I Am the Parent of a Non-Binary Child

The essay I have been looking for either hasn’t been written, hasn’t been published, or is hidden beyond my search engine’s reach. I have been composing it in my head for months, but now I can write the first draft, because Friday my child came out to the world. image-they

The essay I’m not done writing is about becoming the parent of a queer, non-binary, young adult child. I say becoming because until my eldest came out, I told myself I had a daughter. Now I am getting used to the idea of having a non-binary child. And while that distinction may seem merely a clumsy trick of the English language, the implications run deep. More on that another time.

My husband and I are experiencing something that is both utterly unique and increasingly common. Here’s a peek into the types of conversations I’ve had during the last year with well-meaning relatives and friends.

Friend’s Response to the News

My Reaction

I hear you. We’re having the same conversation in my house. Let’s talk.
What you are describing is scientifically impossible. There are two sexes: male and female, and therefore two genders. That’s not helpful. And anyway, I’m talking about gender, not biological sex. Gender has always been a social construct (which changes by era and culture.) Some say sex is constructed too.
Do you think it’s a phase? No. And even if it were, what difference would that make? I want to keep the lines of communication open and help my child find a comfortable home in the world – with or without me. If I deny their reality, I will be shutting that door.
This is just kids’ latest way to try to be unique. They’ll grow out of it. The fact that many of the people who (publicly) identify as non-binary happen to be under 25 does not mean this gender identity doesn’t exist for older people. They may not have had the language or the need for it, or they just might not be sharing it with you. Wait a few years until non-binary is more familiar to the mainstream public. You’ll be hearing more of this.
My child says the same thing. I think it’s because she’s depressed. If you think your child is depressed, I encourage you to get them help to deal with that directly. Please don’t deny your child’s identity.
I’m so sorry. I feel terrible for you.


Keep your pity to yourself. It is both misguided and unwelcome. As soon as you smugly think to yourself, “Thank God it’s not my kid” you separate yourself from my family and make us feel isolated. Deal with your discomfort away from me.
You are amazing (brave/courageous/etc). I couldn’t possibly handle this. Annoying and unhelpful. See “I’m so sorry,” above.
That’s ridiculous. “They” is a plural pronoun. Language is always evolving. Get used to it.
Can’t you just use “they” when you’re together and use the old pronoun with everyone else? Language matters, and I have been asked to change mine. The best way to get used to that change is to use the preferred pronouns all the time. The more others hear “they” in reference to one person, the more familiar it will become, and the more welcome and comfortable my child (and other non-binary folks) will be in our communities. 
I am completely confused. That’s ok. You don’t have to get it all at once.

I love my child. They are exactly the same artsy, sensitive, insightful person they have always been – same concern for the world, same love of farming, poetry, Judaism and family, same funky sense of style. I’ll keep exploring and share my experience along the way. In the meantime, friends, go educate yourselves. Here are some places to start:





22 thoughts on “I Am the Parent of a Non-Binary Child

  1. Thank you for putting onto words what parents, like me, have been trying to express for years. My trans-male, eldest child, Sam, came out to family 2 years ago. I have heard ” Do you think it’s a phase?” more times than I can count. I have also been told that he is a sinner and that I am so “courageous “. He is not, and I am not. I love my son, unconditionally, as I know you do yours. We are Moms. And our children will always be our children. No matter how they define or identify. I can’t wait to read what you write next, Susan.


  2. I love this piece. Words have meaning and you provide a good guide. My daughter is at Camp Tavor this summer and they begin every introduction with name followed by preferred pronouns. It’s a learning for everyone and creates a safe, welcoming, happy, new norming environment.


    1. Joanne, that’s so encouraging. Tavor is definitely on the cutting edge there. Your daughter and her friends will enter adulthood with the tools and awareness they need to make the world a better place for all of us.


  3. Wow. This is a very insightful article. I have grown to feel and react in very similar ways as the writer. It feels so comfortable to me as the mother of a non-binary adult child, to read articles like this and know that other moms have the same thoughts, feelings, reactions !


  4. I am 35. I was born in 1982. I am non-binary.

    We didn’t have the language. (And boy, did we need it!)

    (Imagine what it’s like to try to figure out what you are when the word for what you are, you don’t know, and possibly doesn’t even exist yet! When you keep trying on words that DO exist, and none of them QUITE work… it’s like trying on a dress that sorta fits, but doesn’t really fit your particular body right, and it’s uncomfortable. Sure, you can pull it over your head and zip it up, but that doesn’t mean it actually fits WELL or RIGHT. Or is comfortable. Or looks good on you. So you put it back on the rack. But what happens when ALL of the dresses are like that? That’s what its like to live before the word for who you are exists, at least to your knowledge.)

