I had the absolute pleasure this weekend to get to answer some questions about trans and other LGBTQ issues for a class of young folks, they had a lot of great questions and my thoughts about the experience are all piled on top of each other like a box of necklaces I need to untangle before I can put them on display.
Our panel was beautiful and varied. Some of us were binary trans folks, some of us were non-binary, some of us were elder, and some of us were still in high school. The children were all younger but I was astounded how they seemed to have a lot of the same questions I’m used to hearing, and yet simultaneously they seemed more open, informed, and conscious about identity.
When an “adult” asks me intrusive questions they usually do so out of some semi-morbid sense of curiosity. “Have you had [dramatic theme music goes here] the surgery?”
“What did you look like before?”
“How did you know?”
And it’s not that these children asked us different questions, or even unfamiliar ones in any real way, but the tone was so wildly different. It felt less like they were inspecting me and more like they were using our experiences as a mirror to look at themselves, as though each of us sitting on that panel could be a potential future of theirs.
They were thoughtful and brilliant. Their questions were not laced with the sweet venom of passive, polite accusation I’ve come to expect when transgender issues come up, as though I were attending a pop quiz and a jury trial on my identity all at the same time. And they didn’t hold back with the questions either. They asked deeply philosophical questions like, “How can kids know their own identity when they have so little life experience?”
They were scientists and explorers, not politicians. These weren’t political questions to them. They weren’t questioning if I, the trans woman in front of them, or my fellow panelists were a threat to them in some way. They were just asking questions, the atmosphere was comfortable. I got to make some jokes about the language of the LGBTQ experience with them, it was fun. They treated me and my fellow panelists like people — people with backgrounds that were not like theirs but that they found interesting and useful to themselves. It felt like every question they asked us was an attempt to acquire new language they could retool for themselves — and gosh did they know the language.
Each of these children had a name card in front of them, and it had space for them to fill out information about themselves if they wished. I saw “asexual,” “aromantic,” “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” and more on those cards. I saw their pronouns right next to their names. It was incredible how comfortable they were about using these words and how casually they put that information out there. They didn’t bandy them about with the force that you might expect to see in online discussions about these terms.
It was the language they used and the spirit in which they used it that struck me most. They had a comfort with these words, a casual and almost obvious way of using them that is unthinkable to me. At their age I didn’t have the words to describe my experience, and for people closer to my age these words are fire starters that can turn the most polite conversation into the sort of arguments that split lifelong friendships. And yet here they were respecting each other in their identities and asking questions about ours and our experiences. One of the children commented that they wanted to find the language to help their father understand them and gosh that hit me hard. When I was younger I wanted the words to understand me and my experience, I wanted to know there were others like me. Now I’m watching these younger people take up the mantle of educating others about themselves.
A lot of my daily life is about educating people on transgender issues. I seldom have the opportunity to talk to children about my life, and the experience was truly eye opening to me both in the respect that I am SO damn happy that these children have these words but also that I can see all of the hard work, fighting, and tumult happening in our community may very well end with them. They left my heart floating comfortably on a pool of optimism. During my entire drive home I couldn’t help but think “the kids are alright.”