They, Them, Theirs...? Yup it's hard

Happy Pride Month everyone!

As the mother of a gender nonconforming child, every June I’m reminded just how important it is for LGBTQ+ kids to feel not just accepted, but supported and celebrated for being exactly who they are. I also know how painful it can be when that doesn’t happen.

A couple of years ago my child, who was 9 at the time, shared that being a girl didn’t feel like it fit and asked to be referred to with they/them pronouns. I’ll be honest, I did not take them very seriously back then and it took many months for me to really put an effort into using their preferred pronouns (and I still don’t get it right all the time). Since then, they cut their hair, stopped wearing dresses, and changed their original feminine name to Kai. We chose Kai together and agree that it fits them well. But I can’t deny that losing their birth name, which honored my own mother, was painful for me.

In many ways the whole process of supporting my child through this astronomical change has been a combination of rewarding and painful. Rewarding to see them figure out for themselves how they want to present to the world and the assertive, but polite way they explain what being non-binary means to people who don’t get it, but most importantly to see them comfortable in their own skin again. Painful because there was loss, from the frivolous, (cutting off their beautifully wild hair was almost as painful as giving up their original name) to the fundamental, the loss of the little girl who I was expecting to watch grow into a woman. What was more painful was seeing how hurtful normally thoughtful and kind people could be. When an adult tells a child they don’t want to use their pronouns because “it isn’t correct grammar”, “I’m old, it’s too hard for me to change,” or “I don’t get it”, the message sent to the child is that they do not matter. When a kid at school calls a non-binary child “it”, and no one corrects them, it tells that child they are not worthy of protection.

For some kids, I’m sure those experiences would make them hide who they are. For my child, it had the opposite effect. They became a vocal and forceful advocate for themself. They consistently corrected both adults and children on their pronouns. They responded to being called “it”, by saying “you shouldn’t say that, it’s super disrespectful. And they donated A Kids Book About Being Non-binary to their class library and asked their teacher to read it to the class. While I’m incredibly proud of Kai for standing up for themself and helping to educate their school community, that's a lot to expect from a tween. And what happens to the kids who are not as comfortable confronting their peers, not to mention adults?

To quote the incredible Harvey Milk, “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” It’s up to us, as allies and adults, to make sure our LGBTQIA+ youth know they are accepted and loved for exactly who they are, wherever they are.

To quote my incredible Kai, "I know using they/them pronouns is a new thing and I know it's hard, but I really appreciate it when you try. I really, really appreciate it!"

Kai, 11
Pronouns: they/them/theirs


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