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”.