A few months ago Hailey said they felt like they were non-binary (someone who doesn’t identify as solely male or female), but that they were okay with “she/they” as pronouns, which was fine because it allowed me to be a good mother and say “I totally support what makes you happy” without actually having to do much work at all because I could still use mostly the pronouns I’ve always used. EVERYONE WINS. But then recently they were like, “Actually? The more I use it the more ‘they’ feels right. Is that okay?” And I was like, “Totally. Easy enough.” But turns out it was not at all easy enough because my speech is so very gendered and I never realized how much until I tried to change it. So I’ve been working my ass off to try to break all the “she” habits and learn about gender identity and all that jazz and it’s been a learning experience but one that makes me a better person and my child happier. EVERYONE WINS AGAIN. (Only this time with slightly more work.)
Hailey often has to remind me when I slip up, but it takes at least two months to break a habit so it’s not a surprise that I still fuck this up and luckily Hailey is kind and understanding and knows that intent matters even when they have to quietly whisper “they” with a sweet wink while Victor and I try to relearn.
Honestly it was hard for me at first because it felt like I was stripping Hailey of their female gender, and because being a woman is so important to me personally I think I just projected that it must also be important to Hailey. It felt like I was dehumanizing them to strip them of “she” and “daughter” and “woman”. But for Hailey it was just the opposite. It was dehumanizing for others to not recognize that they are who they are…non-binary.
This has led to a lot of learning on my part and I’m still so far from understanding all of it but I’m trying. At first I was like, “This is weird to me because non-binary didn’t exist when I was growing up” but turns out that this is about the same thing as my grandma saying, “People weren’t as gay when I was young.” They totally were but they just weren’t in the position to openly be who they are. Same with non-binary. Which I guess makes sense because now I have friends my age coming out as non-binary and I have a SHIT TON of friends with non-binary kids. This is the new normal, y’all, and we need to get comfortable with it.
If you have questions I would say that GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND and there is a massive amount of information out there to answer your questions but if you want to learn along with me, here are a few questions I’ve gotten:
So what does non-binary mean? Both genders? Neither genders? Androgynous?
Um….yes? It’s pretty fluid depending on the person. Like, what does the word “woman” mean to you? Or the word “man”? Chances are it means something different to each person. Same with non-binary.
But Hailey is always in dresses and wearing make-up?
True. But boys wear dresses and make-up all the damn time now so that doesn’t really mean anything. Hailey loves dresses. They also love hoodies and jeans. Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny. Lots of non-binary people present in somewhat binary ways. There are no rules. And that’s a good thing.
I’m happy for them but using a plural pronoun for a single person feels weird as hell.
I totally get that but with practice it becomes normal. English is a living language and we’re constantly evolving. That’s why I’m talking to “you” right now and not “thee”. Or is it “thou”? Fuck, I can’t do old English right. Or new English, sometimes. But singular “they/them” isn’t that new. Like, if I was talking to a friend and they saw a dog locked in a hot car they’d be like, “Shit. Some asshole left their dog in their car. Guess they better get used to driving without a window since I’m gonna smash that shit in.” See. They used “they” because the asshole in question could be a girl or a guy or both or neither. Same with non-binary. In fact, I used it in referring to the “they” who was smashing shit and we didn’t even notice because we’re used to it.
How do you get used to using “they” for someone you’ve know as “she” forever?
It’s not easy to break the habit but they’re still the same person…the only difference is that now we’re using the pronouns that they’ve really been for a lot longer than you probably knew. But I still fuck it up. Like this morning someone called about Hailey and I was like, “She’s my daughter…wait, no, THEY’RE my daughter. SHIT, NO. THEY’RE MY CHILD” and Hailey could not stop laughing at me and the person on the phone hung up because I guess I scared them.
A friend of mine was like, “When my kid came out as non-binary it helped to think of them as a swarm of bees” and I was like, “Hailey, you are now a swarm of bees” and they were like, “If you’re trying to hypnotize me you are just awful at it” but then I explained that it was supposed to help with the “they” thing and they were like, “Oh. How about imagine I have a kitten in my pocket?” and I was like, “Or a ferret! OMG, we should get you a pocket ferret!” and they were like, “I don’t want a ferret. You want a ferret,” and they’re right but also, don’t you think we should get a ferret?
Wait. Are you asking me questions? I thought I was asking you questions?
Right. Sorry. Got distracted by ferrets again. But actually what has helped is just practicing talking about Hailey by myself. “I have a child named Hailey. They like Dungeons and Dragons. They love to bake. They passed 10th grade (whoop!) They love musical theater. I love them.”
Are they still a lesbian? Can you be a non-binary lesbian?
Apparently yes, they totally are.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far?
Don’t be shitty. Like, that’s what it comes down to. Be nice to people and respect their differences. And be nice to people who are learning and may fuck stuff up. It can be hard for people to change. It can be hard to be someone who sees the person they love struggle with acceptance. Those things can bring out fear and anger and then people start yelling at each other and then the people who are afraid of change run away instead of learning and the people who are dealing with this bullshit all the time are exhausted from having to constantly educate everyone and deal with shitty people making them feel bad and then we grow further away from each other rather than closer. Try to understand. Try to help in a kind way. Try to do what you can so that people feel safe to be who they are rather than what you want to see. We’ve come so far in so many ways, but there is still work to do. It’s not always fun and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but in the end it makes the world a more compassionate place.
You probably have other questions because god knows I’m still learning myself but I assure you that everything is googlable so go look up any questions you have. There are lots of answers. The problem isn’t a dearth of knowledge. It’s a dearth of acceptance. And that’s something we can fix. Not just for you or me or Hailey, but for everyone in the world who falls into some bucket of “other”.
351 thoughts on “Non-binary pronouns. It’s complicated, but wonderful things usually are.”
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It’s so wonderful to read this. Thank you for being a wonderful and open mother.
This warms my heart. Thank you so much for posting this. I celebrate and am thankful for both Hailey and you.
It is confusing, but we must educate ourselves and be there for the ones we love. I’m happy that Hailey is learning to be comfortable with that they need to feel authentic to themselves! Love to all those who’s family isn’t as accepting as yours!
My DM added some non-binary NPCs to our D&D campaign and it’s such great practice for teaching yourself to properly use non-binary pronouns. If you screw it up you’re only offending an imaginary person, but if you screw it up enough the non-binary head of the Assassin’s guild WILL straight-up murder you and your party.
I think this is a great post with lots of knowledge and a beautiful message. I have a few non-binary friends and it’s “they” that always gets me. I’m hardcore into grammar and it felt wrong at first, but I love some of your suggestions about how to help me use the right pronoun.
I am struggling with pronouns. My eldest prefers they/them, and I fully support that and am totally committed to it, and yet I fail in remembering to use they/them EVERY DAMN TIME. But I fully accept that that is a *me* problem. I just wish I could get the hang of it.
The swarm of bees and/or pocket ferret is a brilliant. I’m going to try to think of all my NB friends as though they’re with their daemons at all times to help me remember their pronouns.
Parts of Eddie Izzard’s book “Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens” helped me to understand Transgender issues so much clearer. You have just contributed to the conversation of gender in a way that is just as significant and helpful.
Thank you for sharing all of this. Language is hard to change, especially when attached to a person you love dearly. You are a great mom to Hailey and they’re lucky to have you 🙂
I work in a college with an increasing number of folx who identify as non binary. I think the older one is, the longer a minute it takes to wrap your head around calling a person, ‘they’. Many folx also chose new names to go with their new identity. I have thus met students who were gendered and using a different name when we met and they come back in and they are non gendered, new name and I’m like, “Dang! I know them!”
We live in exciting times and I think today’s young are going to teach us some new things about what acceptance needs to look like.
This is wonderful! We’re always learning. I was recently told that my intended non-gendered use of “dude” was not always received that way and made a friend sad, so I’m trying to eliminate that.
At first my brain wanted to argue it logically but then my friend being sad because of something I say out of habit that holds no importance to me overrode it.
Also as a kid my cousins had ferrets, which I mostly mention because one of them was named Ferret Fawcette which is brilliant. But they are never not stinky from the oils they need to keep their coats healthy, and you can tell a ferret household when you walk in. Not as bad as the domestic fox pee smell but it has a pong.
I am so happy for Hailey. <3 They are a beautiful young person!
My child realized their pronouns are they/them recently. They are turning 21 in a couple of weeks. I totally support them, but I feel like such a failure that I can’t get their pronouns correct. I worry it and practice in my head all the time, but when it comes time to talk to and about my kid, i blow it every time … I’m trying but it doesn’t seem enough. I’m gonna use the swarm of bees analogy and focus on that. Thank you for writing this. I needed this.
Thank you for posting this. I have a trans son. I am still getting used to the he/him/his pronouns and the new name (after he changed it like 50 times in the past 5 years). I have suffered grief from losing MY dream of what I thought my child was, but I still have my child and I still love HIM. So, thank you for sharing yours and their story!
I have a wonderful non-binary child, too! To my horror, I am also forever messing up their pronouns. It took me forever to get he/she right (in Finnish we do not use this kind of gendered pronoun). Now I need to unlearn it!
“Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny.”
You and Hailey have a very special relationship. Thanks for sharing your journey so we can come along and learn too. Hugs to you both!
This is just wonderful, and I’m so glad you pointed out that it takes some effort and work to change habits in order to be supportive.
This came at the perfect time! My child also just came out as non binary and I have asked them to explain to me what that means for them, as it seems it is different for each person. Also, as an English major and a writer, learning pronoun changes seems difficult but is something I am really working on. Thank you for being the type of mother I aspire to be!
Hailey absolutely and 100% needs kittens in their pockets. Everyone should have kittens in pockets. It should be a thing! 🙂
My bi-sexual son (he/him & says he will always be he/him 🙂 ) has at least one skirt and thigh-highs because he finds them so comfortable. I fully support him. He has inspired me to delve into some deep-hidden thoughts about myself which I have not fully faced before.
My child is non binary and the same age as yours. I feel this so hard!! Keep on loving them, pronouns get easier. Don’t be hurt if/when they choose a different name that suits their identity better. It is one of the many paths we face as parents and we want to keep walking with our children with love and absolute acceptance of the beautiful humans they are!!
I have a couple of friends that transitioned. What I did was solely refer to them by their chosen name until my brain made new neural pathways. I envisioned a big Trans Flag-Colored ditch witch carving the new pathways when I did it. ROOOAAAWWWARRRRGGGGGGGAAAA
I love this post. Thank you for sharing and thank Hailey for letting you share.
Several of the authors of selections for your book club have opened this up for me in a way that prompted Googling. I appreciate getting a personal perspective from you, Jenny, and thank Hailey for helping to educate me as well.
What people need to realize is that you literally have to rewire the neurons in your brain to associate this person you’ve know as “she” to “they.” It’s not an easy process, but if you allow yourself to slip up, or misgender them when they’re not around, you’ll never fully rewire your brain. Neurons need consistency to change.
Anecdote, my high school best friend came out as non-binary in college. It took a long time to get to where I am with using their pronouns properly and I rarely fuck up anymore, but when I tell a story from before they came out I fuck it up constantly and have the hardest time. It’s like brain has differentiated them into before and after. Brains are weird, man.
And now I want a ferret! Love this❤️🏳️🌈
Thank you for being such a wonderful mother, Jenny. And, thank you for sharing these experiences with us. I’ve never seen a mother so in love with her child, or a child so in love with their mother, and it gives me hope for humanity.
This recently happened in my life too and I love that you put so many of the thoughts and questions I have/had down in writing. On top of that, they chose to change their name, so that added to the turmoil of changing pronouns. Virtual hugs and thanks for posting. 🌈😊
I am dealing with the very same challenge, except my child also threw in a name change in top of it. So we are not only remembering the right pronouns and switching to agender everything, but I am also constantly saying, “Lauren…. SHIT I mean Juniper…” It is a struggle fo sho but what can I say? It’s a new world and I would hang the moon for my kid if it made them happy, so why not this?
You are the bestest of moms. Hailey is so fortunate to have a supportive home! On a similar topic, have you read Jeff Garvin’s “Symptoms of Being Human”? The narrator is gender fluid. It was a challenging read, trying to picture them in my head I found myself trying to gender them.
Just when I think I can’t love you any more you get even better. Thank you for writing this!!! And “don’t be shitty” is just really great advice in all situations!
Oh thank you for this! My oldest is NB and loves skirts and dresses (sensory issues make many pants a no-go); this sentence is everything: “Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny.” It’s been 1.5 years and I STILL mess up pronouns, notably when I’m feeling extra maternal; my brain defaults to when they were little.
It’s a journey but blessings on all your heads. Grace extended in all directions.
I kind of wish non-binary folk had taken up the use of the word thee. It would be kind of fun to use an ancient word like that again and some of the old geezers stuck on the “they is plural!” thing would have an easier time.
I have the most trouble with people I’ve known under one set of pronouns for many years and have to switch my brain around for them. But that’s my problem, not theirs. As more people I know tell me their new pronouns, I get better at it. I still “sh…they” a lot, but as long as you don’t make a big deal about it (which puts the emotional onus on them to make you feel better), just apologize and move on.
I know one person who uses zie/zyr and pronouns and I just can’t get my head around those so I just gave up and call/refer to “Chris”.
Just found out that a friend’s child is using a new name and pronouns, and my first thought was “OMG I have to make sure I get their new name spelled correctly on the wedding reception invitations.” And I’m 54.
If i can do it, you can do it.
I totally get it. My child came out as a transgender woman several years ago and the hardest part was when talking about the past when she was presenting as male. It takes a mind shift to understand that she was always a woman and it was our perception that was wrong.
This is brilliant. Also. Just FWIW: I am a church attender and lately I feel most comfortable referring to God as They. Because, how could God be any gender at all? Jesus, I get that he was a guy, historically, and the Holy Spirit is feminine to me. So.
So much this!!!!! Thank you.
