Most societies – especially modern Western cultures – tend to recognize only two genders in a binary, male and female. Nonbinary people have genders that are not fully described by this binary of male and female. See Gender Framework for a brief overview of gender terms and definitions.
Terms such as nonbinary, gender fluid, gender expansive, and gender queer and more are often used interchangeably and as a matter of personal and community preference. For the sake of brevity, and because children and youth are embracing its usage more and more, we will predominantly use the term nonbinary.
What does it mean for a child to have a nonbinary gender identity?
Very simply, it means that neither binary option of being strictly male or strictly female describes their gender.
The definition of nonbinary can be different for each person. For some, the word nonbinary explains their gender as both female and male. For others, their gender does not include male or female. Others have no gender at all. Nonbinary is a term that allows a lot of space for discovery.
Nonbinary people sometimes use pronouns that feel unfamiliar. The most common pronouns used by nonbinary people is “they / them.” Using they/them for an individual has become so common that Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries have incorporated it into the grammatically correct lexicon of the 21st century. But even Shakespeare used they/them as a singular pronoun!
Still, using unfamiliar pronouns can feel awkward and may take concerted effort until your brain is retrained to use them. But using a person’s pronoun is one of the most straightforward ways you can affirm their gender identity. Practice, practice, practice!
Is it a phase?
Sometimes, children will explore gender by beginning with a nonbinary gender identity as part of their ongoing journey, eventually moving to something more binary. Others will find that being nonbinary is their truest self. It can be challenging for a parent to be at peace with what seems like uncertainty. This is understandable considering most cultures are entrenched within a male/female binary. You may wish your child, whether trans and/or nonbinary, would just pick “boy” or “girl” and be done with it. Yet, it is important to recognize that a child’s mental safety and wellbeing are important factors as well. A confident, affirmed child will likely better navigate situations of teasing or bullying.
Recognize that there can be a generational gap when considering the concept of gender expansiveness. In general, younger generations do not feel as distressed with those who express nonbinary identities. Nonbinary youth often find greater acceptance amongst their peers. Older generations – those who may have had no conceptual understanding of gender expansiveness – may struggle and resist accepting those with gender fluid identities. This generational gap will decrease over time, to be sure, but it can be helpful to recognize it as a factor.
Find your peers
Parents of nonbinary children will surely face many challenges as they seek to support their child’s gender journey. An uninformed society does not make distinctions when engaging in discriminatory or rejecting practices. Families with children of all gender identities are welcome and included here.
Trans Families has a group for parents with nonbinary children on the third Thursday of every month, 3 p.m. Pacific. We welcome you!