When Your Kid is Non-Binary…

…or genderqueer or gender nonconforming or gender fluid…..

There are things you experience that others do not when your kid falls into one or all of the above categories.

Kris and Andy are home for spring break this week. Yay! We stopped at a fast food place for lunch and needed a bathroom break before ordering our food. Andy and I went to our respective restrooms with Kris trailing behind. I idly wondered if he would end up in the women’s room or not. Although he used the men’s room most of the time, since coming out he had come in with me twice in 4 years. This time he did not.

When I joined Kris and Andy, I moved toward the counter to order. “I still need to use the restroom.” I turned to Kris. “I haven’t decided which one to use.”

I told him I thought he had gone in with Andy. Andy added that he was surprised when Kris did not follow him in and then concluded that Kris had ended up with me.

Kris shook his head and said, “No. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to go in.”

It was kind of a funny moment and Kris went off to use the facilities.

You might be wondering which one he chose? I don’t know because in the end, does it really matter?

From Kerri to Kristoffer to Kris

Genderqueer (GQ; alternatively non-binary) is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.

Source- Wikipedia- Genderqueer

My child is transgender, specifically (or as specifically as one can be) genderqueer. Born Kerri, transitioned to Kristoffer at 18 years and blossoming as Kris at 22, it has been a wild ride. Recently, he posted a new selfie, later adopting it as his profile picture. It’s a great picture of him. His hair is in a good place. His acne is under control. He looks relaxed and calm and might I venture to say—happy? I know this isn’t entirely true, being the receiver of some very emotional texts, but he looks good.

Since telling us that he is genderqueer and not identifying strictly as male, he has made some changes. His appearance is definitely more non-binary. In the post Gender Bender, I have a drawing with two circles- the pink representing female and the blue representing male with a mass of squiggles in between. At the time that I wrote the post, Kris was identifying more on the outer edge of maleness and the arrow points to where he landed.

In the 6 weeks since I wrote that post, things have progressed. He identifies in the center of the squiggles now, not more male or female. While he is okay with male pronouns and has said that male is his “default” I’ve noticed that he changed his name on Facebook from his full name to a more gender neutral, Kris. He has stopped taking testosterone completely and as a result some of the more feminine qualities have returned, including the hormonal fluctuations that accompanies PMS.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before but months before I realized that he wasn’t on T anymore, I kept getting flashes of a sense of Kerri. I felt like I was going crazy because I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was causing the feeling. Then I found out about him being off T and it made sense. At that point, it was hard for me to simply accept and move on. My friend, Steph, asked me if it gave me comfort to know that Kerri was still there somewhere but the truth is that no, it didn’t. I had mourned the loss of a daughter that I never really had. It had taken me a long time to let Kerri go and accept that my daughter was actually my son, and had been my son all along. I had to come to terms with the feeling I had that I had let my child down. Although some parents of trans kids make easy transitions from one child to another, I did not. Part of me will miss Kerri for the rest of my life.

When Kris told me that he was genderqueer, and when we clarified how he identifies, I came to the realization that referring to Kris as my “son” did not feel right anymore. It’s ironic that a few short years ago I was sure that I would never easily call Kris my son and while I’m not sure exactly when it happened, I did. But now it’s not that easy. And what a laugh that is! If someone had told me that calling the child I formerly thought of as my daughter was really my son and that I would be calling him by a different name with different pronouns….. and that would be the EASY part?? I would have laughed…. and not believed them. But that was actually easy. This- not so much.

Loving and accepting my child is easy. I’m sure that if the opportunity arose, it would not be difficult to explain that he is genderqueer. What to call him? Son and daughter are easy. Unfortunately, in Kris’s case, neither is really accurate. And when the person in question is almost 23 years old, child just doesn’t feel right either.

Think about that for a minute, okay? We really do place everyone in their gender box- father, husband, son, brother, uncle, grandfather, grandson, nephew // mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, grandmother, granddaughter, niece . We don’t say parent, spouse, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild and is there even a gender neutral word for uncle, aunt, niece, nephew?

