Transphobia Is Learned

Our kids repeat what they hear and see at home

Zada Kent


You’re transgender? That’s wrong! You should just kill yourself.

This was the message my transgender son received during an online class from another eighth-grader.

As livid as I was when I learned of this message, my anger never felt focused on the kid who sent it. My immediate outrage was directed toward the kid’s parents and the teacher who wasn’t paying enough attention to the open chat in his virtual classroom.

Kids repeat what they hear.

This is not a new concept, yet it seems that most people think of this only regarding swear words. I’ve been guilty of that thinking myself.

When my son was five he slapped his knee and yelled, damn-it! That was the day I stopped saying it.

What we need to remember is that a child’s mimicry doesn’t only pertain to cursing though. A kid’s tendency to copy those adults around them includes everything they might hear.

And just as a very young child might not understand the swear words they just repeated, an older child might not understand the repercussions involved with what they decide to repeat. A thirteen-year-old can’t possibly understand all the ramifications of telling someone to kill themselves.

The thought that this classmate of my son had likely heard those words spoken by an adult around him — a parent, guardian, aunt/uncle, coach, teacher — makes my stomach churn. How is it possible to hate a complete stranger so much? I suppose fear can be a powerful state of mind.

Kids mimic what they see their parents do.

Any parent can tell you a time they’ve seen their kid do something exactly the way they’ve done it. Whether it’s a mannerism as they talk or their attitude about chocolate cake, our kids can be mini-me’s.

With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. — Michelle Obama

Everything our kids observe us doing is a lesson that is being imprinted onto their brains. That’s why there are so many cute videos of kids jabbering away on toy cell phones just like the adults around them. Kids copy us without consideration of whether an adult’s actions are appropriate or not. I mean, if we did it, they surely can, right?

Coming out as transgender takes courage.

I don’t know why my son decided to share that he was transgender that day. The ‘why’ doesn’t really matter. He was brave enough to share it with some classmates who he felt were his friends. It breaks my heart that he had to see that awful message.

My son experienced suicidal thoughts soon after this incident. I’ve always thought that message planted a dark seed in his mind that day. Fortunately, he had an amazing therapist back then that helped him through it all.

The teacher both apologized and took responsibility for his part. Soon after he led the way for the school’s anti-bullying guidelines to include language that specifically represented transgender students.

Hate is a learned behavior.

Hate in the form of transphobia, homophobia, racism, bigotry, or another type of discrimination is learned. Children are not inherently spiteful, judgmental, or prejudiced.

We are all born with the capacity for aggression as well as compassion. Which tendencies we embrace requires mindful choice by individuals, families, communities and our culture in general. The key to overcoming hate is education: at home, in schools, and in the community. — Psychologist Bernard Golden

Young kids mimic the adults around them. Hopefully, this is how they learn to grow into responsible, caring, individuals. Knowing this as parents shouldn’t we feel encouraged to show our kids good behaviors to imitate?

As parents, we need to realize the effect we have on our kids even when we’re not paying attention — because they are. Children are always picking up on our cues and attitudes. They are listening even when we aren’t speaking directly to them.

I’ll never know what happened to the kid who sent my son that message. Maybe the incident helped his parents realize something about themselves. Maybe they learned how closely their son was paying attention to their words and actions. Maybe they’re more accepting of others now.

A parent can hope.