On the last day of school for my 7-year-old son, we hosted his friend and his friend’s mother for lunch. My 5-year-old daughter, already done with school, sat at the head of the table, eager to play with the boys the moment the meal was over. And then it happened.
“Donald Trump says transgender people can use whatever bathroom they want to in Trump Tower after he becomes president,” my son’s friend blurted out and then laughed. His mother and I froze. I was pretty sure he had no idea what that was all about but, as we do with most blurted out things at our table, I immediately tried to break it down.
“Where did you hear that?” I asked, trying to sound casual. He reported that a friend of his in his class had said it. Since I knew that all three kids already knew who Donald Trump was, we could bypass that question and get to the big one. “What do you know about transgender people?” I put back to him.
“I don’t know,” he giggled. His mom whispered across the table that she was pretty sure he just thought it was funny because it had to do with bathrooms. Ah, of course. Second grade boys. But I couldn’t stop then. I looked at my son and asked what he knew.
“They’re people who are born being different genders and change,” he said. In my head, my mouth dropped open and my eyes bulged out. How did he know that?
“Where did you learn that?” I asked. He shrugged. Wait, he what? He shrugged?? We let it drop for the time being but my daughter had picked up on how important this was and we revisited it at dinner, once the friend had gone home.
My son was more focused on whether Trump Tower was a real place, which I assured him existed at Columbus Circle. When I tried to explain about the bathroom controversy in North Carolina, he left the table when I started using language relating to body parts. My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to hear about all of it.
I first explained about transgender people who were born not always feeling right about their gender (and explained the word gender to her). People who were born as boys felt like girls, and people born as girls felt like boys. Now there were medical procedures that allowed people to change their genders and have medications so they could feel like the people they were supposed to be. Given the complexity of the topic, I was surprised that she barely blinked an eye.
I lightly explained about the bathroom situation, avoiding specific body part language this time, and why Donald Trump would say that anyone could use the bathrooms in Trump Tower, though he didn’t need to wait until he was president since he already owns the building. While very serious throughout the conversation, she clearly was thinking about it hard.
Meanwhile, I remained curious and flabbergasted that my son knew what transgender meant. We live in a world now where these things are normalized, I suppose. And with all of the conversations in the news, it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t make it into everyone’s classroom before it makes it to the kitchen table. But I was pleased that he seemed to understand it, even if it may be a little while before he’s completely using specific language about it.
Still, as I think back on who I was in second grade, I can’t imagine calmly accepting the idea of transgender. I guess this is just a sign of the times.