I am grateful that Kris has given us a default to use- I can refer to him as my son- but if I can share a quick story about what happened when I asked him if I should still refer to him as my son? The pause after I asked was too long for comfort. The silence grew. It was awkward. Then he said yes.

That silence said it all.

It’s taking some time for adjusting. Kris is figuring out which masculine/feminine qualities he will be left with as his body adapts to the change in hormones. I’m adapting to seeing glimpses of Kerri come through and I’m trying to embrace those moments. I believe that it is fair to say that it isn’t easy for either of us. Expressing his true gender identity is going to require more strength and courage than simply being a transguy did. Some people are uneasy with the idea of someone being non-binary. They like to place everyone in a neat little box- pink or blue. As for me, setting aside my mixed up emotions about finding the right name for my child and the re-emergence of Kerri traits,I worry about Kris. I hope that I’m supporting him in the right ways.

And I look at the mom sitting next to me in a committee meeting bemoaning the fact that her son’s school schedule does not allow for him to take the number of AP classes that she wants him to have, admitting that this is the biggest problem she faces with her child and I want to punch her in the face. (Hey, what do you want? I think I’m a good person. I never said I was nice!)

Added note– Upon closer thought, I feel like I need to clarify just a few things. When Kris came out as transgender, he said he had always felt like a boy, not a girl, which led to him changing his name, starting testosterone, therapy, social transition…. When he first introduced the idea that he was actually genderqueer and did not identify strictly as male, it was confusing to me. I was familiar with the terms- genderqueer and non-binary and gender non-conforming- but somehow I wasn’t able to apply those to Kris. I guess I wondered what happened to knowing he was a guy? He went on to explain that he had always known that he was non-binary but he had to completely separate himself from any female aspect of himself in order to not be seen as a girl and to have the confidence and freedom to show his true gender expression and be seen as such. As Kris’s mom, this feels right and it makes sense to me. I feel like Kris is still a work in progress, but then again, we all are in some way, aren’t we? 

What Could You Do?

If I was to turn back the clock 3-1/2 years and give advice to someone on how to support my transgender son, here is what I would say-

1. Call him by his preferred name. Do not ask him to use his old name EVER just because it makes you feel more comfortable- regardless of the situation. By refusing to use his name, you are sending a strong message that you do not accept him as who he really is.

2. Use his preferred pronouns. It is a serious lack of respect to misgender him. And use those pronouns ALWAYS- even when you are not with him. You are invalidating his existence by referring to him by the wrong pronouns even when not in his presence. You are telling others that you are not taking him seriously. Once again, you are not showing acceptance.

3. Continue to love him. If your love was truly unconditional before he came out, it still exists. He is still the same kid you loved before.

love

4. If I’m telling you about him, accept that he asked me to talk to you. The “coming out” talk can be emotionally draining and stressful. It is scary. He does not know if the person hearing his news will be accepting or not. The information is no less valid if given by me instead of him.

5. Let him know he is loved, accepted and supported. Let him know this over and over again. When people first find out this news, everyone reacts differently. BUT everyone offers words of support regardless of how they might feel. Many don’t know how they actually feel and those words of support fade away if they are feeling uneasy or well…..not supportive once they actually give it all some thought. IT SHOWS. The people who really do want to support SHOW UP. They don’t make excuses. They don’t disappear. The ones who want to be there are THERE.

6. While he is transitioning, the entire family is going to be going through its own transition process. Our transition will be very different from his. Moms, Dads, brothers and sisters might need that extra hug or kind word, too. People will be more prone to express their less than positive feelings and views to us, rather than him. Please be mindful of this.

acceptance

7. If he is quiet or unresponsive, it’s not because he doesn’t hear you or want to hear you. It’s probably because he’s unsure if you are really there or not. Remember, there are many people who said the exact same things you are saying and now they are gone. He might need some coaxing. Actions speak louder than words.

8. Educate yourself but remember, every trans person’s experience is different. There is no right or wrong way to be transgender. Don’t assume you are an authority because you read an article. Talk to him about it but be respectful. Or don’t talk to him about it but TALK TO HIM.

