“My kid now identifies as non-binary. I’m starting to wrap my head around this but I struggle just because there are so many things that ARE inherently gendered in our world. For example, their sister is pregnant, but what happens with aunt/uncle? Bathrooms and driver’s licenses are marked for men and women, so what then? Mr. and Miss? I just don’t get it.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Pip Williams
First up, I want to say thank you for listening to your kid and doing your best to take this on board and adapt to their identity. While most parents are familiar with the concept of transgender identities that fit the Western gender binary (i.e. trans men or women), so many still dismiss non-binary identities as made-up or “just a fad”, which couldn’t be further from the truth!
Cultures all over the world have had gender systems encompassing more than two genders for thousands of years. In several South Asian countries, for example, there is an officially recognized third gender known as hijras. Many indigenous North Americans accept and embrace the existence of two-spirit individuals, who embody the roles of third and/or fourth genders. Then there’s the Yorùbá people of Nigeria, who, prior to colonialism, didn’t subscribe to any concept of gender at all!
While I’m not saying your child ought to claim any of these example identities as their own (in fact, they should stay well away from labels with a separate cultural history to their own!), I hope that these examples illustrate how very few–if any–things in our world exist inherently divided along immutable binary gender lines, despite what our own culture and language would have you believe.
Let’s take a look at some of the examples you’ve given, and discuss how you can help your non-binary kid overcome our learned binarist approach!
First up: aunt versus uncle. It’s annoying how some roles in the English language have neutral options (e.g. parent, cousin, child), and some just… don’t. While some non-binary people may be comfortable picking a gendered term—I am non-binary and would prefer aunt, personally—it’s completely understandable that many aren’t. The good news is that this gives you license to let your imagination run wild!
Some of the more common alternatives I’ve heard to aunt or uncle are word smashes like ancle, untie, and pibling (short for “parent’s sibling”). If your family is Spanish speaking, riffs off the words tía and tío include titi, tíe, or tíx (pronounced the same as tíe). If you don’t fancy any of these, get creative! Some of the ideas on page 24 of this zine might give you a jumping off point. Talk to your kid and find out what they’d be most comfortable with. Do they have a term in mind? Do they want to wait and see what weird baby language name their niece/nephew/nibling comes out with and roll with that? Remember: there are no rules!
Your next example was bathrooms. This one can get a little tricky, because depending on your country and/or state of residence, your kid may legally have to abide by legislation known as a “bathroom bill”. These controversial laws essentially determine which gendered facilities an individual is allowed to access without breaking the law. The most high profile of these is North Carolina’s HB2, thankfully partially repealed in March 2017. HB2 stated that individuals could only use facilities corresponding with their sex assigned at birth, as listed on their birth certificate. Many other states have failed to pass similar legislature, correctly identifying the bills’ discriminatory nature.
Aside from the complications bathroom bills can introduce, this once again comes down to personal choice. If your kid needs to pee in a space where only male and female bathrooms are available, they should pick based on where they feel safest and what makes them most comfortable. There are no wrong answers to these questions. Make sure your kid knows this, and knows that you will support them should they be challenged on their choice.
Thankfully, many places do have gender-neutral bathrooms, which can help avoid any difficulties. There are several apps that exist to help you find these facilities, such as Refuge Restrooms. If your child prefers gender-neutral facilities and these are not available in spaces where they spend a lot of time (e.g. school, the gym, or a place of worship), maybe you could support them in campaigning for their inclusion. It’s not a difficult change to make—in fact, I suspect you have at least one gender-neutral bathroom in your own home!
When it comes to drivers’ licenses, the gender marker “X” in place of “M” or “F” is either available or soon-to-be in Oregon, Washington D.C., and California. Other states, including New York and Washington state, are making similar provisions for other documents, such as birth certificates and ID cards. Research the options where you live, and discuss with your child what they support they need from you to access these accommodations. If there aren’t any official non-binary alternatives available to them right now, help your child pick the option that makes them more comfortable (or least uncomfortable), and make sure they know that the problem is with our binary tick-box culture, and not with their real and valid non-binary identity.
Finally, in terms of titles, “Mx” (pronounced “mix” or “mux”) has gained traction and official recognition in the UK as a neutral alternative to Mr./Mrs./Ms. Other options include “Misc” and “Ind.” (short for individual), though these are significantly less commonly used—only by 0.8% and 2.5% of the non-binary population, respectively. Personally, I look forward to finishing my degree and becoming Dr. Williams; one of the many commonly used professional titles that do not indicate gender. These choices once again come down to personal preference, and what’s legally (and in the future, professionally) accessible for your child. If their choice of title is not legally recognised where you are, you should still respect it and encourage others in your family and community to do the same.
We live in a really exciting time, where needless binaries are, inch by inch, being rolled back as we speak. However, there’s still a way to go before trans and/or non-binary people’s rights catch up with those of the rest of the population. If there’s no precedent in your country or state for legal recognition of non-binary genders, you can do some digging and scope out any groups in your area working to change this. You could contact your local representatives, or raise awareness amongst your friends and peers. The possibilities are endless.
I hope that my answer gives you a starting point for discussions with your child about their needs and preferences going forward. Check out the Resources tab and Gender category on My Kid Is Gay for more reading as and when you need.
There’s plenty you can do as a parent and ally, but the most important step of all is listening to and supporting your child. Allow them to guide you and challenge your own notions of a prescriptive gender binary. Good luck!
Pip lives in London, UK where they study Veterinary Medicine alongside their work as a journalist and editor. They are passionate about cats, bisexuality, pop music, and rejecting binaries, and can be found online as @pipsuxx.