Recently I experienced an especially strong sense of frustration with my own inability to avoid mis-gendering my brother’s non-binary adult child. If I don’t intentionally think of their preferred pronoun, I often refer to their assigned at birth gender. I spoke with Lux, my own NB (non-binary) kid, “I just don’t have a way of thinking about gender other than male and female. Those boxes don’t go away even though I know they are inappropriate and do not reflect your identity.” I may not have articulated my thought quite so clearly at the time.
At this point let me say how fortunate I am to have such a great progeny. This was a thoughtless barb aimed right at a tender spot. Lux patiently, with just a trace of disappointment, accepted my comment. Later that day I tried to explain what I meant. I assured them that they will always have my unconditional acceptance and support.
“It just makes me sad” Lux told me, “I know you accept my identity and if you are having difficulty, how will we ever get through to those that don’t?” A crucial point. Trans rights might be in a place similar to the pride movement in the 1970’s. Can we expect acceptance of a radical reconsideration of what gender means? What would be a reasonable time line? How would we define success?
Aside from considering the nature and difficulties of the struggle, this conversation brought me to a key insight of my place in the process. Just as how I, a 6’2” man, can never truly know the experience of my 5’2” wife, I can never know the experience and meaning of an identity off the “gender binary spectrum”.
And that’s ok. I don’t need an intuitive understanding of what it feels like to have a NB gender identity in order to care about my kid and strive to make the world a little more accepting of them.
An ally’s task is to stand with, not for, an oppressed group. I have talked to groups of people who have no specific reason to care about NB identity. I did my best to share my understanding and the experience of having a NB person in my life. I have to say not everyone came onboard. I would like to say I had the emotional distance to remain calm in the face of those who were less than accepting but as a parent, well, not so much.
Both within and without, the work goes on. The message to me is to keep checking back in. The best use of my opportunities is to reach places where it is hard for NB folks to go. I just have to always keep in mind that I am not the expert, that I am just the messenger.