How can my spouse and I help our kids understand and cope with the recent "gender reassignment" of a teacher who serves as a substitute at our local elementary school? The last time they saw this teacher, he was a man; when they returned to school this fall, this person presented as a woman. We have concerns about this on several different levels. First, we don't want our children to be upset or confused. Second, we do want to teach them what God has to say about human sexuality. Finally, we need to know how to respond to school officials who seem to be promoting the idea that changes of this kind are normal and ought to be taken in stride. Any suggestions?
Let's begin with your first point. Contrary to what school officials may be saying, this is a troublesome situation to be facing in your child's innocent world. Therefore, you're correct in assuming that your kids may be struggling to understand what it all means and may be susceptible to cultural misguidance. Change is difficult for all of us, but it's especially hard for children at the elementary level. Kids at this age don't have a vocabulary of their own to express how they feel when the world around them seems to be in flux. What's more, due to the lack of words to express what's going on, children will readily adopt the concepts and language for "gender issues" given to them by schools or other influential sources discussing these matters.
That's why it's helpful to sit down with your kids and gently encourage them to talk. Ask them how they feel. Help them identify their emotions and process their thoughts. Create a safe context in which they can pause, slow down, and voice their reactions without fear of being corrected, contradicted, or reprimanded. Realize that all of this is going to take time – lots of it. But, the process gives you an opportunity to teach God's design, as well as to demonstrate compassion for those who may struggle in this area.
Once you've gotten in touch with your child's emotions and affirmed his openness in sharing them, you can move on to a simple, straightforward, positive discussion of the divine plan for human sexuality and marriage. Talk about the first three chapters of Genesis and God's creation of man and woman. Tell your kids what marriage is supposed to look like, how it works, and (if it seems appropriate) how babies are born. Above all, clarify the point that God meant men to be men and women to be women. It might be helpful to say something like, "There are other people who don't see these things the same way we do – people like the teacher at your school. Those people are dealing with something that was never part of God's plan, and we need to have compassion for them and pray for them. But this is what we believe, and your dad and I feel that it's important for you to understand it."
If as part of your preparations for this discussion you feel the need to educate yourself more thoroughly on the subject of transgenderism, we highly recommend that you visit Focus on the Family's website and take a look at our series of articles on the topic. We think you'll find the first installment, "Male and Female He Created Them: Genesis and God's Design of Two Sexes," especially helpful. In addition, you may want to peruse "Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues."
With regard to your concerns about discussing this situation with school officials – we'd advise you to handle this piece of the puzzle with great care. After processing your own emotions and ensuring they are under control, take time to research and understand the school's protocol. Equip yourself so that you'll be ready to counteract any bad information distributed to students by the administration. Focus on the Family maintains TrueTolerance.org, a website designed specifically for parents who need help responding to homosexual and transgender activism in their child's school. Among other useful features, it offers talking points you can use to express your faith-based viewpoint. It also lists do's and don'ts for approaching school officials. As a matter of fact, it contains lots of practical advice. It even provides prepared memoranda from legal experts on the importance of respecting religious freedoms and parental rights. You can email the legal information and other professionally packaged data directly to your educators from the Take Action center on the website. "Equipping Parents to Respond to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools" and "Empowering Parents: A How-to Guide for Protecting Your Child's Innocence and Your Family's Values in Public Schools" may be useful as well.
Remember to be as diplomatic and non-confrontational as possible in your dealings with the school staff. If the conversation is to include any vitriol or hostility, let it come from their side of the table. Show respect and appeal to reason and logic. At the same time, stay true to your convictions. In everything you do and say, model a winsome attitude. Conduct yourselves as ambassadors for Christ. We may not be able to avoid coming across as an "aroma of death leading to death" in the nostrils of some people (2 Corinthians 2:16). But that shouldn't happen because we're intentionally offending others with our responses and behavior.
If you feel it would be helpful to discuss these recommendations at greater length with a member of our staff, don't hesitate to give us a call for a free phone consultation. Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you.