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:





5 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s