to Willow before he went home.

"See you tomorrow," she said. "Let's climb our tree again!"

"Yes, let's," said Finn. "But only when nobody's watching!"

They smiled at each other and waved.

"You were right," said Finn to Rita as they walked to the car.

Rita laughed. "Really? Right about what, Finn?"

"How you feel inside. It's much more important than how you look outside."

As they drove home, Finn told Rita all about his day, and all about Willow. He didn't tell Rita how far they went up the tree, though. He thought she might worry too much.

When he was finished telling her, he said, "I thought it was going to be a horrible day, but it turned out really good. I've got two friends now."

"Two?" said Rita, as they pulled up in Finn's driveway. "You told me about Willow. Who's your other friend?"

Finn grinned. "You are. You helped me, and you don't hurt me, and we like the same stuff. Willow says that means we're friends already. You had that good idea about me dressing up as happiness. And if you didn't give me that idea, and tell me that stuff about feeling good inside, I wouldn't be friends with Willow."

Rita hugged him. She looked really, really happy. "I know I'm not the same as your dad, Finn, but I do love you, you know."

"I know," said Finn. "I love Dad heaps, but I love you too. It's just- sort of- different from the way I love Dad."

That night Finn dreamed that he and Willow climbed up a willow tree and found the end of a rainbow. They kept climbing, all the way over the top of the rainbow till they could slide down the other side like a slippery dip. They climbed the willow tree and the rainbow over and over again, sliding down and landing in the soft white clouds, till Finn woke up and it was morning.

He jumped out of bed grinning with excitement, ready to start a brand new day with his brand new friends.



  1. Thanks, PJ. I just hope someone can use it for good out there.

  2. Like the first story. Minor quibble with the second: I think it is implicitly sexist, in that it casts the lesbian parents with very stereotypical (and also cliche'd and frankly, in my opinion, ridiculous) views on what is and is not appropriate for kids to play with. I think that this stereotype weakens the story.

    In the first story, the point is extremely simple and concise: trans parents are pretty much like everyone else, only different on the outside, and their differences aren't a bad thing. But you're implying in the second story that lesbian parents *aren't* basically like everyone else: that they have distinct values that make their children act differently. And frankly, I think that's sexist, because I think it would be just as legitimate to have lesbian parents that were perfectly happy with their kid/s playing with traditionally 'male' toys. I know plenty of women who love / loved such toys (especially 'play-violent' ones), defying gender stereotypes. I don't see what the opposite opinion has to do with sexuality.

    My point is that I think that this characterisation distracts attention from what should be the same point: that lesbian parents are basically just people like anyone else. If they happen to have different attitudes, those attitudes are no more different to the norm than those of unorthodox straight couples.

    Does that make sense?

  3. That's an interesting point of view which probably has something to do with a generational difference; your peers in their early 20s are, I think, much more laissez-faire about weapons due to their love of gaming, and I think this has affected your perception of what was quite a valid observation of mine about the views of slightly older parents. My experience is that many female parents of the children I've cared for still support a total play-weapons ban in childcare centres.

    However I don't think your quibbles about this make the entire story invalid in any case. A story scenario doesn't have to represent the views of everyone, or even of the majority, to be useful. Children constantly query and test their parents' boundaries around many issues, and the choice of issue is not the point, except in that I know it's one which would rivet the children's attention- because guns ARE forbidden in most care centres.

    The point of THIS story is to normalise the female-female relationship by presenting it in the background of a separated-parents, boundary-testing, personal-identity story, and to include some of the challenges which a sensitive boy might confront in the playground when not conforming to the male shoot-'em-up playground stereotype (which, I assure you, still exists as strongly as ever). I did base the story on some real events and attitudes, so I stand by its worth and validity.

  4. I don't think this quibble makes the entire story invalid; I think it weakens it considerably.

    I happen to personally find the total-play-weapon-ban attitude ridiculous, but that was not the point I was making. I happen to also find the implication that it's ok for a lesbian couple to endorse or impose hostile views towards traditionally masculine roles and modes of play upon their children (male or female), deeply offensive. I would feel the same way if the gender roles were reversed.

    But these were not my points. My point was that if your objective is simply to encourage children to be accepting of other children who have lesbian parents, and indeed of the parents themselves, your best bet is to write a story which highlights similarity, rather than difference. I think this will be more effective in communicating your message clearly and simply.

  5. Ah, but highlighting similarity is a boring story. Children don't like boring stories. There has to be a conflict, and the conflict has to be one which the children identify with. I can easily think of a number of real children who have had to deal with mum and her new female partner objecting to weapons and mock-violence, while a distant dad has had an opposing view. It can be extremely confusing for the child.

    And I'm not necessarily condoning any attitude by writing about it, just acknowledging its existence. Should every story be so politically correct that we never deal with things that ACTUALLY HAPPEN to the kids? This scenario actually happens, and reasonably often. Whether it SHOULD happen is irrelevant.

