Guest post by Afsaneh Moradian
About two years ago, my child informed us that they are nonbinary. That they don’t identify as either boy or girl and that their pronouns are now they/them. Of course, this was fine with me. But, it did take a lot of work to stop using she/her in reference to my child. I’d been doing that for so many years, I was on autopilot. I tried and made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. Then I saw my child’s face when someone called them she. My child cringed and felt so uncomfortable.
I finally understood. This wasn’t a fad or a whim. This was my child’s identity. This was about my child feeling accepted and having the right to exist as they are. I stopped making mistakes and started using only they/them after that day.
The same couldn’t be said for extended family. To this day, even though I literally wrote a book on using preferred pronouns, most aunts, uncles, and cousins refer to my child as she/her. Perhaps they don’t all know. Perhaps they don’t understand. Perhaps some are too old to make the adjustment. Perhaps. I continue to patiently explain and remind them. My child loves our family, too. So they don’t say anything. They do their best to ignore it. Around extended family, my child is forced to be she/her. And forced to smile about it to not make others feel uncomfortable.
Isn’t this putting a 9-year-old into the metaphorical closet? They must suppress who they are and pretend to be a girl because loved ones demand it – either because it’s easier or because they don’t agree that nonbinary is a real thing. Now, my child happens to be a happy, confident kid who doesn’t let others’ ignorance get them down.
I hope that remains the case because it’s much harder in adolescence.
I recently met with a nonbinary person who is about to enter high school. They shared with me that, even though they realized they were nonbinary months ago, they had not shared the news with a single teacher, classmate, or adult in their sphere. In this child’s case, there was a change in name and pronouns.
Again, this child chose the closet over watching teacher after teacher consciously choose to use the wrong name and pronouns day after day. They knew how awful it would feel to experience the disrespect and lack of support from teachers they admired.
And the bullying. They knew their immature classmates would take cues from the teachers and make fun of them, possibly physically hurting them. It didn’t seem worth it to go through all of that, so they hid who they really were for most of the school year.
For my child: Jamie is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way
I’ve written and said in many spaces that I wrote my first picture book, Jamie is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way (Free Spirit 2018) for my then daughter. It was a message to all children that toys and games do not have gender and they should feel free to be themselves.
For my grandmother: Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns
The second Jamie book, Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns (Free Spirit 2020), was not written for my child. I actually wrote it for my grandmother.
Why I write these books
I write books to make it clear that children need to be loved and celebrated for who they are. The days of pegging gender stereotypes and expectations on children are in the past. Right?
So is the closet that LGBTQIA folks had to hide in for so long. Isn’t that what Pride represents? It’s a celebration of the right to love who you want and be who you are.
Supporting our LGBTQIA Kids
Now it’s time for the adults to do better. It’s time for adults to listen and really hear the children in our lives. What do they want to play with? What name is a better fit for them? What pronouns accurately represent how they identify?
There are picture books to buy and read with our children so they grow up to feel accepted and accepting of others.
But those books are also clear messages to adults, there are even tips in the back, that we have to do the work, and we have to set an example of what it means to show love and respect to LGBTQIA children. And defend and protect them when necessary.
About the author
Afsaneh Moradian is a homeschooling coach and the author of the Jamie is Jamie Series (Free Spirit Publishing) and Homeschooling Outside the Box: A Guide to Child-Centered Homeschooling (2021). Her newest book, Jamie’s Class Has Something to Say: A Book About Sharing with Adults (Free Spirit 2022) will be released this summer.