I haven’t finished reading this but I will. I just wanted to say my child recently let me know they are non-binary as well and I have definitely been struggling. Even with the best intentions my brain still doesn’t always register properly. I love this that we can make our children feel safe and loved enough to have these conversations with us.
HAPPY PRIDE 💕
It is such a difficult topic, but trust me it’s easier in English than in German because we have no such thing as a ‘they’ pronoun, so the only real option is not using any pronouns.
Yep, we’re navigating the same thing here, but with a name change too. The best thing I’ve learned is that none of their peers who know, care. They’re all open and accepting and so damn cool.
This is so precious <3
As a nonbinary person who has yet to come out to family mostly just because I know they will struggle with the language shift, this was so heartwarming to read. And now I'm tempted to send my parents a copy of this when I do come out.
I can’t tell you how much I love this. You’re an awesome mother who clearly raised an awesome child. Also, they look so much like you!
Thank you for sharing this, and Hailey for their openness and willingness to let you share. The more stories there are out there about non-binary peeps, the more people will get used to it.
I’m so happy for you and your family and that you share your journeys. <3
How timely. One of my sister’s children has come out non-binary and this weekend was the first time I have seen them since they came out. They also changed their name to their middle name which is one of those could go any which gender names. The pronoun change is so much more difficult than the name change for me to get consistently correct. I struggle with not saying niece or nephew because “sister’s kid” sounds so cold to me, though they did say if I wanted to say nephew that would be preferable to niece. These kids come at us with so much forgiving grace while we try and I am endlessly thankful for every whispered “they” with its little knowing smile and wink.
Good on you for being such an awesome mom, good on Hailey for being patient. Good on everyone…including the pocket ferret and the swarm of bees.
I am on a similar path with you, Jenny. I’m so proud of our children for being who they are!! Much love to you all.
Thank you for this. I have a transgender son and recently discovered my daughter is nonbinary.
People get all offended by these things, but what people don’t realize is NONE OF THIS AFFECTS YOU, RANDOM STRANGER! How does it affect your life if my child is being their true self? It doesn’t. Please accept it and move on lol
About 6 years ago I met someone who was non-binary and was super uncomfortable with their pronouns and the whole idea and basically was a super shitty person about it. Never thought about how they would feel when someone disrespects their pronouns and how they feel about themselves and then I never spoke to them again and never thought about it. Fast forward 2 years later my partner comes out as non-binary about a year before we were to get married with she/they pronouns and then 6 months before we got married fully switched to they/them. It was hard because they hadn’t told their family and I was trying not to out them so I kept having to switch which set of pronouns I was using in front of who and trying to wrap my head around understanding what it meant now that they had told me they were non-binary. It was hard and I screwed up a lot, but at the same time I tried really hard because I love them and I got there. I still screw up sometimes and I have learned to just correct myself and move on and try to do better in the future. It’s a learning curve for sure and I wish I could go back and apologize to that person who was just being themselves and I was really shitty to because no one deserves that.
They finally came out to friends and family last month and I am so happy for them because there is no more switching and they can experience joy of having more people use their pronouns
Thank you for this! I’m going through the exact same situation!
It’s incredibly hard for me because I’m 67 and grew up with a Grammar Nazi mother, as well as excellent English teachers, who pounded it into my head that you NEVER use “they” to refer to a single person. So yeah….it’s a tough one for me and I keep expected someone to lower my grade for doing it….
However, to me, the main issue is that he or she has to be so defined as to what you wear, how you act, etc. It isn’t like you are being defined by your gender as much as your genitals. You either have a penis or you don’t. What you wear, how you act, what you love, what you do, etc. should have nothing to do with what is in your underwear.
It gets further complicated by those who are truly transgender who WANT and need to be identified as a certain gender- just not the one they were born with. In that case, “they” would not be the right term to use and in fact could be hurtful.
I hope as things evolve that we can come up with some other, clever way to refer to non-binary people as something other than “they”. It’s just too confusing, kind of unfortunately reminds me of the whole “Us vs. They” thing, etc.
These are conversations I’m having with my (at this time) cisgendered kids. If they’re comfortable asking people about their preferred pronouns and then actually using those pronouns, so much the better for inclusion and acceptance going forward. #ally
I shared this with a Mom’s group that support their non-binary kids and family members.
I hope your ready acceptance of your child just as they are spreads like wildfire! Really, your open mind and heart is a thing of beauty. Please don’t ever change.
I wanted to add there is a wonderful movement on Instagram (and likely lots of other social media but I can only handle ONE global connection at a time) called #Clotheshavenogender. I just love the idea that if we strip away the association that dresses belong to ‘girls’ that non-binary people will eventually stop having to explain how they can be non-binary and still dress in a certain way. IT’S A PIECE OF FABRIC, folks, it doesn’t challenge your values. Let everyone be free!
Thank you for sharing their journey. And thank them for giving you the space to do so.
We are going through exactly the same process at our house. Our youngest started with she/they and we just went “cool we support you!” and kept using she. And they were like “maybe use they more?” And we were like “sure yeah!” and then we didn’t. And then they said “actually, I’m they/them” and we went “oh ok.” We’re also getting there but still
Messing up from time to time. But also they *see* that we support them so the fact that occasionally we use “she” or “daughter” is just a reminder!
I read a really helpful tip: just imagine they had a tiny mouse in their pocket, so the “plural” comes easier 😉 They’re still gorgeous as hell!
My daughter was getting frustrated with me when I kept goofing up pronouns of friends of hers that I’d known for years as something else. It’s hard to change, and I suggested that if I suddenly decided she had to call me by my first name rather than “Mom” from now on, she would slip too. She agreed, and she’s more patient with me now, since there is no ill intent.
Your best advice? “Don’t be shitty.”, because isn’t that what is all about. Just be decent, kind, respectful, loving, open, compassionate.
So much yes. And also, it’s not about us when our kid comes out to us (as gay, nonbinary, or whatever they feel brave and comfortable enough to reveal to us). I got a lot wrong when it was my turn, but “Don’t be shitty” is the best rule for us all.
1. Yes to the pocket ferret. (I’m a terrible enabler, don’t ask me about anything)
2. My youngest identifies as non-binary, and my husband and I have been going through a similar thing. It’s hard to break habits, but it’s important that you not only use the they/them when you’re around them, but generally. It helps retrain your brain.
3. Honestly, the scariest part for us is when our kiddo decides to dress in a manner that some people would perceive as the “opposite gender” for how they generally present. To which I kindly remind people that CLOTHES HAVE NO GENDER. FFS, Jesus wore a dress.
It’s important we support (and protect) our kids. Good luck on your journey!
Thank you so much for posting this. My husband and I are going through a similar journey with our child. They came out as non-binary a year and a half ago, but more recently asked that we adopt the they/them pronouns, and change their name to Chaos. So hey, Chaos it is. It’s not always easy, and I do mess up, but I’m trying. Some of my family is also trying, which is good. They also just came out as bisexual, which was a lot more anticlimactic for us since it really changes nothing. It’s the language change that is the biggest hurdle. Well, that and getting some of the grandparents to understand (getting them to shift pronouns is not going well, they 100% forget).
I love you both so much. 💓
Here’s where I struggle…honorifics. I was raised to use Sir and M’am and Miss for people as a sign of respect. Is there a non-binary form of this? Also I have a good friend who recently came out as non-binary and we always called each other “lady” and now i’m Worried that if I use that i’ll offend them, but it was a fond nickname and I also don’t want to be up in their grill and be like “pick something other than lady for me to call you”. I want to be kind and respectful of their wishes but I hate to put the burden of educating myself on them do i’m Hesitant to ask questions like these.
I love that our children are confident and blazing pathways. I want my children to grow up comfortable in their own skin, and if they have to change skins a few times to see what fits, so be it. Be strong, be who you are. Just don’t be an asshole!
I love this. About a million years ago (1989) in a galaxy far, far away (an American university I won’t mention because the folx there now didn’t do anything negative), I tried to address the need to normalize non-binary language as the topic of my doctoral research. Not surprisingly, I got shot down by a bunch of (mostly) old, (mostly) white, (mostly) men who could not see any value in exploring “problems in gendered language” they felt didn’t even exist. It’s take three decades and a lot of brave, wonderful people like Hailey (and you and Victor) to validate what I wanted to say way back then. Thank you, Hailey.
I’m so happy for them! And they’re lucky to have such a supportive mother. Happy Pride!
Thank you for posting this. It seems like right now a lot of people are talking about how they feel about gender and for some that means a change in how they want to be perceived. I’m glad we live in a world where people can live as they feel, and not have labels pushed on them. I’m also feeling my age, because I’m finding it hard to get my head around – it’s a grammar thing, so thanks for the examples that make it easier in my head – now I can get over myself.
My eldest child uses They/Them pronouns, and has changed their name to something they picked, as it fits better with who they are. when I was pregnant, I didn’t want to choose a name. I wanted to meet them, then see which one fit best out of our list. When we met them, their dead name seemed to suit them best out of all that we had liked. It was rather gender neutral, so it seems fitting.
This might be weird because I’m cis gendered, but one thing I’m finding that seems to be helpful is when I fill out a form that gives me the option to chose my pronoun I think about whether or not it actually matters in that situation. Like, it might matter when I’m filling out a form for a new doctor, but it doesn’t matter when I’m writing to my congressperson. So if I have that option, I choose “prefer not to answer”. You’d be surprised by how rarely it matters. And also using “they” whenever I’m in a situation where I might otherwise assume gender but it’s really none of my business. (“oh what a beautiful baby you have! They look adorable in that pink frilly dress!’)
I’m retraining my brain to make “they” the default until and if I’m corrected, and that helps quite a lot.
Jenny, You make a difference in the world. This has already helped people and will continue in that service for a very long time. I’m in a similar position with my child, who seems to be unsure of everything right now. Being a teenager can be such a flurry, no, a damn blizzard of emotion and questions. It’s a lot work. Thanks for helping people understand and thank you for making me feel better and for being YOU. xoxo
Oh man, this sounds so familiar. My wife is also non-binary (we talked about it and decided wife is still the best fit for person-I-am-married-to for us, because words CAN be flexible like that) and they tend to reassure people when there are pronoun mistakes that they thought of themself as “she” for so long even they slip up sometimes! It’s been about a year for us since they also went from “she or they is okay” to “actually just they please” so we’re both finally… probably… getting it right the majority of the time.
It is 100% a process of relearning, though, and it sounds like Hailey is managing to take all the little mistakes in stride. Good for them! I continue to be amazed at what a brave, passionate child you’ve raised.
…I’m totally going to tell my wife they’re a swarm of bees now.
How fortunate you are to have such an excellent relationship with Hailey that they can come to you to discuss their feelings. Good mama.
Oh I feel this. My 13-almost-14yo is spending a lot of time going down this discovery path. It is hard. She has not expressly asked us to use different pronouns, but I expect this to happen in due course. We are taking it one day at a time. Expression is a part of the teenage years — they are supposed to try on different personas and I think of this as part of that… albeit a very new (to me) 21st century part of growing up.
As a parent of a trans child, I have been there. It takes time but it will happen. I eventually didn’t have to think about the pronouns. 22 years of using a she pronouns can make it hard. And if others know the person as a “she” but don’t spend a lot of time around the person it is even harder because they just don’t have the practice. I had the benefit of a physical appearance change to remind me. Be patient with yourself. And kudos to Hailey for her patience.
You are a light in the darkness for so many. Your struggles become our struggles and your path forward paves the way for so many of us. (Bees? Brilliant, never would have thought of that.) I was so excited a few years back when there was talk of a completely new set of pronouns for nonbinary persons (ze, zem, zey?). It is SO HARD to reroute the old usage for ‘they’ but we definitely do it because love.
Everytime I see a post like this or hear someone is coming out as nonbinary (my MidKid included) i show them my favorite panel from the Loki Agent of Asgard comic. Since I can’t post 8t in a comment i shall simply quote it.
“I do not ‘identify’ as gender fluid. I *AM* gender fluid. I identify as… A Bitch.”
Almost exactly this is happening in my life right now. I’m reading nonstop about the gender spectrum. I told my NB child that I never even THOUGHT to CONSIDER my gender. I guess that’s either privilege, conditioning, generation, or all of the above. Learning every day! Proceeding with love and acceptance and begging for patience. <3
Thank you for your honesty, compassion, and humor. And now I am totally thinking of my non-binary kid as a swarm of bees. It kind of fits, actually.
This!! I’m going through the exact same with my eldest, thankfully they are patient and taking the time to educate me, it’s a learning curve for sure but we are making progress.
Thank you for your post. As a nonbinary lesbian (who has gotten many comments telling me that I cannot be both!), I appreciate any efforts people can make toward assisting with nonbinary identity. We are not always understood but we’re trying to be upfront. Thank you, Jenny, for being such a wonderful mama to your child. They are very lucky to have you.
Thank you for this! My child recently came out as queer and non-binary, and they said they also preferred to be called by a different name. This has been a tough transition – for me, not them – learning new pronouns and trying to call them by their new name, but the look on their face when we get it right it priceless.
My son identified as nb for a while until he realized that he felt more and more like HE as he was more open about who he was. I was so proud of him. As a young child, he loved dresses and pink and fairies and princesses but as he realized that he wasn’t required to be what society labeled him as, he became so much more happy and the more acceptance he had, the happier he felt. I fully supported my son’s journey. The day he told me he was my son and not my daughter, I told him that now I would get to experience something new, since I didn’t know I had a son before. I’m a proud mama bear for my afab son. Welcome to our club. And if you want any support or encouragement, look us up on Facebook. We are the Mama Bears. And we are proud of our kids.
Beautifully written, as always!! They are amazing!
This was wonderfully written. Even kids their age struggle with it at times. I have always preferred they because it doesn’t assume anything and I did not like that the preferred assumption was him. This is going even further than that and I like it! They are strong and beautiful people.
“Don’t be shitty” is probably the best bottom-line advice I’ve heard. So many people in our age group are struggling with these things right now. My daughter is dating a girl, and I asked about her pronouns before their first date. She rolled her eyes at me (everyone is she/her), but I think she was glad I’m thinking about it!
