For many parents, the term "non-binary" is relatively new. Over the last handful of years, more and more celebrities like Janelle Monáe, Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose have come out as identifying as something other than the gender they were assigned at birth (female), helping to shine a light on the non-binary experience and giving non-binary youths the courage to come out to their loved ones. If you are a parent who has just discovered your child in non-binary, you may feel confused about what this means as well as what you should do moving forward to support the child you have called your daughter or son since they were born. From non-binary basics and using pronouns to finding local resources, the following is a guide to understanding and supporting your genderqueer child.
- Tim Samuel
What is Non-Binary?While most parents think of their child as either male or female, some children find that their gender identity doesn't fit in either category. Some may express that their gender is a combination of both male and female, others may express that they don't identify as either gender or that their gender identity changes over time. The term non-binary is an umbrella term for individuals whose identity does not fit the binary categories of male and female. Other terms include genderqueer, agender and bi-gender. While each mean something slightly different, they all express an identity other than male or female.
Is Non-Binary the Same as Transgender?While non-binary falls under the trans umbrella, it is important to point out that the two are not the same. Many transgender people identify as either male or female. And while some non-binary people may identify as trans, many do not. To understand the non-binary experience, you'll need to begin looking at gender identity as expansive, and on a continuum, rather than limited to the male and female experience.
What Next?You love your child and want to support them in their gender exploration. When they come to you and tell you that they are not the gender you have imagined them to be, the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, relax and listen. While their announcement may feel frightening to you, it is important to remember that it can be terrifying for a child to make this type of announcement to their parents. The fear of eliciting anger and rejection from the people they love is real and valid.
Some helpful things you can say to your child during your conversations with them:I love you, and I'm so happy you shared this with me.
I don't understand what you are going through, but I want to.
It's going to take some time for me understand all of this, but I'm going to try because it's important to you.
Get Curious!One of the best ways to understand your child's non-binary experience is by getting curious. When the time is right, ask your child if they will sit down with you and answer some questions. Consider asking the following:
What are your pronouns?
Are you OK with being called son/daughter/brother/sister, or would you prefer neutral terms like "child" and "sibling."
Are you still going by your name assigned at birth or would you like to be called something else?
What kind of support would you like, or do you need? Do you want to join a support group or see a counselor? (Let them have a hand in the decision).
- Sharon Mccutcheon
Get EducatedFeeling confused, lost or like you have more questions than answers is fair! It's time to do some research and educate yourself with information from good resources. Learning about the non-binary experience—especially when it comes to the proper terminology and language to use—goes a long way towards showing your child that you accept, love and support them. Note: Do not expect your child to be your main source of information. Do your own work.
Most ImportantlyHonor what your child says they need. Research has shown that non-binary children who have family and friends who accept and respect their request to go by different pronouns (they/them) and use their chosen name, have much lower rates of depression and mental health struggles. Learning to use new pronouns can be challenging, but with practice is becomes second nature.
Finally, it's OK to find support for yourself. If you are struggling with feelings of loss, depression or personal failure, you aren't alone. Find a support group or an LGBTQ+ therapist who can help you navigate this very emotional and important journey you are about to embark on with your child.
ONLINE RESOURCESThe National Center for Transgender Equality: transequality.org
The LGBT Foundation: lgbt.foundation/
LOCAL RESOURCESThe Human Dignity Coalition: They offer a variety of support groups for both children and parents of LGBTQ+ Children: humandignityco.wordpress.com
PFLAG of Central Oregon: pflagcentraloregon.webs.com
Out Central Oregon: outcentraloregon.com