Mother says the hardest part of having a non-binary child is the ’emotional labour’ of dealing with other people’s ignorance
A mother of a non-binary child has spoken of the pushback she’s received from friends and family who cannot bring themselves to accept her child’s gender identity.
Writing in The New York Times, Sandy Jorgenson shared her journey parenting M, now seven, who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
M began referring to themselves as “they” at age six and asked their parents to do the same. Jorgenson and her husband agreed but say they “didn’t read too much into it” at the time.
“Months after that exchange, however, M came home from school distressed about how their teachers and classmates were referring to them. We realised it was time to have a serious talk with them,” Jorgenson said.
“As my husband and I talked about gender identity with M and asked them how they saw themself and what they felt, they shared with us that they no longer identified with the gender we had always known them to be.
“‘I just feel like a human being. Like a person. That’s all,’ they insisted.”
Parents of non-binary child love them ‘unequivocally’ – but their families aren’t as welcoming.
This was all Jorgenson needed to know. As time passed she and her husband had more conversations with M, and together they watched their child settle comfortably into their non-binary gender identity.
“Simply speaking, we made our message clear: We told M we love them unequivocally, we’re here for them, that they are welcome to tell us or ask us anything, and that we would check in with them periodically to keep tabs on their mental health,” she said.
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Their approach is supported by the American Psychological Association, which has found that children whose gender identities are affirmed and supported can have significantly better mental health outcomes.
Unfortunately, that support wasn’t shared by those closest to them, and Jorgenson and her husband have been forced to shield their non-binary child from the intolerance of some of their family.
It shouldn’t be a reach to ensure our child is treated with respect and kindness, regardless of gender.
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“My husband and I bear the lion’s share of pushback from family members, the brunt of which comes from our respective matriarchs, both of whom expend remarkable amounts of mental energy to communicate that they don’t believe that M knows who they are,” she said.
“The amount of emotional labour we have expended to assert our firstborn’s autonomy is certainly more than I anticipated, but I’ll take a thousand more lashings if it ultimately grants M the opportunity to exist in peace, exactly as they are.
“It shouldn’t be a reach to ensure our child is treated with respect and kindness, regardless of gender.”
M now has a solid grasp of their gender identity and understands that, within the confines of their home, they are seen, heard, loved and accepted.
But that, Jorgenson says, was the easy part. “What takes real work is persuading those closest to us that they ought to do the same.”
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