    Also, the point is to make the children of lesbian parents feel more accepted by reflecting their family structure within a story, not so much to bring the whole class along for the ride- though it might provoke some conversation about different family structures if the teacher wants to lead the conversation in that direction. My experience is that even very bright children from more conventional family structures actually have trouble working out where Rita fits in, and so that is a conversation starter in itself.

  6. Your first story highlights similarity. Why not the second?

    I am genuinely concerned by my observation that gay and lesbian couples quite frequently (of course, with plenty of exceptions) have quite hostile views towards the opposite gender (and the associated conventional gender roles), and one of my concerns about same-sex parenting (which I generally support) is that these unhealthy or sexist attitudes can be pushed upon children, in the absence of any persistent domestic evidence to the contrary (i.e. an adult member of the opposite gender in the house as a role model). Granted, there are plenty of other similar and equally problematic issues with any couple pushing their views on a child, regardless of the couple's sexuality (religion, racism, etc.). This one does not stand alone. But it happens to be, in some ways, a distinct problem for same-sex couples.

    Now, yes, you should write about that, when it does happen in real life! Tell a story about that! I'm not one to endorse politically correct BS, as you know. But I think the story should make it clear that this is *not* ok.

    As someone with some personal experience of this issue from the child's perspective, I'd suggest that it's a problem, and it should not be legitimised. My worry is that your story implicitly legitimises it. Maybe it's reading a bit into it, but that was what struck me as a weakness of the story.

  7. No, my first story starts with a gigantic difference and turns it into a similarity! Not quite the same thing! :D

    I agree that sexist, racist or religious attitudinal pressure applied by parents is frequently totally misguided and often damaging, but I'm not sure that I'd put this particular issue into that category, though it has its controversial side. The danger, of course, is that as with alcohol, prohibition breeds over-reaction (there's a column in that, methinks!). My actual opinion? With the benefit of hindsight after my own parenting experiences, I think perhaps Rita and Mum might be wiser to let Finn play with a gun if he wants to, and use that as a starting point for discussion, including reading out newspaper articles about what can happen when they're used unwisely. (Maybe I feel a sequel coming on... or another column!)

    I'm interested that you saw the story as tacitly supporting the anti-violent view; it wasn't my intention to take sides, rather to take the child's point of view in a tricky situation for him. I was more interested in exploring the problem of a child who felt the pressure to conform to the superhero cult, but didn't actually feel in his heart that it reflected who he was. And I am a radical believer in letting a child be who he or she is, regardless of peer or parent pressure!

  8. Dear Aunt Annie,,,, I love your work.

    Your Introduction to these topics is good, but I would like to see a clarification between sexual preference and Gender Identity, as both are very different things. Sexual preference is exactly that, a choice of which gender you are attracted to. Whereas Gender Identity is a little different and has nothing to do with sexual preference at all. Someone with a gender identity condition can still have a preference to any, either or both genders like anyone else, but has a condition in which their identified birth gender differs from their internal identified gender.
    As you may well have guessed by now, this topic rests quite close to home for me so please excuse any torch I may appear to bare here..

    In regards to the first story here I see a condition that relates that relates gender identity and I know this topic can get a little confusing when writing about, especially to do with the pro nouns used when referring to the person in mention ie: He and She..
    I see a little of this in the explanation to the children
    " By mistake he got put in a boy's body, but on the inside he's a girl. When he puts boy clothes on and plays boy games, it feels DUMB. "

    If "Jackie" has the condition known as gender identity, then she is a she and shouldn't be referred to as a he in giving a child an explanation. This could bring about even more puzzlement into their minds.

    Other than that, in reading both of the stories I have to admit to holding back some tears.
    It's not often that these topics are covered, let alone so well.

    Thank you Aunt Annie for your worthwhile effort in writing.

    Would you mind if I re-posted the first story in a relevant forum,,of course with all due credits and link ?

    Regards and utmost respect

  9. Hi Lisa, great to see you here!

    Thanks so much for your feedback. You are so right! Of course I should have referred to Jackie as 'she', as her daughter did. Maybe I can amend the story so Becky corrects Miss Baker (actually that's an awesome idea, thanks!).

    I'm not sure that I agree with you that sexual preference is a choice; sexual orientation seems to be something that we're born with. But I do take your point that GID is a medical condition which is not really about sexual partner orientation at all. Thanks for making that clear to our readers.

    I'd be delighted to see you using the story in an appropriate forum- that's what it's for! But wait till I get you a version with my pronoun error corrected :D !

  10. And further to my comments to Lisa- if you re-read the story now you will see that I've amended it- I think it works quite well.

    I've also slightly amended the post on boys dressing in girls' clothing to stress that GID is not a partner-preference issue; I see that this must be a common misinterpretation, so let's get it clear! Thanks again for your very helpful feedback.

