• When Your Kid Says They’re Non-Binary

    A few weeks ago, I received a message from one of my classmates from high school that said her child recently came out to her and her husband as non-binary and said their pronouns are they/them. My friend asked how she can educate herself and what guidance I could offer for dealing with relatives who may be less accepting.

    When I responded, I started with, “Oh geez – your life just got a lot more complicated, but in a good way.” I gave her my number and asked her to let her kid know that they have an Oggy Ruth that they can talk to if they need a non-binary grown-up to talk to who “gets it” in ways they’re afraid that others can’t understand. (Oggy is the title I chose since there isn’t a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle. It rhymes with “doggy.”)

    This button is on my backpack.

    There’s No One Way to be Non-Binary

    If your child was assigned male a birth (AMAB) and they’re actually female or assigned female at birth (AFAB) and they’re actually male, the expected trajectory is more clear and can include a new name, new hairstyle, different clothes, hormones, and gender affirming surgery. If your child is non-binary, it’s best to follow their lead. Invite them to tell you what they need, whether it’s a new name, new hairstyle, or different clothes. They may want some specialty items like a chest binder, stand to pee (STP), or a packer. Ask your child about their thoughts about hormones or hormone blockers. (Hormone blockers didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I knew I was non-binary back then, I would have wanted them.) They may also want counseling. It’s not easy to navigate a binary-centric world as a non-binary person.

    Ask your child what they need from the institutions in their life. They might need gender neutral bathrooms at school. Some schools won’t address a child by their new name unless you legally change it. Your child may want to have their birth certificate and/or driver’s license corrected. Hopefully, you live in a state where you have that option.

    In regards to resources, I recommended Free Mom Hugs’ resource page. I love this organization, and this page has a wide variety of resources listed. I love seeing people in the audience at the Pride parade who wear t-shirts that say “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” I always try to stop and hug them.

    Dealing with Less Than Accepting Relatives

    As the parent, you are your child’s advocate. Ask your kid how they want to tell the relatives, and as long as it isn’t inappropriate, support it.

    You may have to have a heart-to-heart with a relative if they are struggling to accept that your child is non-binary. They may have known your kid by a different name and pronouns for over 10 years, and adjusting to the new name and pronouns will be hard. Tell them it’s ok if they make mistakes, as long as they’re trying, and they correct themselves when it happens. Give them a chance to practice by talking about your non-binary child with them. (I have a co-worker who is working on using my correct pronouns. I’m tempted to tell him to talk about me with his family to practice.)

    Note: I have a friend who has had a non-binary kid for years. She still occasionally refers to them by the wrong name or pronoun. It’s ok if you or your family doesn’t adapt overnight.

    Your relative may have trouble wrapping their head around the idea that a person may not be male or female. That’s ok too. As long as they respect and accept that your child is telling the truth about who they are, I suspect your relative will be fine in the long run. Here’s my favorite video to share with people who are new to learning about what it means to be non-binary. (It’s also quite validating for me.)

    Whether your child is a different gender or sexuality than what you originally expected (or both), assume there are going to be inappropriate questions. I tell people that it’s fine to ask me all their potentially inappropriate questions as long as their coming from a place of respect and curiosity. There may be times when it’s best to respond with, “I understand that you’re curious, but that’s a very personal question. My kid will talk about that if and when they decide they want to bring that topic up with you.”

    Don’t be Afraid to Go into Mama/Papa Bear Mode

    If you have a non-binary kid, there may be times when you need to go into full-on mama bear or papa bear mode on their behalf. It may be with your child’s school, doctor, a relative, or even the government. Going to bat for your kid validates their experience, even if you don’t get the outcome you want.

    When your child tells you about a frustrating experience as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society, acknowledge it, even when you don’t understand why something is a big deal to them. Their feelings are valid, whatever they are. Hold space for your child so they have at least one place where it’s safe for them to be themselves and explore what their gender means to them.

  • All Genders Deserve Equal Access in Sports

    Arizona has joined the number of states that has proposed legislation that would ban male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in female sports unless they have a doctor’s note that proves that they’re female. This law would impact athletes at every from level from K-12 schools to community colleges and state universities.

    Photo by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Why We’re Having This Debate

    The surge of proposed laws followed news stories last year where a female track and field athlete claimed that male-to-female transgender athletes were unfairly allowed to compete in the girls’ division. The trans athletes finished a race higher than she did, which she claimed cost her the opportunity to compete at the regional race, which could impact her ability to get a college scholarship.

    What I didn’t like about the reporting of this story is that most reports didn’t state whether the trans athletes were on hormone blockers and/or on hormone replacement therapy which would have made it a more level field than a cisgender male competing in a female sport. By the way, they’re both on hormones replacement therapy.

    School Athletics May be the Only Option

    My first thought when I heard about this proposed law in Arizona, was that trans athletes should bypass political issues in school and compete on club teams. A teacher friend pointed out that club teams are often very expensive, so the only option to participate in sports is to play on a school team.

    Is It Talent or Testosterone?

    Transgender girls are girls. They should be allowed to participate in girls’ activities, whether we are talking about Girl Scouts, entering a nunnery, or playing sports. Forcing a transgender girl to participate in boys’ activities or be left out is discriminatory and potentially devastating to her mental health.

