How to Support Your Nonbinary Teen

What does it mean to be nonbinary?

Nonbinary is an umbrella term used amongst folks who do not identify with the gender binary, meaning they don’t identify as 100% male or 100% female. 

Nonbinary people identify and present in all sorts of ways. They may appear very feminine or masculine or androgynous, or they may vary the way they present. They may use they/them pronouns, or she/they, or they/he, or she/he, or xe/xem, or any other combination. To put it simply – there is no one way to be nonbinary, and there is no right or wrong way to be nonbinary!

If my kid comes out as nonbinary, does that mean that they are transgender?

Yes and no. “Transgender” is an umbrella term for people whose gender expression and/or identity is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

While nonbinary does fall under the umbrella of transgender, not all nonbinary folks identify as transgender. Identifying as transgender is not a requirement for identifying as nonbinary. However, there are a large number of nonbinary folks who also use transgender as a way to talk about their gender and their gender identity.

Nonbinary is not a “gateway step” to being transgender. Just because someone comes out as nonbinary does not necessarily mean that they plan on transitioning their gender in the future. Many folks who identify as nonbinary identify do so throughout their whole life and do not pursue any sort of gender transition.

The decision to come out and how people identify is incredibly personal, and there are no right or wrong ways to identify over a lifetime.

What are gender-neutral pronouns?

Nonbinary people use a wide range of pronouns, but for the most part, they tend to use they/them or a variation of she/they, he/they.

non binary, transgender, androgynous, identity, genderTransitioning to using they/them as pronouns when you’ve known your kiddo as “she” or “he” for their whole life can feel overwhelming and complicated at first, but using someone’s correct pronouns is an important way to show them that you support and affirm them. 

A note on grammar: Folks use they/them singular in language all the time, especially when referring to people they don’t know about or people they are unsure about. It only seems to trip people up when it is specifically requested and talking about someone’s gender identity. Go ahead, use the they/them all you want! We will survive gramatically. 

Now that we’ve covered they/them let’s talk about neopronouns. Neopronouns refer to pronouns that fall outside the more common terms people use in a language. For example, instead of using “she,” “him,” or “they,” someone might prefer to use “ze,” “xe,” or “fae.”

The Trevor Project estimates that roughly 4% of LGBTQ youth use neopronouns. Below are some other neopronouns that folks may use: 

  • Xe/xem/xyrs/xemself
  • Xy/xyr/xyrs/xyrself
  • Hi/hir/hirs/hirself
  • Ze/zir/zirs/zirself
  • Ey/em/eirs/emself
  • Ne/nem/nems/nemself
  • Fae/faer/faers/faerself
  • Ae/aer/aers/aerself
  • Thon/thon/thon/thonself
  • Per/per/pers/perself
  • Ve/ver/vers/verself
  • Zee/zed/zeta/zetas/zedself

Remember, it is okay to slip up and make mistakes! Accidentally using the incorrect pronouns does not make you a bad parent or mean that you don’t love your child. If you accidentally misgender your kid, the best thing you can do is say oops and correct the pronoun, or better yet, just say the correct pronoun and move along.

Doubling down on an apology and telling your kid “I’m so sorry, I’m trying, this is so hard for me!” is not going to make your kid feel better. Doing so only brings your own insecurity and fear into the situation by making the mistake about you, rather than helping repair the harm. For more tips about pronouns and what to do when you misgender someone, see our blog post “Misgendering Do’s and Don’ts”.

Again, it might feel strange at first, but making asking and using their pronouns is a crucial way to support your nonbinary child. 

My kid has come out as nonbinary – now what?

The best and the safest thing you can do for your kid when they tell you they are nonbinary is to believe them and be curious. In telling you this, they’re sharing a part of themselves with you, and this is your chance to lean into that trust and get to know them a little bit better.

  • Ask them what pronouns they use and then make a point to honor that and use those pronouns – while showing yourself grace when you inevitably slip up sometimes!
  • Ask them who they are out to and if they want you to share this information with others, such as family or family friends.
    • Disclosing someone’s gender identity without their permission can be very harmful. Make sure you have talked with your kid about telling other people and that you have their permission to let other people know about their pronouns and identity. If your child says no, please respect that and allow them the time to process their journey and identity; they will come out to others when they feel comfortable.
  • Be your kid’s biggest Advocate and Ally.
    • It is hard to navigate the world as a nonbinary person. Nonbinary folks have to come out all the time to people to ensure that their pronouns are being used appropriately. One of the best things you can do for your kid is to be an advocate and an ally for them. Use their preferred pronouns, and when you hear people misgender your kid, correct those folks. Be the one to offer to tell family and to navigate those hard conversations with extended family. Your kids are trying to navigate so much daily, and having to make sure their aunts and uncles are okay with their gender identity is asking too much of your kid. woman with teen walking, queer, nonbinary, lgbtq
      • Socially transitioned transgender children who are supported in their gender identity have developmentally normal levels of depression and only minimal elevations in anxiety. Especially striking is the comparison with reports of children with gender identity disorder – socially transitioned transgender children have notably lower rates of internalizing psychopathology than previously reported among children with gender identity disorder who are not allowed to transition or still live as their sex assigned at birth.
      • If you think your child may benefit from therapy to process their gender and the ways they are feeling about it and exploring it, do some research to find a provider who specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ clients. For more information on what that means and how to find a provider, see our blog “What is an LGBTQ-Friendly Therapist?”.

If you suspect your child may be trans or nonbinary but they haven’t told you that, be patient with them, and don’t try to force that conversation if they’re not ready to have it. See our blog “What is coming out, and why hasn’t my child or teen come out to me?” for more. And for additional information about how to support the trans community at large, see our blog “How to Support Transgender Folks: Tips for Allies”.

I love my kid, but I’m still struggling with all of this as a parent. What can I do?

It’s okay to struggle when your kid first comes out as nonbinary! There are a lot of questions, there is a lot of anxiety, there is a lot of “what happens next?”. The best piece of advice that I can give to parents is to find a support group so that they can share your feelings about your kid’s gender with peers in a safe environment that is not in front of your kids.

So many parents process their feelings of grief and loss and their struggle about having LGBTQIA+ children with their kids, and that puts the kids in the uncomfortable position of having to support their parents more than they have the capacity to do. This can lead to kids then withdrawing from their parents or even changing their minds about coming out in order to avoid their parent’s reaction.

Here is a short list of additional resources for parents who want or are interested in  support groups:

To parents – all of the feelings that you have about your child coming out to you are okay, even the uncomfortable ones! Remember that navigating through these changes with unconditional love for your child and compassion for yourself is key, and that having a community of other parents who are experiencing similar things can be a meaningful way to receive support along the way. 

 

This blog was written by Sentier therapist, Ashley Groshek, LMFT. 

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