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Child Caring

When a relative is transgender

My brother is married to a transgendered individual. "B" lives as a woman but is still, biologically/physically, a man. When people meet her, it's often obvious to them that she is really a man. "B" has been with my brother for over 15 years now and both my daughters call her "aunt" and do not realize she is a man.

My oldest is 12 and my youngest is 8. I do not want to keep secrets from them ... do I raise the transgendered issue? Do I wait for them to ask? They're going to ask some day, I know and I don't want them to feel like this is a deep dark secret (though my brother and his spouse do not discuss the issue -- ever).

Looking for your advice Barbara. Thanks in advance.

From: LadyDi, Westford, MA


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Dear LadyDi,

Start with your brother. Let him know that as your girls are getting older, you are less and less comfortable keeping this family secret. You know that sooner or later, they will question and wonder about their "aunt;" that you don't want them to hear and/or rely on rumors or gossip; that you want to model an open and honest relationship. See what he says. Have he and his spouse thought about this? Do they want to be involved in the disclosure?

Be clear:
1. This is not about "outing" anyone; it's about honesty and family values, especially the value of being respectful. You want to respect your brother and his wife, and you want to respect your children's right to truthfulness.

2. This is not a choice about whether to tell your kids or not; the choice is whether your brother and his spouse want to be part of the process. If they do, then the adults can begin to talk about when and how this happens.

If you haven't already, lay the ground work with your children by talking about the different ways in which people can express their identity. For instance, a person born with a penis is male, a person born with a vagina is a female; that's their sex. But sometimes, a person born with a male body thinks and acts like a woman. That's the difference between sex and gender (take the time to listen to the audio on this link). At some point, you can add that Aunt X is one of those people. That's all your children need to know for starters. Over time, questions will come up. Answer them as honestly as you can and when you don't know the answer, it's okay to say, "I don't know. Let me get back to you."

Remember that your children will take their cues from the adults. If you are embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about this, they will be, too. It sounds as if you are loving parents and that they love their aunt. Nothing about that need change.