Thank you for your candid sharing. Many of us want to be accepting and it’s often uncomfortable to ask questions without knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate to ask. Your child is beautiful inside and out and I thank you for sharing their story (and amazing talents, successes and beautiful photos) with all of us.
It’s awesome that they have a safe space to live their truth in.
I’m excited to read this as my cousin Dr. Kelly Bushéy just did an interview with Colin Mochrie on this very subject of pronouns! Thank you for your story! https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10165606995420727&id=537910726&_ft_=mf_story_key.10165606995420727%3Atop_level_post_id.10165606995420727%3Atl_objid.10165606995420727%3Acontent_owner_id_new.537910726%3Athrowback_story_fbid.10165606995420727%3Astory_location.4%3Astory_attachment_style.photo%3Athid.537910726%3A306061129499414%3A2%3A0%3A1625122799%3A-8924945905223921509&__tn__=%2As%2As-R
as more and more of folks I love realized it was safer to explore gender expression, the more that they realize that they don’t fit into a specific box and I have been working to get rid of binary talk because unless I know them REALLY well, I have no idea what they prefer. So They/Them is what I am working to be my standard.
it also helps that I work for a company that has a lot of folks with names not from the anglo-saxon culture and have names that don’t always appear to be feminine or masculine so I try not to use those pronouns unless specifically told to.
Coincidences, I has them. I literally read this article 5 minutes before I saw this post. I sent it to my husband because he asked me about some of this a couple of days ago. It might help someone else. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/02/996319297/gender-identity-pronouns-expression-guide-lgbtq?utm_source=pocket-newtab
And how is Victor doing with the mental reprogramming?
Beautiful in every way. Thank you to Hailey for sharing their truth with us too, and to you for finding wise ways to say it all. You are the mom so many of us wished for—loving, open, ride-or-die, awesome!
Oh my gosh, yes! My oldest child came out as non binary quite some time ago. I did the research, Google is your friend, and I still slip. But Ash understands and gives a gentle reminder. The company we work for is working hard to embrace diversity and gives us the option to display our pronouns on company channels. They have also updated intake forms to reflect gender assigned at birth as well as identified gender. My standard answer when asked if I have kids is, yes, I have 3. My oldest, Ash and 2 daughters, Alex and Amy. Thanks for being a great Mom, Jenny.
My pseudo grand child is non-binary. I am struggling with the pronouns also. Starting today I will practice saying things out loud on my commute to try to get better. Thanks for all the great info.
A writer friend of mine wrote a whole series of short novels, each one from a different character’s POV. One character is non-binary and the whole book is written with “they” and “them” pronouns and finally by the end of the short novel, I was able to follow who the author was talking about with the theys and thems. Whew. It is hard work!
“The problem isn’t a dearth of knowledge, it’s a dearth of acceptance “ this is so true. Sometimes I wonder if people who have always felt different in one way or another have an easier time accepting others for who they are. Maybe…
Thank you for sharing all of this
There’s so much I don’t understand, but I don’t have to understand to use the correct pronoun for someone. I recently started following Jeffrey Marsh on Instagram, and they are so lovely and kind and it’s also a great time to practice using they quietly in my head. My hope is that by continually practicing, it will feel more natural when someone I know tells me they use the they/them pronouns. I feel like so much of my brain is wired to flip-flop between two options, and I’ve tacked on a third track, but because that track is new and not broken in, my brain keeps defaulting to the well-worn tracks. I really hope that younger generations have enough practice with multiple tracks that it’s easier for them to get out of super gendered thinking. The more I’ve become aware of how gendered EVERYTHING is, the more I’m like, good riddance to that ish.
Dresses are great, super comfortable and no need to match stuff. Dresses for all who want them, I say!
Hailey is an awesome person and you are an awesome mom!
I…my…I have feelings. Words. None. Some? I’ll start with thank you. My 18 year old is on this same journey. My husband and I are working it out. Difference being that the “reveal” was done in the midst of her/their slow-fast-slow moving crippling mental health crisis that is taking all the oxygen out of everything. From the get-go, I’ve been grappling with the fact that so many parents of LGBTQ kids are either really supportive or really not. You don’t get to see the sticky underbelly where the really supportive ones (of whom I assumed I’d be) still have to work thru the process. Which I guess yes, involves a little grief for what might have been.
Anyway, we started therapy to help us be the best parents to them we can. One phrase we were told might be helpful is “I’m asking for you to be patient with me as I am with you.”
This is fantastic, thank you. I was just thinking this morning while reading a parenting article that it would be so helpful if the article was written in non-binary gender terms. The articles tend to switch genders back and forth when referring to your baby. Oh hey, guess what. There’s an easier solution, and it helps us all become more comfortable with non-binary pronouns. I’m going to send some feedback. But in a nice way. No need to speak to a manager. Yet.
I’m working on it…I work in front line crisis response and we have had training on using a client’s preferred pronouns…I get it, but I still struggle with the plurality of “they” and “them” in some situations – if “they” have just arrived, I’m expecting two or more people. I’m working on it. I recently had to book a vaccination appointment online, it required preferred pronouns from a drop down menu with five selections…there was one set I couldn’t even pronounce. Hailey is spectacular, that’s what’s important.
I teach international students and I’m going to use an edited version (sorry, gotta take out the fucks even though that’s my favorite word) to help them understand why this is so fucking important!
Thank you for this. One challenge I have faced is how to empower my preteen when I have focused so long on “female empowerment” and now I realize that they are not interested in this and now I realize I have no other tools in my toolbox!
Is anyone working on a new, much longer Schoolhouse Rock episode?
Omg thank you (and Hailey) for this! And you’re an amazing mom and I wish them the best!
I came out to my mom as nonbinary a few years ago (I’m 34 and have been following your blog and books since forever) and she’s been struggling to get the pronouns right. I also was ok with she/they at first and then I was like actually… Totally going to send her this post.
(What helped her the most was my 7 year old asking we use they/them for them as well. It’s amazing what motivation a grandkid is lol.)
Hailey is lucky to have an accepting parent like you.
I would love to know both yours and Hailey’s thoughts about referring to a nonbinary child when said child is actually a full-grown adult. My middle child is twenty years old and recently came out (sort of) as nonbinary. I have friends who ask about my kids sometimes (the other two are cis male) but don’t already know them by name so sometimes I’ll say “my middle child” rather than “my middle son” even though they are definitely not an actual child. “Kid” doesn’t seem to work any better but that seems like how some folks handle that? It just feels kind of infantilizing to refer to them as a kid or child even though that’s how they are related to me, but I can’t come up with anything that fits better. Plus, they are still kind of navigating their identity (and apparently accepting all pronouns at the moment so maybe it’s moot anyway?) so I have a hard time starting a conversation about it, though I know I should just freaking ask them. I don’t know, I’m just curious to know your thoughts.
Thanks for sharing this!
Thank you so much for sharing your heart and using your platform to help us all.
Last year, I came out as nonbinary (gender queer to be more specific) while married to a cis woman. We have two kids and I am in my mid 30s, established in a career, so it was a rather complex thing to deal with. Despite the complexity it introduced, my life after coming out feels more open and colorful. I no longer have a filmy lens separating me the rest of the world.
I so appreciated this post because, while it’s clear that you love and support your child, you also had (understandable) questions about what it all means. Truthfully, it often feels difficult to understand my own experience of gender, never mind trying to articulate this experience in a clear way to those in my life who (seemingly) have a much less complicated relationship to their gender.
I started writing about it because I wanted to bridge the gap between my internal lived experience and my family and friends who are trying to understand. It’s these earnest attempts at understanding, grounded in loving curiosity, that makes me feel hopeful. It’s a leap of faith for them. “I may not entirely get it but I love you and am willing to learn alongside you.”
Thank you for this. Love your writing and the open-hearted curiosity in which you are approaching this process.
David McDine (@mcdavyducks on twitter)
Hi! Mom of non – binary they/them kiddo here! The best thing I did for myself was change their contact name in my phone to Max (they/them). Seeing it helped my brain remember it better. Congrats and welcome to the club!
the thing I love about this is that whenever someone comes out, in whatever way, they are more and more true to themselves. 🙂
I’ll admit that I don’t get the whole non-binary thing but I’m also aware that that’s a “me” problem and not a “them” problem and doesn’t make their existence any less valid. Hailey is still the wonderful young person they have always been and I’m glad they feel safe enough to come to you and allow you to share this with us.
Our 11 year old announced last year that she is non-binary, but using she/he/they. Our 14 year old announced on Valentine’s that they are trans, using he/they. After having called them “she/her” since we knew we were pregnant, it’s been ***HARD*** to get used to the pronouns! They’ve both chosen new names, which has been much easier to adjust to, though I do occasionally slip in their dead name.
Love to you, and to your kid: We always knew they were awesome, and their openness here (and patience as their world learns and practices their pronouns) only reinforces it.
I have a child who declared themselves as non-binary also. Adopting these pronouns has been helpful even for conversations with cis-gender (probably spelling it wring, but it means people who identify as the same gender they are physically) people who I have never met. In turn, it provides practice for conversing with those I know identify as non-binary.
My advice, self-correct if you use the wrong pronouns, it shows you are working at it. We are all human, we make mistakes, but being self-aware of your mistakes and correcting them will be recognized and appreciated.
Thank you so much for explaining these terms. I am a high school teacher who practices acceptance and tries to teach it through literature, poetry, conversations, and more. I will definitely definitely be saving this post to help me clarify these big questions.
Thank you for blogging on this topic! I realize my resistance to “they” and non-binary is a micro aggression really if we are going to use familiar language terms. Language is so limiting really and yet we live in a society so reliant on it.
I wonder about gender equality. How do I and they all push for equity of all humans really? Perhaps this is a way. Perhaps viewing non binary is a closer step toward nature toward our core of being an interconnected species reliant on one another. I hope for this movement.
If it is about defining the self as an individual and exposing differences it just perpetuates more “isms” and will break us.
My child is using she/they. A lot of their friends are non-binary. I really needed to see this as I sometimes struggle to use the correct pronouns with the correct child. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks I try SO hard that I overthink which pronoun to use and then confuse myself when I go to speak. Thank you for being so open about your child and your adjustments.
Love, love, love… To you, Haley, and everyone. Particularly if you are working to become your authentic self, or are working on supporting people in becoming their authentic selves. ((Hugs))
this is wonderful! One of my dearest friends and their spouse started identifying as non-binary years ago and it does take time to retrain your brain! it’s so affirming and loving for them though and is a million percent worth it.
I think you might enjoy following Amanda Jette Knox (she/her) on the various social medias. She has a book out called “Love Lives Here” where she details her family experiencing both her child and her spouse coming out as trans within the same year. (The child, a teen now, now identifies as non-binary). Amanda also chronicles her life with mental illness. I imagine you two would be friends if you met 🙂 <3
Thank you for this post!
You’re far from the only one struggling to remember, but it makes our kids happy and validated and it’s the right thing to do. My oldest kid was my daughter for 27 years until they became my kid, and I still catch myself saying “I talked to.your sister” or “she said”. But I will work on it for forever, if that’s what it takes.
I feel this on so many levels. My daughter came out as a lesbian when she was 12. Her entire life we called her Addy. A nickname that I gave her at birth. When she came out she informed us that she preferred her given name, Ayden. It sounded more like what she left like inside. Its not the same as a pronoun change but having to call someone something new after 12 years is HARD!! She told all her Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents the same and while there are still a lot of slip ups I’m constantly encouraged by hard they’re all trying.
I know you’re not an “Amen” kind of person, but I am, so I will just say AMEN. Also, my trans kid is made infinitely safer by folks with platforms like yours stepping up and initiating these conversations in an honest, vulnerable, loving way. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
You and Victor are good parents, I think it’s wonderful how supportive and amazing you are. And we’ve seen your child grow up here and they’ve turned into an amazing human being. Happy Pride to all y’all!
Thank you so much for doing some of the work to help inform other people. Im non-binary and there is a huuuge amount of learning and unlearning that comes with figuring it all out. And let me tell you its exhausting having to also teach other people all the time. This swarm of bees really appreciates when cis-folks and allies are willing to do some work to teach themselves and others.
Thank you so much for this! It was extremely enlightening!!
In the B&W photo you posted of Hailey she reminds me of a 1940’s movie star. Beautiful!
(*They. 🙂 But thank you! ~ Jenny)
I just recently came out as non-binary/genderfluid and my mom is being so awesome, as are my brother’s and their families. But it’s hard for them to get used to it.
Hell, it’s hard for ME to get used to it. I was using she/her for 44 years. I still forget to use they/them when referring to myself 🤣 It feels right, but old habits die hard!
They/them/it have been my preferred pronouns since 1989. We have been around but other’s have not been listening. It’s still hard when friends come out as non-binary, where we were going as androgynous before. These are not new things having to deal with being thrown out of stores for using the female dressing room when you look more masculine.
OMG- the pocket ferret just totally saved me one the singular/plural noun issue. Thank you!
Great words from a great mom. So hard. Willing to do the work. Thanks.
Rock on, kiddo! And great job, Mom.
I have a logistical question. Before a new store opened in town, a few teaser photos were shared on Instagram. I mentioned it to a friend, telling her there were two people in one of the photos, but I didn’t know which is the owner. She told me the owner is nonbinary so I should say “they.” No. There were two people. Here’s my wall. If a car is filled with five passengers it is still A car. A nonbinary human “vessel” is still A vessel. If I refer to two humans, it remains they. For a true vocabulary revolution someone will have to come up with a word to replace “they” if referring to a cis and nonbinary. Truly trying to figure it out. Sigh. 😊
I agree that the grammar part of using “they” is hard, but I love the very concept of they/them. There are so many expectations and pre-conceived ideas with “he” and “she,” We don’t have that with they. No one knows what to expect, so one has an open miind…AS IT SHOULD BE!
