6 Reasons I Don’t Care That My Child Changed Their Pronouns
When my child began their social transition over two years ago, one of the primary objections of unsupportive "family" members was the possibility of my kid changing their mind. My answer then and my answer now is: so? Dear reader, I could make a list of all the reasons I don't care that my child changed their pronouns. In fact, I think that's exactly what I'll do.
Now, let me be clear and highlight that when I say "I don't care," what I mean is I am going to love my child and respect their pronouns no matter how often they change them. If my child decides to use he/his/him again when they are 25 years old, for example, does that make their present day experience of their gender invalid? Nope. I'm not going to give you a literature review of the science that supports me supporting my transgender child. You can easily find it yourself, if you're so inclined, because it is out there in droves. Instead, this a review of my experience and my current, ever-expanding and evolving thoughts on the matter.
There's beauty in listening to my child about their own experience of their gender. Why? Because if and when they "change their mind" again, it will not be a source of fear for them to tell me. They know I will support them, regardless. Also, I must note that "change their mind" is used tongue in cheek, because mind changing is not really what's going on when someone changes their pronouns. Rather, I think self-discovery is the more apt term.
When done right, parenting stretches us and forces us to grow beyond our comfort zones. It exposes us to unfamiliar ideas and increases our capacity to love within and around things we don't understand. It shapes us as much as it shapes our children if we let it. Those are just some of the reasons I don't give a flying f*ck when my child changes their pronouns, and here are some more:
Because The Gender Binary Is A False Construct
A galaxy of gender experiences with as many genders as there are people to have unique gendered experiences is much more accurate than a binary, don't you think? I didn't always know this, didn't always understand this, and I didn't always question the gender binary that we're all taught to believe in. Once that veil was lifted, though, it was impossible to sink back into that comfy hole of genitals = gender.
Culturally speaking, binary transgender people (those who identify as the "opposite" gender of how they were assigned at birth) are spotlighting one of the many problematic issues with the "genitals equal gender" idea. Namely, that for a not insignificant number of people throughout history their genitals do not equal their gender, so much so that they develop gender dysphoria or significant distress at their bodies' betrayal of their true gender. These are the outliers of the "genitals equal gender" theory. Since there are outliers, I had to adjust my hypothesis as unquestioned "fact."
What I found in the adjustment was that even for those of us whose gender dissonance wasn't as loud as to provoke clinically significant dysphoria, the gender binary was destructive. It's not so much the construct itself, or those who identify within the binary, as it is the adamant insistence that everyone else must identify within the binary.
After much soul-searching, and faced with all the evidence, my attachment to the gender binary became untenable. Why would I force my child to adhere to a set of rules that harms them?
Because Increased Vocabulary Means An Increase In Accuracy of Self-Explanation
Even when they originally changed their pronouns from the ones we assigned them at birth (he/his/him) to ones that felt a little more true (she/hers/her) my child was always very clear that they are both genders or "just me." When my child discovered that there was a gender neutral option that was grammatically correct (they/theirs/them) the light in their face could've powered a thousand suns.
(Yes, my child absolutely cares about the rules of grammar so a heartfelt "thank you" to Merriam-Webster for clarifying the grammatical correctness of using "they" as a singular pronoun.)
Because I Don't Care If They "Change Their Mind" Again
I'd really like to see us, as a society, accepting everyone's individual experience of their gender — past, present, and future. If we did, then, "What if they change their mind?!" wouldn't be such an urgent question. Maybe it wouldn't even be a question at all. Gender is as individual as our own experiences of our minds and internal world.
Language for how I experienced myself at 5 years old is different now that I'm 36 years old. Part of the reason for that change is because I've learned new language, and part of the reason for that change is because I've learned how to express myself to the world in a way that aligns with my personal truth. That is, and should be, a complex, ever-moving beautiful tapestry. Not a stagnant pool of never moving brackish water.
So, if my child changes their mind about their pronouns, I'll use their new pronouns. Period.
Because Other People's Comfort Is Not My Primary Concern
There are many people who aren't comfortable with my child's gender expression. Some of these people are my own family members. I get that it's their fear of the unknown talking, but I'm not willing to squelch my child's expression or breed internalized oppression to make other people comfortable.
There were also many people who weren't comfortable with my second child's cleft lip, or my career as a sexual trauma therapist, or my partner as a stay at home dad, or etc., ad nauseam, ad infinitum. Other people's comfort is not my primary concern when it comes to who my children are. Unless they're actively hurting you, your comfort about the way my children present themselves is your issue, not mine, and certainly not my children's.
My humble request is that you deal with your discomfort in such a way that it does not actively hurt my children. That includes espousing transphobic rhetoric that perpetuates the epidemic of violence against transgender people.
Because Of My Own Evolving Experience Of Gender
My child's innocent questioning of the gender binary encouraged me (or, more accurately, forced me) to begin to question my own experience as a gendered person.
I began my gendered experience, unbeknownst to me, when I was assigned female at birth. I didn't question what everyone told me was true about my gender. I didn't even know it was something that could be questioned. I had the privilege of feeling comfortable enough in my own body that I didn't question its connection to my gender.
As a result of not feeling personally connected to being male, I thought I must be female. Those were my only choices right? The two truths of sex and gender. So I found purpose in the fight for women's rights. I held up the mantle of a strong woman who balked at traditional gender roles and insisted that women could do anything men could do. I didn't know that men and women weren't the only options. I didn't have words for my gendered experience as "other." For a long time, I attributed my feelings of "otherness" to my assigned femaleness and my fluid sexuality.
As a trauma therapist I worked with transgender people and, even though I thought of myself as an advocate and a fighter for equality, I still didn't fully understand my own gendered experience. Not questioning, or recognizing, one's gender is a product of privilege. I thought of "the trans experience" in simplistic terms, empathizing with the emotional turmoil of transgender people who were "born in the wrong body" because I could never imagine having (or wanting) a penis.
Then, something interesting and totally unexpected happened. I started to hold up a mirror. I started to question my experience of gender. What, exactly, was it? Was it known by me? Was it even definable? The more I contemplated the concept and construct of gender, the more I was able to talk about, and begin to provide definitions for, my own experience of my body and mind.
That kind of self exploration is invaluable, and rare, at any age. I would never deny my child their right to explore and express their authentic experience of self.
Because We Don't Know What We Don't Know
None of us know what we don't yet know. Not too long ago it was alien for white people assigned female at birth to work outside of the home. Black men were written into the U.S. constitution to be 3/5 of a man. Women of any color weren't written into the constitution at all, let alone other genders. Who am I to say that my child doesn't know themselves better than my limited ideas about what is reality?
I offer that it is not my child's gender fluidity that is the problem, but society's intolerance of people's authentic experiences of themselves and their genders that is the problem.
My child can change their pronouns whenever they want and it will not make me regret supporting their previous pronouns. As evidenced by my celebrating my child's recent choosing of the neutral "they/them/theirs" after having chosen "she/her/hers" for the past two years. If you had seen their face, dear reader, I feel certain you'd celebrate with them, too.