My spouse and I were flying to Pittsburgh for our baby shower when a TSA agent cheerfully asked me, “How’re you doing today, sir?” I laughed, said, “I’m fine,” and requested to be screened using the old fashioned metal detector, on account of the fact that I was just over 7 months pregnant. The agent, giving me a second glance, was mortified when she realized her mistake. She was overly apologetic; I was gracious and assured her I wasn’t offended. I’m used to it – this was neither the first nor last time something like this has happened to me.
In the first picture my wife and I have of us together, I’m in a tuxedo with tails and she’s looking as radiant as ever in a ball gown. On our wedding day, I wore a linen shirt and khakis; she donned a dress that was hand-sewn by my mom. When we get all gussied up, my suspenders, bow tie, and saddle shoes are the perfect complement to her shawl, pearls, and heels. You get the idea, right?
At this point, I’m used to people making assumptions like the TSA agent. I’m used to the double takes when I enter a women’s restroom, the sincerity in the perennial “are you a boy or a girl?” question from children, and the embarrassed, hushed voices of parents trying to apologize on behalf of their inquisitive kids.
What I’d love to hear more of, though, is those parents explaining to their children that not all boys look the same, and not all girls look the same. That some people call themselves boys, some people call themselves girls, and some people don’t feel like a boy or a girl. And that everyone should respect and reflect those choices. I don’t need or want you to apologize to me for your child asking a completely normal question. Kids are constantly trying to understand the world around them, and when they see something that they can’t quite classify, they ask questions.
So maybe pause for a moment the next time you have the urge to label someone without knowing them. If you’re not sure how they identify, ask them what their preferred pronouns are. If you see someone wearing a button, pin, sticker, t-shirt, or some other clue telling you what their pronouns are, use them. Your kids are watching, and they will mirror your every move and follow your cues. It may feel uncomfortable, and you may fumble over your words and sound awkward in your own head, but I can guarantee your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
Does that sound daunting? Start smaller. Try to not default to saying “him” or “he” when you’re looking at an ant walking on the ground, or an elephant at the zoo, or when you’re reading a book about construction vehicles. Remind your kid that not all cats, dolls, and ballet dancers are girls. Make a conscious effort to use the word “person” rather than “man” or “woman,” and try “kid” instead of “boy” or “girl.” It’s on us to raise the next generation to be the most compassionate, open-minded one this world has ever know. You don’t have to be good at it right out of the gate; you just have to try.