My biggest problem to overcome is the use of “he.” He was my default. He is a member of the human race, a man is a member of mankind. He and man did not necessarily have a penis, but the rest of the world disagrees with me. They it will be. AS IT SHOULD BE!
My question for the Jenny Google-Foo is should I correct other people when they are talking about someone who is a they but the other person is using he/she? I never know.
(For me I tend to correct them but with a smiley face at the end so they know I’m not yelling at them. But mostly people tend to catch it themselves or are very cool about the reminder and I try to be the same because I know I slip up all the time as well and appreciate a reminder. ~ Jenny)
For as long as I can remember I have had issues with the limitations of our feminine/masculine language and have been fascinated with the idea of having a non-gendered way to address people. I remember reading a fantasy novel ages ago where a characters were referred to as “hesh,” “hisser” and “himmer” and thought it was brilliant. I get that for some people that gender identity is important, but it is also a label that people put on them that is sometimes negative and unwelcome. I think a lot of my discomfort with gender labels is that it comes with assumptions. As a “tomboy” growing up, I did not fall into the traditionally feminine, dress-wearing, girly-girl category that people wanted to put me in. I wanted to ride my bike, catch bugs, play with G.I. Joe and Star Wars figures; not have tea parties and play with baby dolls and Barbies. As I got older, there came the assumption that because I liked “masculine” things that there was a direct correlation to my sexuality. Add to that there are assumptions that are made even about heterosexuality. There is a whole spectrum of sexuality beyond just being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. that isn’t understood by most people. I remember I was almost giddy when I heard the term “demisexual” for the first time. I’ve struggled my whole life trying to explain that I have to have romantic feelings for someone before I have sexual feelings. Without romantic feelings, I am essentially asexual. There was always an expectation that I was either sexually attracted to someone from the get-go or never would be. Many a first date ended without a second because I gave the impression that I wasn’t sexually attracted to them, which was true, but guys just decided I wasn’t worth wasting their time and never understood that I needed time to get to know them. It has also happened that I developed romantic/sexual feelings for a woman, but I didn’t feel that it was accurate to say I was bisexual because those instances were rare and I definitely had a stronger preference for men overall. I am at the age that I am comfortable with being referred to as a woman, but I will reject the assumptions that come with that label if I feel the need. I am also more feminine in the way I dress than I was when I was younger, but I still wear men’s cargo shorts because…well, they actually have useful pockets. I could go on, but I really just wanted to say that I am happy for Hailey that they are growing up in a time when they can express their identity and sexuality openly and find support and understanding. I know a lot of people like to complain about the younger generation, but I find I am quite often proud of them for discarding outdated ideas. I hope I never end up one of those older folks who complains, “back in my day…” and can continue to keep an open mind as our society evolves.
I have a non-binary great-nibling who also changed their name. Using the new name has been easier than the correct pronoun, but I’m working on it and only see them in person once a year. It’s easy to correct things when typing! And I learned a new word! Nibling! Like sibling but for niece/nephew.
What a good mama you are. Being a parent of teens is a journey!! BTW, your child has a beautiful glow. Love the mischievous eyebrows 🙂
PS Been a fan of yours since the giant chicken.
Ferrets are as adorable asbthey are stinky. Get a pocket parrot. It’s a real thing: I have 4 parrotlets.
I think this is fantastic. I cannot possibly love it more when an individual speaks and makes their truth known. It tickles me and brings me joy. We ALL have this right to be exactly who we are and to be accepted for it. Acceptance and respect need very much to become the “new normal.”
I recently had a discussion in a group about this when someone posted about Demi Lovato now referring to herself as they. I admitted I was an old Boomer and didn’t really understand it all and could someone please explain it to me. Someone responded, we talked, they sent me several links, and I learned I’ve been fairly non-binary my whole life- I actually wrote an essay some years ago about how I didn’t have a definition of what constituted ‘manhood’ because I didn’t agree with what my father said it was (fightin’, drinkin’, fishin’, fuckin’!)
My wife says I’m the most balanced man she’s ever known, having both masculine and feminine traits. I’ve been to war, drove semis for 29 years, rode with 1% motorcycle clubs, have a black belt, and also knit, braid, weave, cross stitch, cry at movies and books, and prefer the company of women. Not for sex, but companionship. I can be around men but I feel like I always have to put up a front, like a cheetah among lions.
I think one of the big confusions about it is that it has nothing to do with sexual orientation- one can be non-binary, binary, or a bit of either and be hetero, LGBTQ, or asexual.
Here’s the link that helped me understand. https://transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-non-binary-people-how-to-be-respectful-and-supportive?fbclid=IwAR0y94o0tqwd–_I2tYFXsJ0nlRM22xof6_HZezXUDRn-fNY_eKTyjp6Fm4
Damnit Jenny! Just because your book is in my house doesn’t mean you get to spy on my life!!!
My child just came out this weekend so this post is so helpful for all of us who are trying for the new neural connections! “They only introduced me to a wider reality” – RUSH-
So wonderful to read this! My oldest let us know she’s a transgender girl in March. We’re still figuring it out also, but we know we love and support her so much!
Can we start a movement to use the term “vee”?!? It is a sign of peace and a letter of the alphabet, but otherwise undefined. I am an English major and find it so hard to use a plural pronoun in this context (although I am wholly and completely supportive!)
Welcome to non-binary Momhood!! And thank you for writing this brave blog. Lots of educating is needed and this is a wonderful addition.
@cirquemom The singular “they” has been used in the English language since at least 1375. Your teacher was simply wrong. This is straight from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is not new and you don’t get a free pass by virtue of being old.
Additionally, you are confusing biological sex with gender. There have already been many excellent articles detailing this (many written by trans, non-binary, and gender queer people) so I suggest a quick googling.
Additionally, as someone who lost a large portion of her family to actual Nazis, can I suggest the less offensive and more accurate term, ‘grammar pedant’ or just regular ol’ pedant.
Yes it is hard to change but it is worth it in the end!
The hardest part for me is that I am used to differentiating my children as “my son” and “my daughter”. I am still consciously working on saying “my child” or “my oldest” and “my youngest” instead.
I had an epiphany moment went my brain was finally able to separate gender identity from sexual preference. Growing up in the 1980’s, they were considered to be one thing. Once I could separate them out, it was much easier to understand everything.
My nephew recently told me they’re non-binary and I was like, how do I refer to you now? Cause nephew implies gender. They said they didn’t care but I looked it up and it turns out they’re a NIBLING! I have a nibling and it’s awesome.
2 of my 3 kids came out as transgendered some years ago and now the 3rd one says they are nonbinary. It’s so, so hard navigating all of it and I’m terrified all the time for all of them. It’s been so exhausting and difficult but just recently it seems more people are going through similar things with their kids. At least I’m not alone. Sending hugs to you and Haley and Victor. xxoo
I never thought I’d have a post of yours that surpassed the coming of Beyoncé as my favorite, but this one has done that. 💙
I just refer to my children as “loin fruit,” which leaves gender totally out of it. “Crotch goblin” also works.
As the parent of a non-binary person, I love this. And welcome! And also, “nibbling” is what my sister uses to refer to my (grown) kid Andi love it.
Nibling. Thanks, autocorrect.
Some non-binary use Mx (pronounced ‘mix’) but it is ok to ask your friend these types of things, especially when asked as “what would be the correct way to (fill in gap here) for you?” This means your friend doesn’t have to speak on behalf of all non-binary people. Same with the “lady” thing. Since you two have a history with using it, it might not be a problem between the two of you but not in other situations.
I am so incredibly happy for Hailey to have such amazing and caring parents as you and Victor! Truly, not all heroes wear capes. I love how open and accepting you have been through Hailey’s growth in their self discovery. They are one lucky kiddo! As a non-binary person, I appreciate you working through this process openly, and broadening your reader’s understanding of gender fluidity. I am cheering you and your family on as you all explore and embrace what it means to experience this world. Thank you for being a loving parent, and an excellent human.
And then there are the relationships. Which can be even more complicated. This new world order is tiring my old world brain. But love is love is love is love.
Thanks to you and to Hailey for allowing you to share with all of us. My motto is “I don’t have to understand, I just have to accept and support”. I believe this generation is teaching us all so much about what it means to be true to oneself. <3
All I can say is that ferrets have an unpleasant odor, even if they’ve been de-odorized, so you might want to rethink that. Otherwise? Rainbows and love.
Well done Jenny! It can be hard to switch when you are used to a specific pronoun, but if you try and change your thinking to all people are they/them until they specify, it makes it easier. I work in a field with people a lot of international backgrounds where the first contact id often electronic and I don’t always know if the name I’m encountering is associated with a specific gender in that culture. I use they/them until they identify themselves so I don’t embarrass myself!
Thank you for this! I am in a similar position with my offspring (the word we decided on to describe them, or spawn depending on who the other person is. At nearly 19, we both felt “child” wasn’t quite right.). I hate how much I screw it up, but also hope I’d react with grace of it were the other way around. They are generally kind and sweet, and I love them, too.
I came out as non-binary last year. I’ve been non-binary as long as I can remember, but we really didn’t have language for it when I was a young adult trying to figure everything out. I am happy that Hailey is figuring things out now and has lovely parents who are open to helping her on her journey.
This is so wonderful to read. It can be difficult to re-learn pronouns when it’s someone you’ve known literally your entire life, but it’s also so very wonderful to see acceptance and to see that person feeling validated and comfortable.
I don’t have a ton of ‘real-life’ friends, most of the people I interact with regularly are online, but I have a fair handful of friends online who use ‘they’ pronouns. Some have used ‘they’ since I met them, some have realized more recently and I’ve had to train my brain to go from ‘she’ to ‘they’. After awhile it becomes easier with each person simply through the experience of constantly using ‘they’ whether outloud or in your head. But my goodness it’s absolutely heartwarming to see someone discovering their identity and actually feeling safe and loved enough to express themself.
(Also, uh, “Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny.” YES! This seems like such a common misconception. And also thanks for address the ‘they is not singular!!’ argument I see way too often, it’s almost like people don’t even realize *they* use that wording regularly in everyday conversation!)
People can learn and change and often do so quickly. When I told my parents that my wife and I were starting a family, one of my family members asked how we would get donor sperm on the black market. They didn’t actually think it was a black market deal, but had NO idea how it worked. And now? My family forgets that only one mom is biologically related to my son, which is awesome.
My daughter’s beloved is nom-binary so I am having to unlearn as well.
Hailey is very lucky to have you and Victor as parents. And “Don’t be shitty” is a great paraphrasing of the Golden Rule – if I had a Wand of Command that could turn that into a law of nature so that everyone from world leaders to peons like me were as bound by it as we are by gravity, I’d wield that sucker in a heartbeat.
Thanks for your article. I’m hoping to get there someday but I honestly still don’t get it. And it seems I’m not allowed to be upset about it. And this has surprised me because I consider myself an ally to the LGBTQ community. I just cant help feel that she–still goes by she/they–is erasing her female self and trying to now be nothing. And that hurts. She is not nothing to me. I hope I can come to terms someday soon.
(What helped me was remembering that non-binary doesn’t necessarily equal less than. It can equal more than. It can equal different. Non-binary is far from erasure…it’s about acceptance and visibility. ~ Jenny)
So beautifully, and hilariously written. (Get the ferret.) I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey my own gender non-conforming children have taken me on. There are wonderful groups out there for any other parents of gender non-conforming children of any age. To show your support for your own children go to freemomhugs.org or Free Mom Hugs on Facebook, to get support for yourself as you navigate your new journey find the Mama Bears on Facebook.
I love this. Thank you so much for writing it.
This is great. I have asked my non binary family member to educate me and they seem to have complicated it in my mind. This however makes so much sense! And yes you do need a pocket ferret. They have a great mom. ♥️
I always disliked the importance put on assigning gender in our world’s languages and gender roles expectations. It especially came up when I was learning Spanish and French in school and I’m like, why does almost everything have to be assigned a gender? And I know boys who liked dolls and high heels and makeup, and girls who only wanted to wear pants and cut their hair short and play with trucks, but it didn’t necessarily mean they wanted to be the opposite gender from the one they were assigned at birth or that they had a same sex preference for romantic relationships.
When I as growing up I knew boys who expressed wanting to be girls and girls who expressed wanting to be boys and children who weren’t interested in being judged as either/or and just wanted to be treated like human beings. So while I’m not a fan of saying she/they or he/they, (because it’s so confusing to remember, and because it still puts an importance on assigning gender,) I totally like the idea of they/them/theirs for non-binary persons who just want to identify as human beings. I also don’t like the idea of assigning race, which is also a societal construct, because we are all of one race, the human race. My niece just doesn’t fit one category of Black, Indigenous, Caucasian, Hispanic, Jewish or Christian, she’s a little bit of all of those things and it would be impossible for her to check off one box on a government form to match her culture, her heritage or identity. Our society would be a lot better off if we didn’t try to categorize people into little boxes of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity or religion and expect them to fit our socially imposed notions of what that means and who they are as human individuals. So hurrah to our young people who are moving us in the direction of moving beyond labels and embracing themselves and encouraging others to simply think of themselves as humans and individuals. Us older folks will get there in time, and the more you patiently correct us, the sooner we will learn and evolve with you.
This is lovely! Thanks! My adult child came out as trans female 6 years ago, and then my younger child came out as nonbinary last year. I continue to have trouble with pronouns, but yes, they are still my kids and I love them deeply.
This made me laugh and cry at the same time. Thank you.
Wow!! I came here to me too. My child came out as NB in the middle of covid, during a mental health crisis, and now they are having lots of physical health challenges, too. I didn’t expect there to be tons of comments from other parents Saying they are going through this journey too. So now I’m kinda teary.
I struggle with pronouns as well because chronic pain makes my brain fuzzy so I’ll sometimes use two sets or pronouns in the same sentence “They need her books” I’ve also started using gender neutral pronouns with the Cat-not on purpose-just did you feed them? Basically I’m never sure what’s going to come out of my mouth.
I really need like Doulingo for pronouns. Anybody here no an app programmer? We could kick start this.
