When I first sat down to write about my gender fluid kiddo, I came across a post from one of the other ABQ Mom contributors that seemed to have a very similar theme. I read on and realized that my and the other mom’s experience with her LGBTQ child were extremely different. Both are very real experiences that others can hopefully relate to. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jai.
Where to start?
A little context for you all. I have three kids, and my oldest is the one who has inspired this post. I work in hospitality, so I was not working during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When I returned to work in June 2021, I had to drop my SAHM uniform of leggings and tank tops and begin wearing “real clothes.” The worst!
My kids began attending a new preschool at that same time. My oldest started noticing that some of the kids wore different clothes than he did and that I was, too. DRESSES! He told me each time I wore a dress that he liked it and that he wanted one. Now, I didn’t run out to the store to get him a dress the very first time he said something, but I also didn’t want to ignore him.
After a couple of weeks of these same conversations, I decided to take him to the store so that he could pick out a couple of dresses. He was thrilled and wore the same two dresses nearly every day for several weeks afterward.
Let me point out that he was just under three years old at this time and that we recognized that this could easily be a phase–like kids that want to wear a dragon costume or a princess dress every day for a year. I kept that in mind, and we figured that this could go several different ways, but we (my husband and I) would support him regardless.
Now that you know where this all started, let me share with you the top 5 ways that I support my gender-fluid child.
1. We let our kids pick their own clothes.
This sounds pretty simple–like something that we all allow our kids to do. But I don’t just mean that I let him choose his clothes from the “boy” section or the “girl” section of the store. I mean, I let them choose their clothes from ANY section of the store! If my little girl wants a t-shirt with a dinosaur in sunglasses, I’ll let her get it. If my little boy wants a sparkly watermelon t-shirt (which he did) or a dress, I let him get it. We had to be prepared that friends, family, and even some strangers were probably going to ask us about his clothes. We had our answer ready and delivered it with confidence. When asked, why is he wearing a dress, what do I say? “Because he wants to.” Plain and simple. Why complicate it?
2. We read books about people with all types of life experiences.
My husband and I are white, middle-class, straight Americans, who identify as the same gender that our biological sex would indicate, but exposing my children to that experience only seems extremely dangerous to me. We choose to fill our bookshelves with books about people of different races, immigrants, gay bunnies (any John Oliver fans out there?), people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and more because we want them to be able to be who they are and to relate to their peers no matter what categories they fit into (and with the bunnies too, of course).
Some of our favorites books are: Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope, What Are Your Words?, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, and When Aidan Became a Brother.
3. We teach them about pronouns and ask them what their pronouns are.
Prompted by reading the book What Are Your Words, we talked with our oldest about how he felt and what the words that went with that feeling were. Each day he tells us what pronouns he’d like us to use by saying his name followed by “Boy” (he/him pronouns), “Girl” (she/her pronouns), or “Kid” (they/them pronouns). Recently, he changed how he tells us his words, simply saying something like, “she/her pronouns.”
We have check-ins every so often to talk about what it means to choose certain pronouns. For instance, we say, “When you choose she/her, does that mean that you feel like a girl?” Or, “I’ve noticed you’ve been choosing she/her most days, do you ever feel like he/him, like a boy? Or like they/them, not a boy or a girl, just a kid? Or do you just feel like a girl most of the time?” And we do our absolute best to honor the pronouns he chooses each day.
You’ll notice that here I’ve continued using he/him pronouns to describe my oldest. We don’t feel like we’re quite to the point of making an official switch in pronouns. We’re just taking it one day at a time for now.
4. We defend but do not shelter our child.
We allow him to wear what he wants outside of the house, not just behind closed doors. Although we might get strange looks or questions occasionally, we are prepared to defend our child and have tough conversations with teachers, friends, and most importantly–family.
Strangers are going to say what they will. As he gets older, he’s going to be dealing with the cruel world enough. We do what we can to make sure that the most significant people in his life are supporting him.
5. We’re being patient with our child as he figures this out.
We don’t make any decisions for him. He often picks out clothes at night, and in the morning, he has changed his mind completely. He sometimes wears one type of clothing for two weeks straight and suddenly switches it up.
When we notice a sudden and distinct change in his clothing, we check in with him to make sure that he hasn’t been told something that might have been misconstrued. We try to make sure he knows that we are always there to listen.
He might not be able to clearly communicate how he’s feeling, but giving him the space to figure it out means everything to me.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.