DEAR HARRIETTE: In my son's fourth grade class, they are studying what is now called "human growth and development." That's what we used to call sex education back in the day. Sort of. This week, the 9- and 10-year-old students learned about what it means to be transgender. My son came home with information on this topic that really threw me. I am no prude or anything, but I was surprised. To tell the truth, I never learned about this stuff. I don't want to come off wrong. I really don't have anything against how people are, but I didn't know what to say to my son about this topic. I said nothing. Then I asked him to tell me what he had learned, and it was awkward. How can I talk to my kid about these topics that once were either taboo or that we didn't really know anything about? -- Searching for the Words, Bronx, N.Y.
DEAR SEARCHING FOR THE WORDS: I believe that the new curriculum that is being offered in some schools across the country that teaches all about sexuality, including the basics of puberty all the way up to gender identity, is very progressive and healthy. For children to learn about how they develop and how they may differ in the way that they express their gender before it becomes uncomfortable or a challenge can be empowering. For parents, just as you must do with mathematics or science, you have to do your homework as well.
The American Psychological Association describes a person who is transgender this way: "Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person's internal sense of being male, female or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics. 'Trans' is sometimes used as shorthand for 'transgender.' While transgender is generally a good term to use, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person. The ways that transgender people are talked about in popular culture, academia and science are constantly changing, particularly as individuals' awareness, knowledge and openness about transgender people and their experiences grow."
To learn more on this topic, go to apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx. I would also stay in close communication with your son's teacher to learn what your son talks about in class and how the curriculum is unfolding for all of the students.