What Does It Mean To Identify As Non-Binary?
If you watched the Sex And the City reboot titled, And Just Like That, then you saw the character Charlotte learn that her 13 year old child Rose now identifies as non-binary and wants to be called Rock. Charlotte is at first utterly baffled but then decides to learn all she can about what it means to be non-binary. At the series’ end, Charlotte is completely supportive of her child.Some viewers of the show found Charlotte’s journey very relatable, while for others this may have been the first time they learned about people who identify as non-binary.
What does the term non-binary mean? Non-binary can mean different things to different people. For some, being non-binary means they don’t identify as exclusively male or female. Other non-binary people may have a fluctuating gender identity or identify as nongendered. If your child identifies as non-binary, then the best way to understand how your child defines themselves is to ask your child how they personally define non-binary.
To further explain, when a baby is born, the doctor assigns the gender as male or female based on external anatomy. However, as the child grows up, the gender assigned at birth may not align with how the child feels internally. We now know that gender is a social construct, meaning children are socialized to behave in ways that align with society’s expectation for what is “male” or “female”. Some children feel strongly that their assigned gender does not fit with who they are as a person and those people identify as transgender. And some children feel that they are both male and female genders, or neither gender, or maybe that their gender changes. These people identify as being on the non-binary spectrum. Other terms for non-binary are genderfluid, genderqueer, or agender. How a person feels about themselves is very unique so there is no way to look at a person and know how they identify.
When your child declares that they are non-binary, it is a normal reaction to feel scared or confused. Some parents feel a sense of grief for the loss of what was and find it challenging to move to a place of embracing their child for who they are now. If you find yourself struggling, you can seek support and counseling from Kaleidoscope’s therapeutic services or join with other parents of non-binary children in a safe environment such as Kaleidoscope’s free monthly Parent Support Groups.
Although parents may feel overwhelmed when their child shares that they are non-binary, parents should do their best to respond to their child in a non-judgemental and compassionate manner. It is important to remember how brave their child was to share their authentic self with their parents, and how confusing it must be for them as they travel this journey of self-discovery.
Parents should focus on being their child’s support team and to be there with love and affirmations. Tell your child that you love them and accept them unconditionally. Let your child take the lead. Ask what pronouns they prefer and if they are comfortable with their name. If they decide to use a chosen name and different pronouns, make every effort to use them.
A parent’s support can give their non-binary child the secure foundation for their healthy development. Parents can demonstrate love and support by showing interest, asking questions and trying to learn all they can about their child’s identity. For example, ask your child if they would like your help with advocating regarding any school related issues, such as their new name added to the school’s roster of students.
One issue that can be difficult for parents is when their child informs them that they no longer want to be called by their “deadname” which is a term for the name given at birth. Some parents find it painful that their child loathes the name that they spent time choosing and bestowed with love. But their child may feel that their deadname represents the pain they feel when forced to be in a gender category that doesn’t feel “right” to them. Selecting a new name signifies a fresh start and the hope of a more content sense of self. When a parent uses the name their child prefers, it signals acceptance and love, and the understanding that your child is who they want to be.
All parents want their children to lead happy and fulfilled lives. By following their child’s lead, by demonstrating affirmative support, and by loving their child unconditionally, parents of non-binary children are helping to chart their path toward a happy life.
Jeri Rochman, JD, MA
Program Director for Kaleidoscope
Jeri Rochman, JD, MA is the Program Director for Kaleidoscope and the very proud mom of a wonderful gay son. She is a National Board Certified Counselor, Certified Parent Educator and Trained Crisis Counselor. Interested in learning more about Kaleidoscope’s programs and services? Email her by clicking on the button below.