Full of compassion, love, and many many questions, Libby shares 5 realizations she learned on her journey to understanding her agender child.
5 Realizations From Loving My Agender Child
Even before my children were born, I chose names that could be used for either gender. Aidan, born with a female body, was very “girly” as a young child. As early as 2 years old, we were arguing over clothing choices – Aidan wanted to wear dresses, I wanted them to wear pants. I realized I was the one who hated to wear dresses, and learned to embrace this traditionally “femme” aspect of my firstborn.
As Aidan grew into elementary school age, they discovered the practicality of pants over dresses (you can hang upside down on a jungle gym at school without anyone commenting on your underwear!). The pants and tops chosen were traditionally feminine pastels, butterflies, and flowers.
During the middle school and high school years, Aidan traded in the pastels for blue jeans and cargo pants from the “boys” section of the store. They chose more neutral colored tops from the “girls” section – we still had butterflies and flowers, they were just more “artsy.” Aidan didn’t see any value in underarm and leg shaving until 8th grade graduation. They were required to “dress up” and Aidan chose to borrow one of my few dresses. I can only guess that they were mocked for their hairy legs, because they started shaving after that day. I had mixed emotions at this point – I was immensely sad to think that my child had been the subject of mockery, so I was relieved that they took the step necessary (begin shaving legs and underarms) to avoid future mockery.
College brought a few changes. Aidan cut their hair in a short, easy to maintain style. They stopped shaving their legs and underarms, despite my continued purchasing of razors. I was always uneasy whenever we went somewhere and they were dressed in shorts and tank-tops. I did not want to be present if somebody decided to mock my child for their choices.
Aidan often commented on the fact that I shouldn’t ever expect grandchildren from them, therefore it came as no surprise when they came out as asexual. By the time they formally announced it, I had already guessed it. I was aware of the sexuality spectrum, as I have personally meandered across it over time. I was aware of the transgender community, but I still considered people as either male or female. In my mind, Aidan was a young woman, a feminist who regularly questioned and defied social norms.
In February 2015, Aidan initiated a cryptic e-mail exchange about a Mom and her daughters, that ended with “haha what a weird twist ending right.”
I didn’t fully grasp what Aidan was saying. My response at the time was a simple smiley face, because I wanted them to know I loved them:
Aidan responded shortly after with this:
i am not:
– a girl
– your oldest kid
– dad knows
– you can tell jenna [my wife]
– people in general are allowed to know but i don’t want a big announcement about it on facebook or anything (using they is fine but if i want a post saying ‘hey everyone aidan is genderqueer’ i would make it myself)
After reading this clarification, I shamelessly lied about understanding the term “agender” although I did not lie about my love for Aidan and my intention to be mindful of their wishes.
I promptly Googled the term “agender” but found very little helpful information. I still had a binary mindset when it came to gender: you were either a male or a female. Eventually I stumbled upon a Psychology Today article pointing me to a few meager sources, one of them being this blog. I contacted Micah, who gave me a list of resources, and offered a few words that stuck with me:
Let me reassure you that there are plenty of non-binary trans adults living life the way they want to. It’s a process that takes time, and perhaps even more when it’s not you going through it all. Patience and understanding are perhaps the greatest gifts of support you can give.
As it turned out, I ended up not sending Micah any questions. Aidan is a very private person, but they were open to answering a lot of my questions over time.
- Do you think you’ll do hormone therapy? “Yes, but not yet.”
- What about surgery? (My thought bubble: please say no!) “No, probably not. Not a big fan of doctors/hospitals.”
- Can I use the pronoun ey since they feels grammatically awkward. “Ok.” (I soon apologized for this one and began using they/them/their as those are the phrases Aidan prefers.)
- How is your dad handling this? (Dad is progressive, but he goes to a church that has very conservative views on gender roles.) “He’s good, he loves me just the same.” Whew!
- How do you want me to handle pronouns when I am in conversation with others, extended family and friends who ask after you? I don’t want to “out” you without your consent. “Use your judgment, mom. If you feel like it’s someone who will understand, that’s fine; if not, just use the feminine pronouns they are used to hearing.”
Through this journey with my oldest child, the five most important things I realized are:
1. It’s a Spectrum
Gender and sexuality are spectrums, very few people fall at either extreme. Aidan showed me the Gender Unicorn, which I found very helpful.
2. One Size Does Not Fit All
Yes, please do research in order to educate yourself. Expect it to be an ongoing journey of discovery, just like any other relationship you are in. Because in the end, it is your relationship with your non-binary child / significant other / friend that will matter most when it comes to “getting them.” Find out if they would like to talk about their experience as a non-binary individual. Make sure it is a dialogue, not a monologue. Make sure your tone of voice is kind, respectful, compassionate, inquisitive.
3. Love Them
Really love them. Your non-binary child / significant other / friend wants more than anything to know that you love them. Even if you don’t “get it” at all, you can compassionately, lovingly journey with them. Not despite who they are, but because of who they are in your life.
If your religious beliefs get in the way – I cannot state it enough – this is about your relationship with your loved one. If you communicate unconditional love, respect, patience, and compassion (which are the tenets of every religion I can think of), you will find that you will most likely receive them in return. People get hurt, defensive, and angry when they feel misunderstood, judged, and unloved. If your exchanges become heated, ask to take a break – not to shut the dialogue down, but to make space for each of you to compassionately consider things from the other’s point of view.
4. Patience and Compassion
Communicate with love, respect, patience, and compassion. Think about how you would want to be treated if you had to reveal something about yourself that could be painfully misunderstood by those closest to you. Coming out is not an easy process; there is so much vulnerability.
Be patient. There might be some things they can’t articulate yet, as (just like everybody on this earth) they are probably still working on their own self-understanding.
Treat yourself with compassion and understanding, too. If the coming out process is unfamiliar territory for you, it will take time for you to adjust.
5. Work On Yourself and Society
I am so proud of the young adult Aidan is, but before you think I’ve got it all together, please know I am still a work in progress, too. One year later, I still occasionally have to correct my pronoun usage. My biggest stumbling block has been when Aidan has been mocked for the way they appear. My gut-level response is to blame Aidan for it: “If only you could try a little harder to fit in with societal norms.” These are thoughts I keep to myself; I know they are just plain wrong, and would be hurtful if spoken aloud.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Aidan. There is a lot wrong with our society, and the only way to change society starts with me working to change my own societal expectations.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
About Aidan’s Mom
Libby is the proud mother of 2 young adults, Aidan and Ash. She lives in Virginia with her wife, Jenna, and their 3 cats. Libby makes half-hearted attempts to garden, keep a tidy home, and learn how to play the guitar. When she is not busy at work or in the home, she really prefers to be curled up in a comfy chair with a good book.
Create Compassionate Resources
You can help other parents find resources for their non-binary children. Contribute to the efforts behind the blog, including over a thousand hand-crafted personal responses to emails like Libby’s.