This past weekend I attended my 3rd Gender Spectrum Conference. Because I work with parents of transgender, non-binary, genderqueer and gender expansive kids, I go to learn. I’m the mom of a gay son and don’t have the personal experience of being the parent of a transgender child. Listening to the professionals, youth and parents at the conference is very enlightening for me.
One of the workshops I attended was about understanding gender. I did a short video about it. You can see it by clicking HERE
When young kids declare their gender and it’s different in any way than the body they were born with, we ask if it’s just a phase. We wonder if they are old enough to know. But those of us who are cisgender knew at that age what our gender was. It was never in question. So why can’t they know? Could anyone have convinced me I was male when I was young. No! Why – because it wasn’t true. When we try to convince a young child they are not the gender they declare themselves to be, it’s the same thing. Think about it.
Another workshop I attended was on the biology of gender identity. While much of it was very dense and difficult to understand, what I took away was that gender identity is a complex interplay between biology, environment and culture. More and more is being studied on this subject and new discoveries are being made.
I listened to two different panels of young people who identify as gender-queer or non-binary. I got a deeper understanding and appreciation for what that means for them and their families. One was a 19 year old gender-queer person. I keep wanting to call him a boy or identify him as male. Why? Because his presentation is strictly male. He (a pronoun he uses for himself) was born female but has a full beard, a very hairy chest and hairy arms. If I walked past him on the street, I wouldn’t think twice about whether he was transgender. However, he identifies as non-binary, genderqueer. He said he doesn’t feel inside strictly male. He feels more towards the middle, on the male side of the spectrum.
I heard another young person who identifies as non-binary. He was born male and feels like he is both male and female. Some days he feels more male, other days he feels more female. His presentation reflected that. He work lipstick, long dangling earrings and nail polish and otherwise presented male in his appearance. Another person who presented on the same panel also identified as non-binary. They (preferred pronoun) were born female and is in the process of transitioning to male; taking testosterone and having had top surgery. They expressed that while they identify male, they still feel female as well. They, them and theirs is their preferred pronouns.
What I took away from their sharing is that it is often difficult for a parent to accept and adjust to a genderqueer or non-binary child. Perhaps some parents are just like I was. I understood strictly transgender, that is, someone born female and identifying as male or born male and identifying as female. But it was much harder for me to wrap my head around someone who feels neither male nor female, feels like both male and female or varies between the two on any given point in time. I get what it feels like to feel female and can imagine what it feels like to be male. But I have no experience in being in between. Some parents have a very difficult time with the choice of pronouns their non-binary child is choosing to use. Either they go to “It’s not grammatically correct to call a singular person they.” or they have to adjust to words they never heard before like Zhe, Zer, Xim, Xis, Zis and others.
What I’m coming to understand is that I don’t have to fully understand and I can’t really understand the way another transgender, genderqueer or non-binary person can. How could I be expected to? What I can offer is unconditional love, respect and acceptance that the person in front of me knows who they are. It is not up to me to decide or question who they are.
One of the things I loved best about the conference was seeing all the young kids. There is a kids camp for transgender, gender expressive, gender expansive, genderqueer, non-binary youth and their siblings. The youth range in age from kindergarten through high school. They are separated into age appropriate groups. They were doing their own thing while the parents were attending workshops. I got to experience them at lunch. What I loved was that I couldn’t tell who was transgender, who was sibling, who was what. The labels melted away and they were all just kids.
The Gender Spectrum Conference was a place for young people to be free to be who they are without fear of bullying and knowing they are fully embraced just as they are. It was a place for parents to learn, to support one another and learn. It is no wonder that the conference grows year after year!