When people in the service industry talk about work, it's often an unending series of horror stories featuring infuriatingly specific customers, apoplectic managers, and at least one or two cases of food poisoning. Liv Hnilicka's conversation with a child while on the job at the restaurant she works at, however, completely turns that idea on its head. In fact, the transgender server's story is so heartwarming that when she posted it on Facebook, it quickly went viral.
"Stellar parenting moment of the day," Hnilicka writes, before relating the story of a child who asked her parents if Hnilicka was a boy or girl. This situation isn't an uncommon occurrence for transgender individuals, but the way the child's parents handled her question takes it into "restoring your faith in humanity" territory. Rather than answering for Hnilicka, the father approached her while she was at the water station and asked if she would like to speak with the child herself. What followed was pretty much the cutest thing ever as Hnilicka explained her gender identity in terms a child could follow.
Unsurprisingly, the child got the idea pretty quickly — as much as adults love to hold on to their rigid gender dichotomy, little kids pretty much go with the flow. Hnilicka walked away from the interaction "feeling really good about parents intentionally engaging their children about possibly difficult topics," she writes on Facebook.
The post quickly went viral, garnering almost 6,000 likes and more than 1,000 shares on Facebook. Hnilicka tells Bustle that although she tries not to read the comments on her post, the vast majority of the responses have been positive.
"It's been a lot of really supportive folks sending lovely messages about their families and the trans/gnc/intersex people in their lives," she writes Bustle in an email. "It seems to be a trend of further dialogue and personal work around how we 'other' people in many different ways in our society and how offering tools of compassion as parents can be very positive for children."
Hnilicka adds that she chose to share her story because it was the perfect example of how simple conversations about identity can be. "I wanted to tell people how good I felt about the conversation and that compassionate conversations around identity are attainable for everyone," she says. "I don't think I'm in a place to be giving advice to parents, but I will say from my own personal experience that working through difficult conversations with compassionate and kindness has always worked in my favor."
However, she also makes sure to clarify that her story shouldn't be a template for how to have conversations with every transgender individual. Essentially, it comes down to asking, not assuming.
"I don't think it's a good idea to ask every person you interact with in your life to explain themselves, but if you're wondering how someone identifies themselves... say, 'I use she/her pronouns (or whatever pronouns you prefer), what pronouns do you use?'" she writes. "It's a good benchmark of honoring someones identity."
Hnilicka has used her newfound Internet fame to draw attention to other issues facing the transgender community, such as access to healthcare and their treatment within the prison-industrial complex. She encourages viewers of her Facebook page to donate to organizations like the Sylvia Riviera Law Project and the Transformative Justice Law Project.
"I also want to say that I think while the language I used was appropriate for conversations with children, intersecting sets of identities are beautifully complicated and the way society treats marginalized people (women, lgbt/gnc/intersex people, people of color, people living with disabilities) is complex," she writes. "Access to healthcare — trans related and non trans related — the mistreatment of folks in the prison industrial complex, and safe and affordable housing for specifically trans women of color is a serious issue that we need to have adult conversations about."
At the end of the day, however, her story makes it clear that attitudes toward the trans community are becoming more positive, one family at a time.
"I think what really resonated with me about the parents I interacted with was the opportunity to voice my truth from my own perspective," Hnilicka says. "And that they were so happy to offer a vulnerable moment for both their daughter and for me."
Images: Courtesy Liv Hnilicka/Facebook