    (And as per “they is a plural pronoun”, everyone has used it for YEARS (decades at least) in the singular when they don’t know the gender of the person they’re talking about. (usu. someone they haven’t met yet, when they don’t know the gender because all they have is an ambiguous name (Sam) or a title (Dr. Robinson.) Or, alternately, when talking about a person in the abstract. (the generalized “you”)) They just don’t realize they have because it’s been so 2nd nature. And you might say “oh, that’s pluralized” but there’s definitely times when you’re talking about an individual from that plural group, and you use they.)


  5. I came across this today, and I needed it. My youngest (Lee) is becoming Violet Leigh and I needed to read this. This has been a difficult time for all involved, not because of what he is doing, but because he is married, and well, she is an absolutely wonderful person and like a daughter. I am amazed at how mature they have both been. They love each other deeply, and it is only because of this love, that they are getting through this. They both realize that they can’t remain married and both be happy, and this has been heartbreaking for all involved. Extreme counseling has taken place and they are moving forward with a divorce and she has moved closer to home, but not home, as she is very hurt by the comments of her parents about Violet. They feel that in order for them to both become the person they need to be that they need to be apart. She wants him to be happy, and he wishes the same for her. I am amazed at the maturity they seem to have, while I am amazed at the lack of maturity the “adults” seem to have. They talk almost daily to make sure they are each okay.
    And Miranda still calls me and I will always be there, she will always be my daughter, she’s kinda stuck with me. I tell her to remain strong, she must be who she wants to be, even if that means she is not married to my daughter anymore. She will never not be a part of my family and she will always be welcome in my home, no matter what the future turns out to be. My sister said she was team Miranda, I told her there were no “teams” at this time, and we hoped that there would not be any formed in the future. If there was a team it would be team “US” I am tired of people saying … Oh, he needs help! I will pray for him. Well we all need prayers, prayers for understanding, as for getting help he has very good help, from professionals, and clergy, and family that love and accept him. Some go so far as to say, well, I sorry you lost your child….I’m like, I didn’t loose him, I know where he is and all. They say but you’re a Christian, so you can’t accept him, not like that. Yes I am a Christian, and I believe God loves all his children, every single one of them, even if you don’t. Anyway, glad I found you. I am now following you and look forward to your blogs.


    1. I’m so glad my words touched you and that you found them helpful. I am learning every day that being a supportive parent and ally means going outside my comfort zone in order to support someone I love. I see you enacting that as well and I wish you and your family all the best.


    2. Lisa, you are obviously an amazing parent and in-law. It seems that you are already doing everything right, if there is a right way to do anything. Violet Leah and MIranda are both lucky to have you in their lives. I hope this transition goes smoothly for all involved.


  6. Thank you for posting this. My oldest child, 19, is non-binary and I am trying to be as supportive as I can. I adore S. and want the best for them. I also struggle with missing the person they were before. I feel tremendous guilt about this and wondered if anyone knows any good resources to process? I have been very careful to keep those feelings to myself. S. is so much happier and more confident now and I love that. Everyone wants their kids to be happy. I just don’t know what to do with my own stubborn emotions.


    1. I think about this a lot. At all stages of parenting, we envision who our children will be and how they will move through the world. Often we are wrong. This is particularly challenging with gender. That guilt is utterly human, and I hope you can find the support you deserve so you can accept it and work through it (reading, therapy, friends, community organizations are all good possibilities.) I’m constantly on the lookout for resources, so stay tuned and I’ll post what I find. Unfortunately, I haven’t found much, which is why I write about it. Time helps too. The farther I move away from the expectations I had for my child, the easier it is to celebrate who they are and not what I expected them to be. It can also be so confusing! Our kids are approximately the same age, and I first heard the word non-binary just a few years ago. So hang in there, and be kind to yourself.


    2. I struggle to with keeping emotions to myself on my child’s new non binary terms and pronouns. I want to be supportive and have been using the correct pronouns but am having difficulty with them wanting me to call them by a new name. They say they don’t identify with such a feminine name as the one we picked for them when she was born. I feel hurt. Like I’m grieving the loss of the daughter I once had and by calling them this new name will be the death of my baby girl. I know it’s just a name but I don’t like mine and I learned to deal with it. Why can’t their friends and everyone else call them this new gender neutral name but I as the mom still call them by their birth name? I have been supportive through this whole process for them and even an advocate but I’m just frustrated over the name issue. I don’t want my awesome relationship with my adult child to decline over a name but…. i don’t know…it’s just hard sometimes.


      1. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly normal to be both supportive and frustrated/confused. If you’re anything like me, your feelings will change and develop. Sometimes you’ll feel sad because, as you’ve noted, this is a type of loss, while other times you’ll be thrilled to have such a terrific relationship with your adult child. None of us get to choose who our children become. Names have tremendous power. I suspect that for your child, the new name confirms their identity. Those who use it confirm that identity as well. I hope you have a dear friend or relative you can vent to who won’t judge you for feeling natural mom feelings. Scream, yell and shake your fists! And then hug your child and call them by their chosen name.


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