I completely echo the person who thought queer kids either had supportive parents or not, and I thought because I’m supportive it would be easy, and at least for my kid it’s not.
I am one of your younger readers. (I’ve been reading this blog since I was 15 or so.) I want to share my story, just because I think Hayley might be in a similar situation. I hope this does not sound like I am coming from a place of judgement or hatred, because I am not.
When I was about 16, I decided I was nonbinary. I am female/afab and (though I did not come out until recently) a lesbian. When I went off to university, I started reading about desisted, detrans, and reidentified women and came to realize that my disconnect with womanhood and the female experience was an effect of misogyny and homophobia (both internalized and external). As well, I experienced some degree of dysphoria in addition to dysmorphia because of underlying mental health problems. I was met with nothing but support from friends, family, and the community.
Perhaps this is not the case with your child, because they have maintained their lesbian identity, but for me, identifying as nonbinary was a way of coping with a world that did not want me to exist as a same-sex attracted female nor as a female who didn’t want to dress or act feminine. Most (possibly all) of the detrans and desisted women I am friends with and have read about have some degree of homosexual attraction (usually lesbians, some are bi). We have all had to do lots of hard work to deal with dysphoria but are happier now that we have realized that there is no more to being a woman than being female.
Again, I do not wish to harm you or Hayley by saying this. I simply want to reach out because I wish I had heard from someone like me sooner. I wish I had had someone question me about why I felt I was not a woman in order that I could have acknowledged my underlying personal issues and come to terms with my homosexuality. I did not desist from my nb identity until university. I spent so much time and energy hating my biology and fighting to separate myself from my physical existence. I know I would have been happier if I had had the tools to desist sooner.
My situation may not be the same as Hayley’s. But I know that you care about them and that they are a kind person. I wish you both the best!
I forgot something I wanted to say that my kid talks about for folks who are having a high time with wrapping their brains around gendered behavior in Non-Binary folks:
Gender identity is not gender expression
Just like you probably know women who aren’t particularly girly, or men who aren’t particularly macho.
I love that so many kids now just couldn’t give a rats ass. My incredibly cis son, wore dresses and skirts regularly when he was in preschool. Tons of boys try out nail polish. Let’s follow their lead.
I remember my mom showing me a government style guide in t to be 80s that instructed writers to use They as a non-gendered pronoun. Seems like speech is following writing on this case.
I have always loved your writing and your bravery, but this might be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. My kiddo is non-binary too. So are lots of my students. Thank Hailey for being out and awesome. Thank you for being publicly non-shitty.
My six year old is feeling out being nonbinary. For last couple years off and on they’ve been a she, but it never felt really true or permanent. We were happy to roll with it but then it would just vanish for weeks and they’d be a perfectly happy he for a while. Finally I tried to explain that they might be neither, or both, and they were intrigued, and are trying it on for now. But everyone outside the immediate family still calls them he and they’ve never seemed upset or wanted to correct anyone. Just like before, we’re rolling with it. They’re six. They’re learning about the world and themself. If it sticks, awesome. If not, awesome. I want my kiddo to be happy and strong and comfortable. 🙂
Congrats to Hailey! I recently came out as fae after thinking I was a cis woman for 42 years now because I felt gender euphoria as soon as I learned about the identity. Fae is a nonbinary/genderfluid gender meaning sometimes feminine but never masculine. (It also encompasses how I’m autistic and disabled, and there was that whole thing where parents of centuries past said they’re disabled children were changelings, fairy children swapped out for the supposedly healthy kids they thought they’d birthed.
With a lifetime of being called female terms, I’m okay with words like wife, mother, sister, daughter, etc. but I absolutely do not like people insisting I’m a woman just because I said that “fae woman” was acceptable. (Since that incident, the only time I’ve felt gender dysphoria, I’ve removed “fae woman” from my social bios in favor of simply “fae,” but I’m still okay with the compound version.) My pronouns are still she/her too, but it makes me absolutely giddy when people take my jokey remark about my pronouns being sidhe/her seriously. (Out loud, they sound the same!)
It can be very tricky to relearn pronouns and other gendered terms for a loved one, as old speech patterns are hard to break, but it sounds like Hailey is able to hear you correct yourself without feeling any dysphoria themselves. That’s a blessing! Here’s to your wonderful child!
On a slight tangent, my aunt loved to use the “royal we” for herself (thusfar she is still “she” pronouned to my knowledge) and when questioned about who else she meant, she’d always answer “me and the mouse in my pocket”. So for fun I got us both pocket mice (just little cat toys) and I named mine Hector and made him a little collar and talked about him so much that eventually he became sentient and ran away to have wilder adventures than just living in my pocket.
But Hailey’s kitten/ferret/mouse in their pocket makes a great and helpful visual and I wish you good luck!
(I have recently had two relatively good friends transition and it has been really fucking hard to remember their pronouns and I am trying and it is difficult but like you said, intention matters as do apologies and accountability. Best wishes to everyone involved and the mice in their pockets!)
Congrats on being an awesome mom. It’s heartbreaking that so many kids are afraid to even start this conversation. Although neither of mine are nonbinary, we know several young adults who are. I found that wearing a rubber band on my wrist and giving myself a little snap whenever I slip up helped break the habit much faster.
Thank you and thank Hailey, please for the kitten in the pocket image.
It’s incredibly hard, be kind to yourself in the process. Pocket ferrets are wonderful fun.
I have a dear, sweet nephew who was assigned female at birth. First he was non binary and we used the they/them pronouns. My sister bought them a set of rings (blue, pink and neutral yellow) so they could let us know what they were feeling on a given day, but sometimes they would cycle through so fast that they stopped wearing them. Eventually he felt better using masculine pronouns, and started transitioning – taking testosterone and getting top surgery. One of the things that was hardest for me was calling him by his chosen name and the concept of his birth name being his “deadname”. It felt like I was saying my niece was dead, and I had to mourn that idea for a while.
Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray on IG) is an invaluable resource for anyone negotiating the queer/non-binary/trans world, as well as educating cisgendered people on how to be a good ally. I thought I was pretty good, living up here in liberal Massachusetts, but I have learned a lot. He’s definitely worth a follow for anyone exploring their identity and the people that love them.
Ps. I’m agree non-bianary people don’t owe us androgyny. I’m saying as a human being who others would classify as primarily cis-gendered and primary as heterosexual, I’m fine with doing away with gendered language entirely, its nobody’s business but mine how I identify on the spectrum of gender or sexuality or sexual preference, or to judge me on how they would like to classify me. I would love it if all of the world stopped using gender constructs and gender specific language and we were all they/them/theirs and no more he, she, Mrs, Mr, Ms, Sir, Mam, Madam, Mademoiselle or Miss. Just identify me as a human individual and treat me with respect and don’t assign judgement on me based on artificial social constructs and outward appearances or body parts but instead by my deeds and words.
I’ve been trying really hard to understand this as well, and struggling to break old language habits when referring to my son’s non-binary friend. But after reading this, I feel like I’ve had an epiphany. Like, what if this is just the next step to viewing all humans as people rather than as their gender constructs? Like, maybe I’m non-binary too if I stop seeing myself as a female who happens to do a lot of stereotypical male stuff (like fixing things around the house, mowing the yard, and ignoring how dirty the toilet is until someone points out to me that it needs to be cleaned) and instead start to view myself as a person who is a jumble of different traits, both (stereotypically) male and female? Shit, I think I just came out as non-binary on your blog!
Pretty much their whole life my middle child would compulsively peel the labels off of anything they could, so when I found out they were nonbinary I thought “Well that tracks!”
I have a friend that in have known for almost 30 years. He recently became she, which wasn’t much of a surprise, but it’s hard as hell to break the habit of saying “he”. The name change wasn’t as hard as the pronoun. Unfortunately, she takes it personally when I fuck up even though as she knows I am totally supportive of her being trans. 🙁
This post was very well done! Thank you for spreading acceptance and love! My husband and I have been together since high school, and he was born Alyssa. I always considered myself gay, then my husband transitioned in 2017. It takes a lot of time, and people who love and accept him still fu k up and say “she” sometimes, and that’s okay. What matters is the effort. You’re doing amazing! 🌈🏳️⚧️ Kudos to Hailey! They are amazing, brave, and lucky to have you! 💙
Thank you. From one mama to another, let’s keep learning together and loving the ever-living daylights out of kids.
This made my day! My 13 yr old also came out as non binary in February and the pronouns were a tough one at first, but after reading Rick by Alex Gino, one of the teachers actually learns to view the pronouns in the same way you explained above and a light bulb went off for me. My minion also still loves doing their nails and make up but also enjoys a short haircut and wearing hoodies or clothing from any gender department. If Hailey ever wants an extra friend to chat with, we are moving to San Antonio next month (we fly into Dallas from Germany on Saturday!!) 🙂
Hailey has learned from her birthing parent that it’s ok to smash taboos. You have been open about mental health. Their generation is normalizing gender identity. And Victor as the non-birthing parent is so secure in their identity that they can love and encourage 2 unique and wonderfully honest people.
My child transitioned two years ago, and I had to switch from he to she very quickly. You’ll always have a couple of slip-ups but the important thing is that you’re making the effort and eventually it will be second nature. As for dresses and make-up, those are social constructs of gender and they are constantly in flux. I always remind people that men wore dresses and make-up throughout different times in history and that up until the 20th century, women couldn’t wear pants–everything, including language is fluid. The most important thing is to love and support your child, and it’s so obvious that you do:-)
I have a 15yo born male child who is now they/them. I struggle with the pronouns but I am working on it. I love this child with my whole heart and will do whatever they need to make them happy. This is the bravest person I know. Was wearing big dangly earrings in middle school. Grew their hair out. Bought a mini skirt and thigh high stockings and wore them to school (when there was school – damn COVID).
I do struggle with missing the little boy they were because he was ADORABLE and my child doesn’t even like to see pictures of him. I guess what I’m saying is Me Too.
Thank you so much for this! I will be sharing it shortly with family and friends on behalf of my own NB/lesbian/female-presenting teen who is so very cool and talented and smart and awesome, not to mention kind and graceful when I inevitably stumble with the change in pronouns and name. All the hugs to you and Hailey. It’s definitely bumpy and challenging and complicated as the parent. But then again? It’s about loving and respecting your kid and keeping them as safe and happy as you can. So I guess it’s not complicated at all.
This is so helpful – It’s really hard to work the plural they into my speech for a singular person, the window smashing is the perfect example to remind me I already say that IRL!
My tongue was tripping over ‘they’ not being a plural until your fantastic dog in a car explanation. You fixed my tongue and brain. Which sounds really odd to say, so on brand? Thank you!!
I think of it like a pegasus with a horn, or is it a unicorn with wings? Who cares? THEY are a magical being.
The defining of sexualities as it applies to the non-binary spectrum is also an important thing to prevent subtly applying gender. For example… Hayley might be ok with “Lesbian” but many non-binary people are not. They prefer the following:
Androsexual (Attraction to the male form), Gynesexual (Attraction to the female form), Polysexual (Attraction to Multiple and/or Non-binary forms), and Onmisexual (also Pansexual; attraction to persons of all genders and/or orientations).
Hi, Jenny! First of all, I love this post! I shared it with my non-binary sibling who pointed something out to me that I want to share. They/them are not non-binary pronouns! Anyone can use they/them for their pronouns regardless of gender. In my sibling’s words “Pronouns don’t have genders – any gender can use any pronouns.”
The emperor has no clothes.
I suggest to people that they think of me as three dogs in a trenchcoat.
Spent almost 60 years trying to figure out why it felt weird being called Miss or Mrs, or Maam or Sir. Luckily, the term non-binary was finally coined and I had an epiphany about myself.
You are telling my story, too! THANK YOU for the acceptance, clarity and humor.
As a mom and a professor I am still working on “they/them.” Although my kids expect me to call them by our pets’ names as well.
204, I dare you to say that without hiding behind anonymity.
Sorry, it’s COOL to be “non-binary” right now. They still represent not more than 5%, and probably more like 3%, of all people. Let your kid experiment, but strongly discourage anything “permanent”.
In 5 years this will be like the rash of recovered memory pedo claims in the 90s:
“WTF was wrong with people that they were believing this lunatic crap?”
Now if only we could get started on Miss, Ms. Mrs., Mr. and Mx! Why should a born female’s marital status be part of their identity?
Thank you so much for this. My child is also non-binary, and while I have no trouble with this in general, the language thing tripped me up but I’m trying. I’m going to try harder now.
I’ve recently found myself in a similar situation with each of my kids. In January, my eldest’s pronouns changed to “she/her” and, just a couple weeks ago, my youngest’s changed to “they/them”. In both cases, their names changed too. I’m doing my best to get it right, but I’m still slipping up now and then. Hoping I’ll get better at it with practice.
They is not just a plural pronoun. They is not just a plural pronoun. THEY IS NOT JUST A PLURAL PRONOUN IT HAS BEEN SINGULAR FOR LITERALLY 600 YEARS
My child is also a non-binary lesbian, which is definitely a combo that’s a bit of a challenge to wrap my head around! They use they/their pronouns and also changed their name to Wren. I’ve got the name down now (I’ve had a year!) but still mess up the pronouns from time to time. They are very understanding, thankfully. They are so much happier since coming out and I love them as much as always! Here’s to our wonderfully unique children! Mine is also about to finish 10th grade.
Jenny, thank you. Im on a journey with my child too, and they, and I, feel so validated reading this. You are just THE best.
Hey Suzzz, the honorific is Mx. (Pronounced Mix) Though I personally prefer Captain.
I love this for reasons beyond what I can express.
So instead I’ll give you another bit of happy news — someone cancelled an order when this bakery advertised rainbow cookies for Pride, and then the townspeople proceeded to BUY EVERYTHING IN THE STORE. *EVERYTHING*. Y’all, they posted photos of empty bakery shelves.
Texas went big this week.
So when the world gets back to normal and I get to drive cross-country to visit Nowhere… I’ll be swinging through Lufkin to have some mighty tasty looking cookies.
