As our understanding of gender evolves, parents and guardians seem to be taking a more proactive approach in providing their gender nonconforming children with a safe and supportive environment. They are researching common terms, reaching out to counselors for either themselves or their children, and trying to find a sense of community for not only their children, but themselves as well. As a genderfluid individual, this is so heartwarming to see.
Although this trend is well underway, a lot of parents still struggle to know where to start. A common question I’m asked by parents and loved ones of gender nonconforming youth is: how can I be supportive?
Step 1 – Listen
Children and teens will tell you who they are. It’s up to us—parents, guardians, and other family members—to listen and believe what they say. Let’s say your teen gathers up the courage to say they are nonbinary, trans, genderfluid, or any other identity that doesn’t align with their gender assigned at birth. How would you respond? With a warm embrace and an “I love you”? Or with the (unfortunately) common, “It’s just a phase”?
Step 2 – Acceptance and Validation
You may not agree with or understand an individual’s chosen gender identity, but that is not required to accept and validate their gender experience. Acceptance and validation can be shown by using their preferred name, appropriate pronouns, and/or helping make adjustments to their appearance such as hairstyles or clothing. Acceptance can also be shown by creating a safe, judgement-free space at home for them.
Step 3 – Be Their Safe Space
We unfortunately live in a society that can be unkind or even hostile to minorities of any kind – racial, sexual, etc. This can often make children and adolescents feel like they don’t have a place or that they don’t belong. If the world at large is challenging for your child to navigate, you have the opportunity to make home their sanctuary.
Give them space and freedom to explore what gender means and feels like to them. This may come in the form of changing identities and/or their gender expression. Gender may not be a static experience for them. For example, an individual who is genderfluid may alternate between gendered pronouns and gender-neutral pronouns, or they may present feminine sometimes and masculine at other times.
Try to remember, this is for them, not you.
As a parent, close friend, partner or ally, potentially frequent changes in identity, including pronouns, may sound overwhelming. Some gender nonconforming individuals use they pronouns (they/them/their), while others fluctuate between they/them, he/him, she/her or even prefer neopronouns (e.g.: xe/xem/xyr).
* This is not an exhaustive list of pronouns, but it’s a good place to start. When in doubt, you can ask what pronouns an individual uses. *
As you can see, there are numerous gender pronouns for people to use. If this is new for you, it may seem a bit confusing and possibly overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide on how to correctly use an individual’s pronouns.
Subject: They walked the dog this morning.
Object: I gave faer a new car.
Possessive: Pers favorite color is orange.
Possessive Pronoun: The fluffy dog is hirs.
Reflexive: Ae loves everything about aerself.
How do you keep up?
Well, that’s entirely up to you. The important thing to remember is to make a conscious effort to use their preferred pronouns, name, and, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask what their preference is. Refer to people how they prefer to be referred to, not in a way that is convenient for you. This may be uncomfortable for some, especially in the beginning; however, if you’re not addressing them in the way they want to be addressed, then you’re not addressing them at all. Being supportive, in any role (parent, friend, partner, etc), involves accepting and respecting who they are each and every day. Let’s continue to make strides towards a safer, more accepting and inclusive society.
(PDF) A Guide to Being a Trans Ally – Straight for Equality
(webpage) Understanding Gender – Gender Spectrum
(article) Transgender 101: A Guide to Gender and Identity to Help You Keep Up with the Conversation – Everyday Feminism
Transgender Children of God by Megan Rohrer
(PDF) Biblical Sexuality and Gender: Renewing Christian Witness to the Gospel – Pacific School of Religion
PFLAG – (PDF) Faith In Our Families: Parents, Families, and Friends Talk About Faith, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity – PFLAG
Christian – Harbor | FreedHearts | Embracing the Journey | Q Christian Fellowship
Parent/Peer Led – Ally Parents – Stand With Trans | PFLAG
Support In Colorado – Center on Colfax | One Colorado | OASOS | TYES Inc.
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