    In the situation of athletics, I wonder how much of is this outcry based on fairness and how much is based on transphobia. Are girls afraid of being beaten by someone they view as less than a girl?

    It’s worth asking how much of these trans athletes’ success is based on talent or testosterone. History suggests that cisgender men have physical advantages over women in many sports. In looking at Olympic Records where men and women both compete in same types of events (e.g., track and field, weightlifting, etc.) the record held by the man is higher, faster, better than the women’s record. That’s why we created Title IX – to give women equal access to participate. But once a trans athlete has the same hormone level as their cisgender counterparts, I wonder if the cisgender athletes are claiming it’s unfair, but they’re using the competitions’ trans status to complain that they didn’t win.

    It’s Time to Re-Examine Division in Sports

    It’s time we re-examine how we divide participants in sports. With growing acceptance that there are more than two genders, which is backed by law in at least 17 states and Washington D.C., the traditional division of boys/men and girls/women is no longer sufficient. I’m a non-binary athlete (with a birth certificate to prove it), and when I sign up for a race, I rename the divisions “testosterone” and “estrogen” and select accordingly.  

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has guidelines regarding male-to-female athletes and the testosterone level they must have to compete in the women’s division. Lower level sports should adopt similar rules and require every athlete to have their testosterone level checked, and only those with a level above the threshold should be allowed to participate in the testosterone division.

    (A friend suggested that the athlete’s sensitivity to testosterone should also be tested for it is possible for a cisgender woman to have a high testosterone level and body that is completely insensitive to it, so she won’t reap any athletic benefits from having this higher level.)

    Photo by tableatny from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

    Where Change Should Start

    In thinking about this issue, if we want schools to change how athletes are divided instead of using gender in the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should be the leader. If NCAA schools change from men’s and women’s sport to divisions based on hormones, public and private high schools will follow suit since many of the best high school athletes aspire to receive scholarships to compete in college.  

    I sent an email to the Chair of the Board of Directors for NCAA Division I, encouraging them to modify the classification of athletes instead of using gender identity. I don’t expect a response beyond a cursory, “Thank you for your message,” but hopefully it will plant a seed that change is needed.

    Sister Laws for Access to Trans Medical Care

    If states are going to pass laws that will limit male-to-female trans athletes from participating in sports, they need to a pass sister laws that allow for adequate and affordable access to medical care for transgender people, including the ability to access care without parental consent, and laws that allow non-binary and transgender people to change their birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender.  

  • My Pronouns are They/Them

    I am non-binary, meaning I’m not a man or a woman. When people used to ask me what my pronouns are, I used to say I don’t care as long as you’re being respectful. I was fine with “he,” “she” or “they.”

    Now I realize that I didn’t care as long as you knew that I’m non-binary. It’s important to me that people know that I’m not a cisgender female, which is what most strangers assume I am. Being misgendered is one of the things I despise. Because of this, and to raise awareness that non-binary people exist, I decided that my pronouns are they/them.

    (In case you didn’t know, cisgender person is someone who is the gender they were assigned at birth. The prefix “cis-” means “same.” The prefix “trans-” means opposite.)

    Content Marketing World 2018

    It’s OK If You Make Mistakes

    Changing how you refer to me may be an adjustment. It’s ok if you make mistakes and occasionally trip over your pronouns. (I occasionally do this with others’ pronouns.) Just correct yourself and move on. And if you hear someone refer to me as she/her, please correct them.

    I expect most people are going to make mistakes most of the time. I have a friend who is the parent of a non-binary child who uses they/them pronouns. She still makes mistakes, and she’s had years of practice.

    It’s “They Are,” Not “They Is”

    A friend asked about how the grammar works when using “they” to refer to a single person. In English class, we were taught to say, “he/she is” for an individuals and “they are” for two more people. My friend asked if she should say “they is” or “they are” when talking about me, and it’s still “they are.” When you use “they” to talk about an individual, it’s the same as if you were speaking about a person of unknown gender:

    • When are they coming over?
    • Someone lost their keys.
    • Who put pants on the naked statue? High five for them!

    According to Merriam-Webster, “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since the 1300s. It’s become more commonly used with increased awareness of non-binary and intersex people. (“Intersex” is the term used for people who used to be called hermaphrodites.)

    Telling the Office

    Until now, all my email signatures said, “Pronouns: He/She/They.” I updated those to say “Pronouns: They/Them” as well as my LinkedIn profile. The next step was to inform my officemates. I sent out a note to everyone in the building, letting them know about my pronouns. No one cares that I’m non-binary and pansexual, so I knew this would be a non-issue as well. I did get a few unexpected responses:

    • One person asked what “cisgender” meant and asked about the proper phrasing when referring potential clients to me – changing from “I think she can help you,” to “I think they can help you.”
    • Another officemate suggested that I consider using a non-binary nickname since Ruth is such a feminine name. I’m already established as Ruth Carter, and I don’t want a different name. If Dana, Kelly, and Ashley can be gender neutral names, so can Ruth. There’s at least one instance in literature where Ruth is the name of a male character.
    • Someone asked why I don’t use “he/she” since “he” and “she” refer to an individual. I responded, “Because I’m not a man or a woman.”

    Questions are Welcome

    If you have any questions about my experience as a non-binary person or non-binary people in general, I’ll do my best to answer them. I won’t be upset if you inadvertently say something incorrectly.