  11. Wow Annie,,gee your quick....

    And I also must stand corrected with the statement that sexual preference is a choice. In my haste to ramble I didn't stop to think enough about what I had written, and of course there's no choice in the matter. It's defiantly a nature over nurture thing by far for the majority..

    There's so so much we just don't know about the brain, and it's one of them things that would receive little if any funding to study..Though lucky for some there is a bit of study going into the GID diagnosis, they see that transsexuals brains do fire electrically like a females rather than a males. It would benefit society in most cultures to further study this as well as partner preferences "mechanics" I think..

    Just re-read the section and I am truly humbled by your willingness to amend it in such a manner. A lesson myself and I'm sure a few others could use in life in general..

    Namaste Aunt Annie ;-)

  12. Wow, I didn't know that about transsexuals' brains, Lisa- very interesting indeed! But it makes sense. It seems like a sort of developmental communication gulf... the brain's going 'I'm making a BOY' while the other cells are going 'I'm making a GIRL'.

    Humbled? Blow that, Lisa- everyone should be prepared to accept good advice and correct errors- and meanwhile I'm humbled by your honesty and your willingness to make an effort to help get good information out there.

  13. Hi Annie

    I wish you were teaching my boy... and the other kids he's with. It's not too bad now, but I think High School may be a problem. We'll see.

    He got to see his Daddy turn into a girl, when he was 3. A rare Intersex condition, but close enough to a classic transsexual transition as makes no difference - my gender identity was always female, so it was a relief, not a nightmare.

    That's not always true... for about 1 in 3, it's not good.
    See Sally's story.

    Transsexual brains are partly cross-sexed, anatomically. See for example:

    Male–to–female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Kruiver et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2000) 85:2034–2041

    The present findings of somatostatin neuronal sex differences in the BSTc and its sex reversal in the transsexual brain clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.

    Anyway, his mother and I usually pretend to be a standard lesbian couple. It's safer, more accepted.

  14. Hi Zoe, and thanks so much for joining us here.

    Yes, sometimes I wish I could take care of all those little kids out there who struggle with issues like these; that's one reason I started the blog, so at the very least parents have some easy-to-read information to pass on to teachers who may not have a grasp of the situation.

    I did read 'Sally's story'- tremendously difficult, but such a relief that in the end they listened to what the child wanted. Thanks for sharing that. I feel like my understanding of transsexual issues has increased dramatically thanks to your and Lisa's input.

    Having watched the reaction of some staff members to the two sets of parents I referred to at the beginning of this post, I can see why you would pretend to be lesbian. Sad to say, while some of the comments about the lesbian parents were typically uncouth, I actually heard the transsexual parent referred to as 'it' (with a giggle) by one idiot. It made me so furious I had to leave the room till I regained my temper (I have a principle which prevents me from castigating other staff in front of the children, and if I'd opened my mouth right then lord only knows what would have come out)- but it also made me determined to write the story 'My Dad's a Girl', so I suppose there was a positive outcome in the end. Some people, as Becky says, have the kindness left out of their box and there's little we can do to change those types.

    If there are any other issues you'd like me to discuss in the column to help your boy move into the high school scene, please let me know.

  15. Hi Annie

    Another issue is that of Intersexed kids.

    Since "Intersex" covers such a wide variety of completely different medical syndromes, it's difficult to generalise. Some won't be visible, but perhaps 1 in 500 children will have genital or other anatomy visibly different from the norm in a changing room.

    It would be useful as part of sex ed to let kids know that there are people who are different there from the usual. Usually not as spectacular as 5ARD (Sally's syndrome) or 17BHDD where the child changes sex at puberty (absent intervention) but enough to cause problems.

    My boy's Intersexed too by the way, and had to have genital reconstruction as an infant - there were problems with urination and he was in constant pain. We opted for the less risky but cosmetically imperfect surgical procedure, and he's happy that everything works, even though it looks not quite completely usual.

    Another issue to face at High School...

  16. Wow, you've got your work cut out... but you sound like you're dealing with it really well. Lucky child. And sometimes the kids with the biggest challenges are the ones that come through as most resilient.

    I think the best way I can help here is with a general column on dealing with 'difference' and prejudice in older kids. I'll put it on my 'think list'!

  17. Hi Annie

    In January of this year Lisa posted a link to your story's on our forum and i found it very helpful to read to my 11yr old son so he might understand what i meant when i told him i was a girl and had allays been a girl inside, this i thank you for from the bottom of my heart.

    I would like to ask you something, I currently have resources to turn both these stories into a short film and need to contact you privately.

    So if you could send me a email i will send you the full proposal on what i wish to do. my email address is

  18. Hi Daryl- I've sent you an email as requested.

    My aim in writing these columns is to increase understanding of the issues in the community and advocate for the welfare of children, so what you suggest is right on the money- anything that helps get the message out there is fantastic. It makes my day that you think the stories are worthy of further exposure.

  19. I read the first story. I love how you made Becky say the part about kindness being left out.


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