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        1. Le Scoop
        2. Parenting
        3. Family Dynamics
        Shannon Collins and their family

        Pride: Love Makes A Family

        Exploring and Affirming Gender Journeys

        Wanting to jump into conversations around gender identity and expression but overwhelmed with where to start? Shannon Collins, non-binary parent and creative, shares ways to support children of all ages around topics like gender expansiveness.

        Written By
        Shannon Collins
        Violeta Noy

        It took me 36 years to “come into myself” as a non-binary person. I borrow that language from my queer elders, because I don’t feel like “coming out” is something I’ve had much of a choice in. Society has checked a gendered box for me since before I was born.

        Much of what I do professionally and personally centers around supporting trans youth, which has the added benefit of nourishing my inner child.

        My genderfluid 7-year-old joined me on their own gender journey last summer, when they told me they also wanted to use they/them pronouns. They asked about seeking out a trans therapist to talk to about their gender. We’re privileged and able to make that a reality, but for many kids, finding affirming spaces can be a struggle.

        A lot of us feel like we didn’t have the opportunity to fully be ourselves at a young age and are discovering our identities later on in life. When we open up conversations around topics like gender expression and identity, we are inviting kids to approach life through a lens of curiosity and playfulness, whether they’re cisgender, transgender, or questioning.

        So, at what age should we start talking to children about things like gender identity? Around 2-3 years old, most children begin to communicate their gender identity. Our 3-year-old has explored his own gender in the past year and we’re letting him take the lead.

        It’s important to note that gender expression and identity are two separate things. The way a child expresses themself doesn’t necessarily define their gender identity. By age 4, many children have a solid understanding of their gender identity. Gender identity can be fluid and change at any time as children develop. Gender dysphoria can start at a young age–as early as 3–and is typically experienced in trans children by age 7. Though, not all trans people–whether kids or adults–experience dysphoria.

        As the anti-trans youth rhetoric and legislation flares up, it’s especially important to ask ourselves, how can we support exploring and affirming the gender journeys of the children in our life?

        Here are some ideas to get you started.

        Representation matters.

        • Seek out media with positive LGBTQIA+ representation. Shows like The Owl House, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Steven Universe are taking strides to advance LGBTQIA+ representation.

        • Find opportunities to highlight possibility models through gender expansive adults in childrens’ circles or via queer culture– introducing them to celebrities and educators like Jojo Siwa, Zaya Wade, Jonathan Van Ness, Jeffrey Marsh, and Lindz Amer.

        Approach gender with curiosity.

        • Books can be an effective way to guide kids through these conversations imperfectly. As questions arise, it’s okay to say you don’t have all the answers and be curious together. It’s important for kids to know that we’re on this journey with them, no matter what. To get you started, we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite transgender books for kids, as well as 9 children’s books to help your family celebrate Pride.

        Update your vocabulary.

        • Ask teachers if they’re mindful of the gender binary showing up in their classroom—like saying “Good morning, kid/friends/folks!” when addressing a group, instead of “girls and boys!"

        • Check in at school to see if they’re using inclusive language like “caregiver,” “adult,” or “grownup” instead of “parent” or “mom and dad.” Take note if kids are labeling cartoon people with gendered language on worksheets (“man,” “woman,” “girl,” “boy”).

        • Simply ask the children in your life, “What are your pronouns today?”

        • Don’t assume a child’s gender identity when filling out forms for things like camp–include kids in this process.

        • Swap out pronouns while reading to reflect a wide range of representation–and remember, pronouns ≠ gender.

        • Use inclusive language by saying things like “firefighter” instead of “fireman.”

        Give kids space to explore identity.

        • Give kids the space to express their gender identity without the need for it to be set in stone.

        • Disrupt gender stereotypes. All clothing and toys are for everyone and shouldn’t be gendered. Children should be encouraged to play with or wear whatever makes them happy.

        Meet kids where they are in their journey.

        • Get clear about what a child is asking about specifically and meet them where they’re at in age to make sure you aren’t overwhelming them with too much information all at once.

        Find ways for kids to feel seen and loved.

        • Most importantly, encourage kids to feel seen and loved. Highlighting trans joy continues to be at the heart of my work as the Founder and Photographer of Youthphoria–an ongoing project photographing trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive youth in the Philadelphia area at no cost. We provide an affirming experience that celebrates youth along the way, while uplifting queer joy with LGBTQIA+ vendors. This can look as simple as listening when a child opens up.

        Seek out safer spaces and community.

        • Finding spaces where kids can talk to each other to ask questions is so impactful. It can be especially difficult to find support groups for LGBTQIA+ children in grade school. I reached out to my local library last year, to ask if they’d be interested in creating a monthly meetup for elementary-aged LGBTQIA+ kids and allies.

        • A few months later, our partnership was formed and we created Rainbow Connections–free, monthly, virtual meetups for LGBTQIA+ kids and allies (in grades K-5). Children and their grownups anywhere can register and attend our interactive, child-centered program. I’m thankful for the Abington Township Public Library for trusting me to co-host and co-create something that doesn’t really have a blueprint, since we’re one of only a handful of gatherings in the country focused on this age group.

        If you’re unsure of where to find community, consider joining us for an upcoming Rainbow Connections meetup.

        Shannon Collins

        Shannon Collins

        Shannon Collins is a a Philadelphia-area photographer who lives in the suburbs with their ginger-haired partner (Pete) and two young kids. They are non-binary, queer, disabled, and Autistic and diversify their media feed to reflect these identities and learn more about how they can better serve their communities, through intersectionality and the amplification of BIPOC voices.

        Shannon is also the founder of Youthphoria, a Philadelphia-based project dedicated to photographing trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youth in the Philadelphia area at no cost, while providing an affirming experience that celebrates them along the way.