Also? A(nother) writer I follow on Twitter refers to themself as “Gentlethem.” And I adore that enough to share. (Witchmark by C.L. Polk, which I found through Captain Awkward.)
Thank you. My partner’s kiddo (11) is nb and I am slightly terrified of my parents meeting them. I sent this to them (my parents – not the 11 year old) to read and assuming my 85 year old father can get past all the fucks (my mom will love it!!) I think it will help them understand and give them some insight.
Dear OBloodyHell, this may seem like a “fad” to you, but I would argue 2 points: 1st, that language and culture have changed to the point where people feel more comfortable about revealing their authentic selves. And. . .2nd: if we are all here at this point in time (and we are) there is a mission we are meant to accomplish. Perhaps that mission is equality and acceptance.
My kid came out as trans right after she turned 16. New pronouns are tricky but you get there faster than you’d think. Hormones and legal shit, now… 🥲
One of my kids came out to me as trans a few years ago. Still struggling with pronouns because she isn’t fully out, and so still uses her old name and pronouns in certain situations but I just keep correcting myself. I dead named her at home the other day, and she said with a smile, “Not my name, but okay”.
The Midwest has used “they/them” as alternate singular pronouns since I can remember. That part is easy!
I honestly think much of this is kids following a fad and trying on personas. They don’t know who they are yet… hell, the human brain doesn’t even mature until 25-ish. I tried punk rock and being bi and calling myself a different name and it was just part of becoming my adult self. I think a LOT of these kids are doing it because it’s the “thing” right now. A lot of my daughter’s friends said they were gay in middle school and now they are like “OH. Guess not!”. And that’s fine. I’m open to people expressing themselves in different ways until they truly come into their authentic state. I wouldn’t go so far as to let my child take hormones to change gender traits or do “binding” or other physically changing processes, but If it makes you feel better for me to call you “they”, then I will honor that. And if you change your mind later (or don’t), good on ya!
My 12yo child has friends that are non-binary. I mess up the they pronouns often, but I am trying. I am working on using it in my writing, as well. I have nothing but love, it is just the grammar police in my soul that takes issue, I think.
My teenager tries to explain all of this to me and it’s confusing, but you made it easy to figure out… plus I laughed a lot. Thanks for sharing what you have learned and kudos to your child for being their true self! (See what I did?) I’m learning!!
I just got this as a teeshirt because I’m from Pittsburgh: Yinz is a gender neutral pronoun
This post has been my life since February. My child is also just finishing 10th grade, involved in choir, and recently came out as bi-gendered. Mine also has changed their name, so I have that added challenge. When they were younger, they used to say they were a tom-boy and their dad and I used to reply with “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” (they were totally a girly girl in their early years). 5 years later, they came out as bi and now this year, bi-gendered as well, so its starting to make more sense (tom-boy days were when they felt more masculine and less feminine).
The use of they/their breaks my brain on an hourly basis – that’s not how I was taught to use it in school and I was excellent at grammar. But they forgive my mess ups with grace since a 16-year habit is hard to break.
I’m lucky that we have supportive family, and while grandma and grandpa might not “get” it, they go along because that make their grandchild happy.
I have a transgender male grandson. He told us what his name was and I didn’t have too much trouble with that, but had a hard time with the pronouns. He was very patient with us as we got used to using the correct pronouns. I asked him if it was OK if I asked him questions about all the different designations. I think he was pleased I wanted to know. He was nervous telling us but we told him that we love him, whoever he is.
Welcome to the club!! We have a transgender child who we’ve always accepted and who we love unconditionally. It was hard to change how we referred to her in the beginning, but it gets easier with time and practice.
And when will Pocket Ferrets be available for purchase in your store?!
The “Romance” languages (Spanish, French, etc) are binary gendered. It is easier to adjust the pronouns in English. Our LatinX friends have linguistic challenges. Thank you, Jenny, well said. It is always about live.
I’m in the same boat with you. My kid told us they are transgender and would like to be she/they instead of he, and changed her name a few months ago. It is hard to adjust the habits of 15 years, but I’m so proud of her. Oh, and she’s still wearing hoodies, t shirts and jeans just the same as last year. My brother’s daughter came out as non binary at about the same time.
This is amazing and I love how supportive you and Victor are. My partner is non binary and it is new for them, they never thought about it until a couple years ago and when we talked about it, they were like “YES. BINGO! THATS IT!” and it has helped so much with their confidence and understanding of the self.
It’s been hard not misgendering them, but thankfully they don’t get upset when anyone does it. Unless they’re being a dick.
I often told people to think of non-binary as “more than”. More than “he”, more than “she”, more than any singular word can describe. “They” = everything I am at this moment.
My child came out as non-binary four years ago, so now they/them pronouns is second nature to me. As a matter of fact, I find it odd to use gendered ones sometimes. And yes, it is an adjustment, but please don’t tell me how *hard* you think it is. It can’t be any harder than being misgendered all the time. Also, not about you. And yay for Haley and you!
I GET YOU!! My daughter’s girlfriend sent me a cartoon that pointed out the difference between being confused and making it all about your mistakes! I got a lot quieter after that! It was an effective but kind reminder that being a totally drama queen about using the correct pronouns doesn’t really help the recipient.
I am consistently warmed by your writing. While I’m usually pretty rigid when it comes to the conjugation of verbs, I agree with your sentiment that the happiness of people is more important than the rules of the language. When I say people, I don’t mean the “they” as the crowd of humanity, I mean the they that make up the individuals that honor the beautiful differences that make us who we are.
you made me laugh and cry (happy tears). Kindness and respect … that’s the way to proceed!
Tell Hailey we love them. 🙂
“Try to do what you can so that people feel safe to be who they are rather than what you want to see.” I love this so very much. I also love that Hailey feels safe telling you what makes them comfortable and that you are doing your best to honor that. I’m sending you both giant hugs.
PS do you mind if I share this quote on Facebook? I think it’s something people need to think about.
(Of course! ~ Jenny)
My nonbinary 13yr old started Spanish this year and is really struggling with this. The teacher tries their best to find a neutral word whenever my kid asks, but it is really frustrating to them.
I thought it woukd be easy to remember to refer to my bisexual, gender queer child as they,but its hard to remember.I thoyght it would be easy because I was used to using they when writing daily nitez to my 0reK parents.Using they/ them was easier than saying daughter or son
My child has also come out as non-binary, and it’s not easy to transition after 18 years of habit, but they are super understanding, thankfully!
Thank you souch for this! I have a nibling that recently came out as non-binary and changed their name. I constantly fucking it up and it helps to know I’m not alone. Making new neural pathways is hard!😂
This was wonderful to read and I learned a lot. No one close to me has come out as anything different, really, but I am very neurotic about being prepared for that moment so that I can be as kind and as accepting as possible. I do not want to be an obstacle in anyone’s journey, just a safe space. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned.
THIS!!! I love this!!! It makes me happy and helps me understand a little better!
Thank you and Hailey for sharing your story!!!❤️❤️❤️
My 12 year old just came out as trans, and I am dealing with the new pronouns and new name as well as I can because I love her to the moon and back and just want her to be authentically and wholly herself. I know you want the same for your Hailey. Thank you so much for this post. Happy Pride month, and please give your darling child big congrats on finding their truth. 💜
Right there with you. We had 2 females and so for 14 yrs we have said the “girls” Now our eldest identifies as he and it is hard to break the “girls” habit and say kids. We try but that is a lot of years to retrain the brain.
I could not possibly love you more than I already do. As someone who is very accepting of everyone and their stories and personal preferences, but doesn’t always know the “right” way to be supportive, you remind me that just being accepting is often enough. ❤️
1. You’re amazing.
2. Your child is fortunate to have you as their parent,
3. Language habits are hard! A friend who had previously used she/hers recently asked to be they/them. I support them entirely, but it’s HARD to make the switch to a new pronoun, simply because reflexes are hard to unlearn. We’ll get there!
Thank you SO much for posting about this! I have a transgender daughter, a transgender granddaughter, and her mother is non-binary. I have to admit the thing I’ve struggled with the most is using they/them when referring to my oldest. I am totally supportive and I’m so happy they are being true to themselves and who they are, but it gets tricky grammatically when I start talking about more than one kid in the same paragraph. I’m practicing, but it’s a work in progress!
Some people in my family, who have been totally supportive of my daughter and granddaughter being transgender, struggle with understanding what it means to be non-binary, and I have to admit I did too, at first. What helps me is to think of everything as being on a spectrum. There are eight billion people on the planet, and who knows how many other living creatures, plants, and organisms – and every single one is different in some way. People have a spectrum of skin, hair, and eye colors; a spectrum of height, weight, length of limbs, fingers, toes, amount of hair, and a spectrum of intellect, sense of humor, patience, kindness, generosity, etc. etc. etc. … And if people can have such vast differences in all those things, why couldn’t they also have a spectrum of gender (as well as sexual orientation, which has nothing do with gender)? Obviously, the rainbow is a fitting LGBTQ symbol.
Thank you for saying “Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny.” I love that! And it’s so true. My oldest presents very female most of the time, which was confusing to me at first, but I’ve come to realize that looking female doesn’t mean that’s how they feel.
Hailey is awesome and so lucky to have such amazing parents! Thank you and her both for helping those of us with non-binary kids to not feel so alone, and helping to educate others.
Oh and here’s a great person (Schuyler Bailar) to follow for more educational info about transgender people (which includes non-binary): https://www.instagram.com/pinkmantaray/. Even with my trans kids and support groups I’ve been in for years, I still learn new things from him all the time.
In case anyone finds this useful, I have a collection of 100+ articles on the history and validity of the “singular they” (both kinds: one for referring to people when you’re not sure of their gender and you don’t want to use “he” and one for referring to people who don’t identify with “he” or “she” as a gender).
This is great! Thank you for talking about this.
Now let’s teach compassion for fat people. It literally is just about the last socially acceptable form of hatred and I wonder if it will ever change. I guess Lane Bryant fat is okay now, but what about fat fat? What about children in public pointing and laughing? My prayer is that this will change in our lifetime. It doesn’t indicate stupidity or lack of willpower, and it’s such an accepted societal hate.
I can’t stop sending this to everyone I know. Thank you.
Great post! And yes, you should get a ferret. I got one and he’s the best pet I’ve ever had! Happy Pride Month😀
“This is the new normal, y’all, and we need to get comfortable with it.”
^This right here.^
Thanks for modeling how to learn to do that.
So brave of Hailey! My kid discovered they were non-binary a year ago at 12. I use “they” when talking about them, but have not made a public announcement. I feel like that’s their place when they start to have a social media presence. I know you would never post about this without their permission, so I think it’s really awesome that they are comfortable enough to be this public about it especially so soon. I guess there are used to be more public as your kid. And yes, our kids’ generation is full of ENBY kids.
Thanks Jenny! “They” are lucky to have you and Victor as loving parents. So many LGBTQ+ youth end up on the street and homeless because “their”parents kick them out or won’t accept “them.” When my son came out as trans 11 years ago it was the beginning of a long journey. Enjoy the ride!
Thank you. I’m starting to see this more and more and it confuses me. Was going to ask my daughter about it this weekend, who’s a hip 30 something.
I was all like they used “dearth” in a sentence twice.
I know a lot of people that have come out as non-binary. They have commented on how easy of a transition it was for me when most of their friends still struggle. I was lucky. I have always called cats, dogs, babies, and anything young…they or them (mostly because I didn’t know and didn’t want to be wrong. I let them correct me if they were inclined to do so). One of my NB friends used it with their friends. They said just think of me as a kitten whose gender you don’t know but you want to talk about how awesome they are. Apparently, it worked. Thankfully, all of my friends (and theirs) are kind and want to do right. And all of my non-binary friends understand that sometimes struggling is just showing they care enough to grow. It’s the ones that aren’t struggling and not trying that break hearts.
My oldest came out as non-binary a few months ago. They are still in grade school and I’m in awe of their confidence and self-identity. Thank you for writing this, it’s wonderful.
Way to be 100% supportive of Hailey! Thank you for the helpful paragraph explaining how using a plural pronoun for a single person is less confusing than it seems. Always appreciate you being so open, and sharing with us!
Thank you, Hailey, for allowing your mother to out you so publicly. My child is transgender and only her family know. We attended a gender conference years ago when it was safe, and parental support is one of the biggest factors in whether or not your gender non-conforming child will try to commit suicide. Thank you, Jenny, for trying so hard to support your kid and help normalized this for the uninformed.
I grew up in a very Christian conservative home, and I have struggled to move away from all the indoctrination. I joined the LGBTQ+ and Allies group at work, and that has been very educational and eye opening. I met some great people, and I was able to totally shift my biases on gay and lesbian people/couples. However, I am not quite there yet with transgender, non-binary and all the other newer things. But stories like these, and shows on TLC, help. Having a real human person share their struggles and concerns really helps to bring it home for me, so I appreciate you and Hailey sharing your story. I know the onus is on me to continue to change, but until I fully get there, I can be supportive and not shitty, at a minimum! Love to you both.
When someone (typically with my husband’s ultra conservative side of the family) seems confused about gender fluidity and personal identity nomenclature, I ask them about grandparents. Why some people choose to be called Grandma or Grandpa, some Papa and Nana. Some go by Glamma or Gigi or Pawpaw or a foreign ancestral name for parent of parent. The point is, they use the name that makes them feel the most comfortable with that identity (maybe Grandma makes them feel “old” or they chose a name that their own grandparent used or didn’t use). I then explain that this is why some humans choose “they” over “he/she” right now. For one, it’s the word we have. Secondly, it’s not about you. It’s about what helps them feel like themselves. If society lets us choose a name for grandparent, why is it so far a stretch to choose a new pronoun for a non-binary gender identity?
Good for them for figuring this shit out and being able to express it in a way that makes them comfortable, I say.
Because growing up is hard enough and being a teenager is hard enough but you’re also figuring out who you are and what you and and you have a shit ton of people going “No you can’t do that. You should be like THIS.”