9. Whatever he is doing to change his outward appearance, this is nothing compared to what’s going on inside him. He is feeling A LOT. The result of this might be that he appears to be unresponsive at times. Please understand that he spent years stifling emotions, responses and more in an effort to present himself as someone he felt was more acceptable. He might have a lot to work out for himself.

10. Give him a break. He’s going through a lot. He is showing his true self to the world. He is raw and vulnerable and he needs to know that nothing has changed. That whatever he shows you is okay. But to show him that it’s okay, you really do need to show it. Empty words will have a big, hollow sound to them but actions will come through loud and clear.

support

11. If you screw up, acknowledge it and move on. It’s natural to mix up pronouns or a name at first but with practice, it becomes habit. And there might be times where you say something before thinking and then realize it wasn’t right- just apologize.

12. Trans or not, he is still a person. He has feelings. He wants to know that his family loves him. He wants to believe that love is unconditional.

Yes, this is what I would say if I could turn back the clock 3-1/2 years. Now that I re-read this, I realize that this IS what I said. And if you read this and you have been doing these things all along.

THANK YOU!

My Changeling

From the very beginning I called Kris my little changeling. There was always something about my middle child that was a mystery to me. Although some of the mystery has been solved, that feeling lingered even throughout his transition. And so it came as no real surprise when Kris texted me that he didn’t want people to think he changed his mind but he was actually non-binary or genderqueer.

Let’s hit the PAUSE button there for a minute—–

While my computer was having its own nervous breakdown, I tried to sort out my thoughts and figure out what I was feeling. Yeah, well, that’s not happening so what’s to follow is just me giving it to you raw and uncensored.

UNPAUSE—–

I haven’t done much research into the terms genderqueer and non-binary. While I know what they mean, I don’t feel like I know enough. Not when I have a child who identifies as one or both. It wasn’t a real surprise when Kris told me. As Kerri, he was never a die-hard girly-girl and as Kris he is definitely a unique individual who is not a typical young man. But let’s think about what I said. “Girly-girl” “Macho man” Those are extremes in both instances. And I can honestly say as a woman I do not embrace all things feminine. Growing up although I had all the average girl stuff my mom never dressed me in pink or rarely purple… Really! My other two sons, Michael and Andrew, while both male are as different as night and day. Kris fits right in the middle of them nicely. When he transitioned, there were parts of Kerri that just faded away and there were parts that stayed. Some of those might be things that are attributed more to girls than boys and while I noticed them, they were Kris. So no, this wasn’t news to me at all.

But then different thoughts popped into my head- and these weren’t new thoughts. They were things that peeked out from behind my everyday thoughts and I knew that I had been pushing them aside for months, maybe even the past year, now. For the past year Kris has been very erratic taking his testosterone. He had switched from shots to gel and had given various reasons. And as he has played cat and mouse with T these past few months (unknown to me), I’ve had instances where I was catching glimpses of Kerri. I have to admit it messed with my head more than just a little bit.

Was I imagining things? Did Kris look more feminine? (Not really) Was I really hoping deep down inside for Kerri to come back? Was Kris sending out mixed signals or was he changing his mind? Could I ask him? (NO) It was my imagination, right???

Then 2 weeks ago we went to the doctor and Kris asked that his level of testosterone be lowered. His doctor cautioned him that at such a low dose, it might trigger his period. Kris responded that it did not bother him.

And then the text.

I did tell Kris that I wanted to clarify a few points so I can explain it to a few people, who would want to know- like our very important closest people- his brothers, grandparents,….his dad. And for those other people (relatives) who might not say anything to him but will make comments to me….if they are speaking to me.

We have a starting point.

He prefers his full name and male pronouns. His gender is on the outer edges of male. While this is hard to explain, I do get what he’s saying.

I have to begin doing my homework on all things non-binary and genderqueer and how it all fits or doesn’t.

I know that as he lets his hair grow, he will confuse some people. He already does.

I’m ready.

Bring it on!