I went to an 8 year old’s first softball practice a few weeks ago. I love these moments when I’m fully embraced into a family – their routines and even firsts – especially sports. As we sat on the field, I was thrilled. The kid is a natural. First time at bat was a double. They were scooping up field balls.
My favorite part was right after practice when they ran up to me and said, “I’m so much better than those other kids.” As I reached out to give them a high five and be all “hell yes,” Mom said, “we’re not supposed to say stuff like that.” I retracted my hand slyly, but gave the kid a wink. I mean, they were telling the truth. They were so much better than those other kids.
But it was what they said next that I can’t quite forget.
The coach misgendered them during practice. “The coach called me he even though I’m not a he. I like that she corrected herself,” they said after a long drink of water. Then, without much pause at all, she turned to chase her sister toward the basketball courts.
I looked at Mom and said something along the lines of, “is that coach stupid?” This is a city league. Birth certificates and vaccinations are required at registration. Every team after the age of 6-7 is gendered. Are we just guessing pronouns based on short hair now, or what?
I tried not to say anything in front of the kids, but I was so mad. Kid: just fine. Unbothered. They were showing grace for strangers and gratitude for growth while I was talking myself out of cussing out a kid’s softball coach.
That was a reality check. Let me tell you – a profound respect for the perspective and grace of kids? Not expected. 8 year old role models? Also unexpected.
They are my role models because they haven’t aged out of curiosity. Take the moment a kid tries to “figure me out” i.e. figure out if I’m a boy or a girl. Every person does it – kids are just less nonchalant. They stare. Ask clarifying questions. Giggle when they’re unsure.
Kids are so fascinating during this interaction because they don’t come with a ton of preconceived notions or rules. They’re not worried about being polite. Most importantly, they are willing to believe there’s something else out there unlike many adults I meet who say things like “I don’t understand” or “I just wasn’t taught that.”
That willingness and curiosity to find reasons to love instead of hate are exactly why I have 8 year old role models – kids who lead with love and jump right to understanding and normalcy when it seems confusing to people who somehow aged out of curiosity.
These kids set the bar for what this world can be. Many of them are under 10 and just beginning to understand who they like and what they like – whether it’s in the department of favorite colors or love. Without ever meeting someone like me, they build notions and ideas in their heads of what normal is. Convince themselves they want to be like that. They lose curiosity and fill it’s place with self-hatred and lies about not being good enough. If you look at the legislation and “Don’t Say Gay” headlines, it would be easy for any child to fill that space with hate.
But then the potential of a different kind of normal becomes real when I show up. I drive up to their house in my van on my big adventure. The way I walk, the way I talk, the way I dress – I am just like them, but I am me. Non-binary. Trans. It’s an affirming experience for them. They see how happy normal could be and that queer life is not just full of pain and coming outs.
That’s what Trans Day of Visibility means to me. Celebration of new role models and imagining a new life. To dream and fight for a life where they can be out, proud, and living their dreams without fear. To live my life completely proud of who I am becoming while remaining curious, just like a child.
Truly I hope none of us ever let our childlike curiosity go no matter how old we get. Curiosity can change the world.
Surely, never lose curiosity for understanding and learning that helps others feel safe. That’s why I wrote this week’s blog post about making pronouns mandatory in your email signature. It’s a letter from a CEO asking this question, remaining curious, and my response. I think it might be able to help you, too.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.