I totally feel them.
Because I am, and have been pretty much my entire life, a tomboy. Like, I identify as female but I’ve never been into makeup or dresses or jewelry or looking pretty like all the other girls and women I knew growing up. I was more at home in jeans and teeshirts and doing boy things.
I remember one time, when I was maybe 11 or so and being told “You can’t wrestle. You’re a girl and you’ll just cry if you get hurt.” when I tried to wrestle with some boys at church (a mixed age group of kids had been thrown together with a couple college age babysitters while our parents were in a bible study or something). And that left me feeling incredibly hurt and confused.
I was also bullied at school for being weird and not being girly enough and that didn’t help things either.
It took until I was in my mid 20s to say “Fuck it.Y’all can go suck a bag of marbles.” and have confidence in what I wanted and what I like.
So hooray for Hailey for being their mother’s daughter and being badass enough to come out and say “This is me.”
I think it’s so much easier to just skip pronouns and use the persons name. If I come across this in my personal life, that is my plan. I’m planning ahead because like you said, language is always changing. I hope my plan is viable. So if someone calls and asks if I know Jane, I can say yes, I’m Jane’s friend. Instead of she’s my friend. Fingers crossed.
I started using genderless pronouns like Ze because I work in customer service and it’s impossible for me to learn 5k people a days pronouns (yes that’s at least how many people I see a day) and I want to be respectful. I also use bitches as a genderless pronoun but that’s just for friends 😉. I agree it’s difficult to get use to but I think if we just keep trying we’ll get the hang of it.
Isn’t it wonderful that people can be who they are at younger and younger ages? It’s so much better than discovering themselves at like 45 and being, wow, I wasted half of my life being what society wanted me to be.
I have been reading a few books lately that use different pronouns, it’s science fiction so it was an easy entry point (the humans also use standard and different pronouns for themselves) and now it has become much more natural for me to use different pronouns. I think exposure can really help habits and understanding and reading is a really unintimidating way to expose yourself (but not in a here are my genitals way). Basically I’m getting used to it through books to help me remember to use other pronouns in real life with people who ask me to.
Wow this was so lovely to read. I am a non-binary young person who uses they/them pronouns, and it is so great to hear you as a parent supporting your child!! While I am lucky enough to have great parents who are willing to be corrected and are increasingly consistent with using correct pronouns, many young people are not, and I’m so glad that Hailey is not one of them. Keep up the great work, and huzzah for supportive parents!
This is beautiful in every. single. way. The vulnerability and openness in which you write about your and Victor’s learning; the way Hailey has helped you through this (and of course, being comfortable in their skin and the world, and especially at home). I’m so proud of them and all of you.
I’m an older than dirt granny. Though we’re supportive of the change, my even older than dirt husband and I have trouble with the pronouns. It’s not a memory thing, it’s our reflex response to “they.” It’s confusing, especially in a family with more than one child. “Do you want to talk to them?” leaves me waiting for both grandkids to come on the line. When does they mean one and when does it mean more than one? Tell me that’s not confusing to younger people. My personal strategy is to avoid pronouns when speaking, but others use them when speaking to me.
Bottom line, please be patient with US. Being as blunt as Jenny, I can’t help feeling like “they” are asking us to do a lot of work just to make them happy, with little regard for what makes US happy. How about acceptance both ways?
I am so glad that they have parents like you and Victor – Hailey is a lucky child – and the world is lucky that you have this blog and platform to help you spread what you’re learning and normalize even further the information you’ve learned and the importance of what you’ve learned.
As a tangent – which I’m sure you understand as a fellow ADHD person – now that I know you have ADHD the way you write, and why it works with my brain so well, makes so much sense. Maybe that sounds wrong – I’m sure that non-ADHD people love you too – but the way you write is so much like what is in my head.
For a second I thought that I had forgotten that I wrote this…
Practicing pronouns is one of the things that make me feel old as a teacher because I want to honor my students, but I fuck shit up all the time. Practice, practice, practice. https://possumscatsthingsgnawingatme.wordpress.com/2021/06/05/if-you-needed-a-cat-i-had-a-spare/
Thank you for sharing this. I was tearing up while reading it. My older weirdling came out as bi-gender, including a name change, and they/them. It’s really tough for my husband, bringing back memories of maliciously being referred to as “they/them” when his parents told him he wasn’t wanted. So, while I accept them, we’re having to use the old name/pronouns at home. Luckily, our child is super empathetic, and has accepted that their father can’t do the change now.
As an English teacher, I struggle with the singular “they.” It really helped me to learn about the history of this construction. I recommend Helen Zaltzman’s podcast, The Allusionist, ep. 121.
I love this. I have nonbinary family members who aren’t yet comfortable using their preferred pronouns due to unaccepting family members and it hurts my heart to use the wrong pronouns for them, even though they have requested it. I know it’s only due to pressure they can’t handle yet from others. I have told them that whenever they’re ready for it, I’ll make the switch and that I care for them by any gender or identity.
IF YOU (world-at-large “you”) ARE GONNA FORCE ME TO ACCEPT THAT THE WORD “LITERALLY” LITERALLY NO LONGER MEANS LITERALLY, WE CAN AAALLLL ACCEPT PRONOUN FLUIDITY, DAMNIT. //end rant
(Hmm. I may be ranting to the wrong crowd. Or perhaps the exactly right crowd? Awesome.)
Wonderful post! Thank you to you and Hailey. I’ve been practicing when having conversations to use “they” more frequently–it does become more reflexive, I find. And thanks for creating a place where people who want to do the work (and we need to do the work–it’s nobody’s responsibility to teach us on command) can find easy to appreciate answers.
Maybe it’s a second language thing, but “they” has ALWAYS been both singular and plural for me. If you don’t know whether the person is a he or a she, they are they. So I was very confused when I found out that apparently many native speakers don’t think that way. That one’s completely natural for me.
I struggle with ze/hir/zie/zyr, because I don’t understand how to use those at all, and when I asked a few times people got offended and told me to “educate myself.” You’re educating us, Hailey – and Jenny – gently and swarmly-ferretly, and thank you both for that. <3
I actually know a lot of this, but honestly, I take EVERY chance to read about acceptance and how to be better.
I’m delighted by the ‘swarm of bee’s ‘ and ‘kitten in my pocket’ ideas, but the true takeaway for me, and why I’ll always take the chance to read more: ” Non-binary people don’t owe the world androgyny.” That is very revolutionary to my brain and I am glad that said brain now contains this information.
Thank you for sharing this. I struggled to understand when my child’s friends came out as non-binary. Now my oldest has come out as trans male, and it a whole new adjustment. His happiness makes it totally worth the work though. Hailey is lucky to have you as their mom.
I love my non binary kid, but this pronoun BS had given me yet another reason TO HATE THE FUCK out of Parenting. My brother and i joke that we’d been misgendered continually as teenagers, because we grew up being called “fag” or “faggot”… ubiquitously. We never insisted on anyone addressing us with the correct pronoun (or even a more accurate insult), mostly because we’d get our asses beat even more if we had. My big question is this: how far would Alexander Hamilton gotten if he was as preoccupied with his dumbadd pronouns? We’d probably still be speaking proper ENGLISH!!!
aweome read! also I know a trans person who just came out to us. Her new gender pronouns where tricky, but we took to talking about her in her new name and pronouns! It helps me alot with learning! You go guys! and all the love!
I love this so much 🙂 <3
Something that I try to do on a daily basis is assume in my head that every stranger I meet is “they”. If a see someone walking through the grocery store, I try not to think “she is pretty” or whatever but use they/them in mah brain. Good practice!
Similar to the swarm of bees thing, when our kid came out as trans, and wanted to change to she/her pronouns, I personally found it easier to first strip using all pronouns away when talking about her. It took a little work, but it was easier for me to two step it, first breaking the habit of using the wrong pronouns, and then, once that somewhat awkward, way of speaking about her had been established, we had the easier task of inserting the correct pronouns. Not sure if that’ll work for everyone, or if it works for NB people, but it helped me, so maybe it’ll help somebody else.
Thank you for posting this! Makes me feel better about my own inability to consistently correctly pronoun our daughter’s partner … I hate that I can’t ‘get it’ consistently, but they are SO patient, which actually makes me feel even worse! I can’t really understand why anyone would not want to use the pronouns of a person’s choice – it’s basic manners, which I’ve always interpreted through the lens of Anne of Green Gables:
Would it be good manners to take a second helping of anything if you wanted to VERY much?”
“The trouble with you, Anne, is that you’re thinking too much about yourself. You should just think of Mrs. Allan and what would be nicest and most agreeable to her,” said Marilla, hitting for once in her life on a very sound and pithy piece of advice. Anne instantly realized this.
Why wouldn’t you want to do what’s nicest and most agreeable to someone? And, as you pointed out … word usage changes. In fact, I was always a bit worried about ‘Our Father, WHICH art in Heaven’ (King James version of the Bible) – until I found out that in Shakespeare’s time, ‘which’ could be used for people just as much as ‘who’ – whereas now we consider it to be only for non-humans or inanimate objects. So there! LOL I think the ultimate take-away, here, is … as Wil Wheaton has most eloquently put it – Don’t be a Dick. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you SO much for sharing this Jenny – and by extension – Hailey! I am delighted by this post for so many reasons. I have been in several closets since my youth, and this is one closet I am glad to see so many young people and older people (it’s never too late) break out of. I am also refreshed by all the responses – so much goodness here, and when I am well enough I’m going to read it all.
In short, I actually discovered my gender identity late last year through a neighbour who observed that she had always thought of me as gender fluid. I didn’t even know what that was, but I did some reading and yes – at 54 yo, I finally know who I am is not a disorder. My story was complicated by toxic psychiatry and MPD/DID, but I believe that had I grown up in the current environment I would have felt so seen – all my identities encompassed – agender, pangender, female, male, and more, and I wouldn’t have felt so wrong.
As a side note, since 2007, like most of my contemporaries, as an editor I worked to remove gendered language out of the training courses I developed. I got rid of all he/she in the current documents, and used third person singular (they/them) all the time in my work. It’s second nature to me, but I have some learning to do outside the context of this work. I look forward to learning more with everyone.
Thank you! Love always.
Very happy for Hailey, both that they’re finding terms that better express how they feel on the inside, and that they know that their parents will accept and love them as they are.
I find pronoun changes hard to adjust to, too. They/them has been around as a singular pronoun since the 1300s! https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/ Even if it hadn’t been around as a singular pronoun that long I’d still try to get used to it, same as most people, because it’s what’s been requested of us and it’s not a big ask.
The wrong word coming out just happens sometimes. I do that with my kids’ names, even though I do not actually confuse my kids for each other and I realise when I’ve done it (unlike some people, *Dad*, lol). It’s just reflexive. What’s important is continuing to try, because it’s respectful. I know you know this already, Jenny!
My 11 y.o. wanted to talk about sexuality recently. So I gave her the standard blurb about how you’re too young for anything involving actual sex but it’s OK to be curious, it’s OK if you never want to have sex but you still want to have a partner, it’s OK to feel like you’re one thing right now and then that might change later but it might not, and whatever you feel like the important thing is to find someone who’s good to you and you’re good to- “I’m a lesbian, Mum!”
Which cracked me up, because she was so blithe about it, but it also made me smile because i’m happy she’s able to own that and to tell me.
Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. My sister sent this link to me, which in itself warmed my heart. I came out as gay 37 years ago, and when my husband and I got married, 12 years ago it took me 6 months to get used to saying, “my husband”. But in time I settled into it. I love that now it’s not even a thing in society to say that.
All the blessings to you and your brave, conscious family!
thank you so much for sharing this. it displays what an amazing mom you are. your words are so helpful as i learn and navigate – as a mom of a teen – to be aware and respectful of my child and all of their friends as they grow and are brave enough to identify their true selves
“At first I was like, ‘This is weird to me because non-binary didn’t exist when I was growing up’ but turns out that this is about the same thing as my grandma saying, ‘People weren’t as gay when I was young.’ They totally were but they just weren’t in the position to openly be who they are. Same with non-binary.”
OMG, that is such a perfect way of looking at it! My youngest, a 20-year-old, has about a gajillion friends who are either non-binary or transgender, and I’ve found myself thinking, how can there be so many? Is it just a fad for a lot of them? But clearly this has always been an issue for some people, we just never heard about it before because they didn’t feel safe. And I’m so glad more and more people are feeling safe enough to come out.
It definitely is a learning curve, and my daughter corrects me ALL THE TIME when I screw up the pronouns! I’m trying, though!
Thank you so much for sharing this!
“At first I was like, ‘This is weird to me because non-binary didn’t exist when I was growing up’ but turns out that this is about the same thing as my grandma saying, ‘People weren’t as gay when I was young.’ They totally were but they just weren’t in the position to openly be who they are. Same with non-binary.”
OMG, that is such a perfect way of looking at it! My youngest, a 20-year-old, has about a gajillion friends who are either non-binary or transgender, and I’ve found myself thinking, how can there be so many? Is it just a fad for a lot of them? But clearly this has always been an issue for some people, we just never heard about it before because they didn’t feel safe. And I’m so glad more and more people are feeling safe enough to come out.
It definitely is a learning curve, and my daughter corrects me ALL THE TIME when I screw up the pronouns! I’m trying, though!
Thank you so much for sharing this!
Ran into something sort of similar when a friend transitioned from female to male. For a while, everything was just their name instead of she/he but it got easier the more we interacted with them.
Sadly this friend tragically and suddenly passed away this week and it breaks my heart to think the possibility of the lack of acceptance could have been a contributing factor. The world lost a good human and Hailey is so very lucky that they can be who they are and still know they are loved and supported.
Ugh, it’s so hard to be that age. Hailey is a bada$$ and you can tell them I said so 🙂 A big “thank you” to them and others who are non-binary for being patient as we struggle to learn. We are trying, I promise!
