I love a non-binary child, and you probably do too. They may not have told you yet, but they will when they’re ready.
The child I know is amazing. I say child – but they are almost a teenager, and they are growing up to be a really special person. When I learned they were non-binary, we were sitting in my living room, and I saw the same kid I’d known for a long time – smart, creative, brave, and kind.
I have a lot of fears for the kids growing up today, but I’m also frequently in awe of their ability to be authentic. As adults in their world, my hope for us all is to become allies and help create a better, more understanding world. Everyone deserves to be happy and live their truth.
Here are a few places we can start.
We can accept that most kids identify strongly with gender by age three. So, we can believe them when kids tell us that they don’t identify with their gender assigned at birth. It’s not a phase.
We can follow their lead. When to tell the family? When to tell the school? Do they want you to correct people if someone misgenders them? It’s up to us to listen to their feelings and their needs.
We can understand that language matters. Many non-binary people choose to use they/their/them pronouns. Some change their names. According to a recent study, roughly half of Americans (52%) say they would be somewhat or very comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone. In comparison, 47% still say they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable doing so. But it costs nothing to use the language a person prefers; it’s about our level of respect for the person we’re talking about. Another thing we can work on is using phrases like, “Hello, ladies and gentlemen,” because it excludes people. Changing our language to “Welcome, guests” or something similar is worth the effort.
We can introduce ourselves with our own pronouns. For example, I’ve added my pronouns to my email signature, LinkedIn, Zoom, and moreover the last year or so. It can help make others comfortable to do the same and help normalize not assuming you know someone’s preferred pronouns.
We can recognize that inanimate objects don’t have a gender. That means clothes, toys, and sports don’t fit into either male or female. Giving children the ability to wear what they want and participate in the activities that make them happy is what matters. From birth, we can let them explore and decide their likes and dislikes on their own.
We can provide non-binary children with additional support. A study on teen suicide rates showed 41.8% of non-binary adolescents had attempted suicide, compared to 17.6% of cisgender girls and 9.8% of cisgender boys. However, family acceptance and support are associated with diminished disparities. You may not feel equipped to give advice, but you can listen and be there. Also, don’t wait for them to reach out. Ask how they are and ask if they need anything. It never hurts to check in.
We can know that it’s okay to ask for help. You may have questions or concerns, so reach out to support groups, read books, and keep learning.
And back to the non-binary child I love, I’m proud of you. I love watching you grow up. I wish the world could change a little faster, but I got your back whenever you need me.