My then 11 year old (now 12) came out as non-binary a year and a half ago. I still mess up my pronouns, but we’ve had the conversation about how “I accept them for who they are” and “how my messing up their pronouns says nothing about them…only about me” so often that they are totally over it. Haha. In the best way. Every time I mess up I mess up, I immediately correct myself…and they just roll their eyes at me in that 12 year old way. It’s so great that you are supporting Hailey in who they are! And it will continue to be hard work to change the wording. But the fact that you are trying so hard shows how much you love them!!!
Jenny, I love you so much. The first I heard of this is on the TV show This is Us. Do you watch it? If not, you totally should. You and Victor are wonderful parents and Hailey is a lucky person!
I appreciate that you wrote this and put this out into the universe. I don’t (think I) know anyone who has come out as non-binary, and I live on the far side of the world where that is less common (Vietnamese pronouns are gender and age specific, and change depending on the relative age/relationship of the two people talking), so I haven’t had to personally deal with it. I wonder how I’ll be when it becomes a part of my life, so I’m glad you gave pointers about pronoun switching!
You are an incredible parent to your child.
I can across this and it made me think of this article. Thank you for sharing and helping educate us.
I love your raw honesty on this. My sweet, amazing sassafras of a daughter helps me learn too. The swarm of bees thing does help! And most importantly, we have a ferret named Gizmo and he gives kisses and also hops back and forth with a huge smile. Like one of those open mouthed selfie smiles. You need a ferret.
Thank you Jenny. My oldest grandchild came out as non-binary last year and I still screw up with they and their and it’s been so hard. First just to wrap my brain around it, and the. Realize but the pain they have been in for so long. I love them so much and with the suicide rate in teens rising, I will call them Poindexter if that what makes them happy! Or Peanut Butter Sandwich or ANYTHING if it helps keep them alive and happy and whole! And that’s what matters. ❤️ God bless you and Hailey!!
A couple years ago, my oldest kid changed his nickname. That’s all- same gender, same everything, just a slightly different name, like if someone whose full name was William decided to go by Will instead of Billy. I was so surprised by how difficult it was for me to remember the new name, and how emotional I felt about it. Luckily, my then-2-year-old was identifying as a cat at the time, and she emphatically enforced her brother’s right to self-definition. “He wants to be Will! So he is Will!” It was all very clear to her.
Obviously you should get a ferret. You know we would all support you in that decision. Also you’re the most awesome mum.
Except that “they” doesn’t fit at all. “They” is exclusively plural. We have three gender-neutral, singular, third-person pronouns in English (he, ze, it). “They” is our only third-person plural pronoun. “They” doesn’t fit whatsoever for a singular person.
Thank you for this. My child came out as trans. And there is something like a mourning process. The name I chose so carefully to be unmistakably gendered had to go. I really loved that name too, but it’s not mine to carry. Switching pronouns is hell. And not everyone knows so it’s one way sometimes but not always because I need to let the process unfold at its own pace. I’m learning and trying and doing my best to understand and accept and most of all love. It’s good to not feel alone.
@Bryon, in fact “they” as a non-specific singular pronoun in English has been in use for hundreds of years. As a professional editor, I in fact made the choice to use “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun in the instructional materials my company develops. It’s a style choice.
My grandchild just came out as trans and while I have no problem with his new name, the pronoun shift still trips me up. I correct myself each time and promise that I will get the hang of it. Thankfully, he’s sweet and forgiving.
I was totally just thinking this the other day (which basically matches your conclusion paragraph), when imagining explaining these issues to my parents: “It’s not difficult to understand but it’s hard to change habits. You’ll get it.”
My 13yo recently came out to me as bisexual and I TOLTALLY feel you on the learning curve. I’ve learned so much about who my daughter really is. Hang in there!
Quick question. It seems that “they are” (singular they) is typical usage. Is there any thinking that employing a “they is” usage when speaking in the singular (and “they are” when speaking in the plural) might clear up any lingering singular/plural confusion?
Omg how many times did you type she/her and then have to backspace?? You’re right, it’s new to us oldtimers, but we’ll figure it out. My daughter has an agender friend and I am still trying to get used to using “they”. BTW? Hailey is awesome…just like her momma!!
I wish they would use “xyr”. That’s what most science fiction writers use to describe those without gender. “They” never stops feeling plural and is confusing.
My child is heading in this direction, but not ready to claim NB yet. I know it’s going to be hard to figure out how to make language change in my head, but thankfully people like you are helping me figure this out. I really appreciate you and Hailey.
I have all the compassion in the world for people like me who are struggling to get it right.
But boy people who are whining about how much trouble it is for them-see how natural that feels- and th lev“they is singular” folks really need to think about this some more.
The nonbinary or trans person you come across is asking to be recognized for their fully authentic self. You are complaining about temporary linguistic confusion or discomfort.
Trans and NB folks are often suicidal over the painful dissonance between who they are and who they seen as. If you see easing that as precious, or spoiled, or too much trouble, I suggest you step back a moment and think about why. Maybe you were never allowed that yourself? Maybe you think externalities like “being right about the rules of grammar” or “it’s a fad” are more important than the people in front of you?
You could make the world a kinder place for yourself and others. And all it takes is a little practice.
Dear Jenny, I am reading your book Broken while I sit next to my daughter in hospital. Thanks for making me smile when I would like to cry.
i started using they to refer to any one of my students at university to make it less likely i might reveal who they were – all the privacy concerns, this was a gen ed class so lots of people starting over, lots of single moms in bad spots. it was startling to me to have a student thank me for calling them ‘they’ (instead of she/him) since i had done so simply to keep from identifying them to a bully in the room. accidentally did the right thing.
it confuses me at times, but there’s so many worse things to worry about than me being confused. i’m always confused. it’s hard to do the right thing but it is the right thing to do. the right thing is to be kind and compassionate to each other – although i find that harder to do when confronted with followers of the orange unit. grrr.
oh bridget, i hope things will be well with your daughter. jenny’s books have been what i’ve needed at times, too, with kids in hospital. sending you strength and hope.
You finally got through my thick skull with the dog in the car story. I was having real trouble getting around the plural thing. Thank you 🙂
I need to understand why they need a label. If they want to dress in a dress go for it, if you want to dress in jeans and a hoodie like most people do… Go for it. If you want bring a boy home great, if you want to bring a girl home who cares! Why does there need to be drama surrounding language? My niece said to me “I don’t have the right to tell her not be offended by language” but she has the right to tell me to change my language so she isn’t offended which I find contradictory.
It’s easier to find labels unnecessary when there’s are generally acceptable labels we prefer to use for ourselves everyday. As for the contradiction you reference, if I punch you in the nose, can I justify my actions by telling you not be offended by my actions? Or do you have the right to tell me to refrain from my actions so you aren’t so offended. I don’t see any contradiction. You have every right to insist that I don’t treat you that way. And people are not affected only by what we do, but also by what we say.
As someone who has been parenting in this space for a while now, to me the most meaningful part of this post is “I don’t want a ferret. You want a ferret.” Pretty much sums up the difficulty some people have with other people’s pronouns.
When I encounter the words shit and fuck regularly during my reading, I am reminded of so many TV shows I stumble on these days. My respect for the ‘creator’ of the writing, etc. goes down several notches. As someone who has embraced the idea that the answer to the question “Isn’t anything sacred anymore?” is “No.”, my love of language and aesthetics always prevails. Just because I can’t safely predict the evolution of our evolving culture doesn’t mean that I have to like any/all bold aspects of it. Keep it clean, please.
I thought you might find this encouraging. My son-of-the-heart transitioned about … good heavens, about 5 or 6 years ago — it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long! At first I stumbled on both name and pronouns. Now both name and pronouns are automatic, and even when I think about him, I think, “male.” I actually have to stop and think when I need to remember his deadname, or that he used to present as female.
For your amusement, he fought wearing dresses and skirts and disliked makeup before he transitioned. Now that he’s comfortable with his gender presentation, he has found he enjoys wearing a skirt and makeup. He doesn’t owe me or anybody else to stick to “gendered” clothing. It’s one of the things I adore about him.
THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS! 4 of the Middle school/High schoolers I work closely with have recently identified as non-binary and trying so hard to be supportive and respectful, but “They/Them” KILLS me grammatically! SOOOOo glad I’m not alone in in this old-brain-proper-English struggle!
Thank you for this. My 14 year old came out as non-binary a couple of weeks ago, and I would love to say I immediately made the switch to “they,” flawlessly. But the truth is that I mess up often! It turns out that a 14 year habit takes some effort to break. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in this.
My child is patient with me, though – they appreciate that I’m working to make new habits.
This generation really is different in some fantastic ways. I would have been bullied straight into dust over this when I was 14.
I really don’t know how to feel about this post. I mean… choices are choices, right? *I* don’t have to make the same choices anyone else does, but I *am* entitled to my opinion, which is this:
Ferrets smell funky to me and I feel like they’d go out of their way to give me anxiety.
Tell Hailey I love them and it’s harder for me to remember the correct spelling of their name than anything else.
We spent a year trying to teach people to say “they” instead of “she” and now I’m worried if I tell them to mix in some “he” with the “they” they still haven’t learned, they’ll just give up and not even try. I appreciate you trying.
Wonderful post. So glad Hailey feels comfortable speaking her truth to you and Victor. Also very glad that you also have some difficulties getting the they/their correct. I have a cousin who came out as non-binary and I sometimes have to pause because I’m about to say he/him instead of they/their and then I feel awful that I can’t seem to get this correct. Not alone in the learning!
I loved loved this!… that said grief over your cultural and gendered expectations of your child is a real big thing. I recommend every parent who’s child comes out, call up the local chapter of PFLAG, dont have one? Start one. PFLAG has been so helpful to the parents of my LGBTQIA drop in youth group. We even started our own pride “parade” event in rural norcal. Going back to PFLAG, also get yourself a LGBTQIA friendly therapist too. There’s alot to unbox and detox from our lives, more that a $20 Target pride shirt will do for you. It’s so awesome reading the supportive parents here.
You’re an awesome mom. I’m still learning (always), but I think we use the singular “they/them” more often than we realize. “Do they want to come to the park with us? They seem nice. They’re fun to be around. They’re the best chef I’ve ever met. (I don’t know who this person is, but I would like to meet them.)” etc etc etc
Kudos to you for knowing that people and their identities are more important than questionable grammatical rules! (And kudos to Hailey for being so aware of who they are and what they need!) But since this is the first time I’ve broken the seal and actually responded to one of your blog posts, I also want to tell you how grateful I am to have discovered your writing. I’m in the process of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and it’s been a really scary experience. But reading about your experiences wrangling multiple maladies convinces me that I can follow your example and find a way to get through this. You’re an inspiration on multiple fronts. THANK YOU!!!
Congratulations to Hailey on finding the pronouns that make them comfortable! As a much older non-binary person, I can confirm that there are NB people all ages, it’s just that some of us grew up without the words to explain who we were. I’m so glad that now young NB people are growing up in a world where it’s becoming increasingly accepted that there are way more than two ways of doing gender.
My 11 year old asked me and their sister to start using they/them. Before they asked I had a hard time wrapping my head around it until I realized this. When someone calls me and says “I have a user who need THEIR email password reset.” I reply “Okay what would THEY like it to be?” I am using They pronouns because I don’t know how the user identifies… My child is lucky because they have a wonderful support system in my siblings who are more than happy to adjust. My mother on the other hand… well if they decided they/them is truly how they want to identify, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t see the point in being upset/weirded out about pronoun changes because, they are only 11. Things change on the daily with kids this age.
I feel this entry so much and I’m glad Hailey is getting the support she needs by your understanding, and that she’s figuring out who she is on the daily….. It is a difficult road to travel on–both being and understanding from a different point of view. While this isn’t a gender thing or sexual orientation thing, ever since my Jewish conversion I am trying to switch over to my Jewish name instead of my given name and a lot of people aren’t sure what to call me and sometimes I’m not sure what to introduce myself as…just because it’s all brand new. It’s a complicated situation, though, it’s really not… so I definitely understand the pronouns and even resonate with transgendered folks and the meaning of dead names. I wish Hailey nothing but the best!
Yowza! This post is SO helpful right now. I especially like the swarm of bees idea… of COURSE… aren’t we all just a bunch of moving parts that make up our unique whole?
Thank you so much for being an amazing human. I’m also non-binary and while my family still struggles after 2+ years of they/them pronouns, it makes me so so so happy when they get it right. They also had 38 years of conditioning to overcome so…
Also? There’s a whole thing with the non-binary community and bees. My cover photo is pride bees because of it. Google non-bee-nary. Thank me later.
I know it’s been a little while since you posted this, but I wanted to let you know that I just now shared it with a mother who’s child shared with her that they would like to be referred to with they/them pronouns. She is ready to be there for them, but doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. So thank you for putting this out there as a resource for parents and children to look to.
I’m sending this post to every mom of a nonbinary child I know. As a nonbinary person, thank you so, so much for this honest and warm account of how cis motherhood and nonbinary childhood come together, and thank you for providing me with a resource I can now send to every mom ever
LOVE you for supporting them. All kids should be so lucky!!
This post is great. Non-binary children with unsupportive parents are left so isolated and scared. It’s so hard to have to fight to be recognised for who you are, to the people who are supposed to have your back no matter what. Getting it right really just comes down to respecting your child enough to believe what they are telling you about their own internal experience, and changing your language to reflect their truth. By doing this for your kid and writing about it, you’re paving the way for other parents to understand their own non-binary children a little better. Parents like you are a beacon of hope for a future in which the world is far kinder to those who fall outside the binary. Kids shouldn’t have to battle their parents for basic respect, thank you for speaking up!
Female: Possessing anatomy adapted for producing large immobile gametes (ova).
Woman: Adult human being born with ovaries.
Neither is a gender. Hailey is still a girl or young woman. Internal emotional experiences are not relevant because they are not what makes you male or female.
I’ll get told I’m hateful for saying this. Which is ridiculous. I would disagree with someone who said they were Napoleon Bonaparte, too, and that wouldn’t be motivated by hate either.