By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns
About a year ago, my then seven-year-old told me that they were nonbinary and that their pronouns were she/they. Since they still considered she one of their pronouns, I didn’t think too much about the announcement and didn’t share it with extended family.
As time passed, however, I saw my child cringe every time someone referred to them as she. I saw them have to correct adults and classmates. They had to constantly remind people to use they/them as their pronouns. When I asked my child to help me understand how they felt, they told me that they don’t feel like a he or a she; they just want to be who they are.
I realized how important it was for me to do everything I could for their pronouns and them to be respected. Some adults readily accepted the change in pronouns, but many—and even some extended family members—laughed and replied that nonbinary identities and the singular they “aren’t real things.”
A lot has changed when it comes to gender. How most people view gender and identify is simply different from when I was growing up. There is so much more space now to be yourself, without the pressure to conform to rigid definitions of being a boy or a girl. Many kids don’t fit those definitions. And, more importantly, they don’t feel like a boy or a girl. Plenty of young children identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth.
As parents and teachers, we have no idea how the children in our lives will develop and change as they age. My child may identify as nonbinary into adolescence and beyond, or they may not. There is no way to know what will happen in the future, but that doesn’t minimize how children feel in the present.
When we dismiss children as too young to know what gender is or decide they are simply going through a phase, we remove the support and validation that all children need and deserve.
By being open to hearing children’s preferences for what pronoun, gender, and name they’d like us to use, we show that we trust their understanding of who they are as people right now.
A few weeks ago, my child said that they wanted us to use he/she/they because, at different times, they feel male, female, and nonbinary. I can see that my child is on a journey of self-discovery and exploration that they are working hard to express in words. As the adult, I also observe them continue to get upset whenever someone uses a pronoun other than they. I can understand that journeys are not always straight paths and that my child is reflecting and exploring their gender identity.
If we accept that everyone has the right to change their pronouns and their gender, then there isn’t any room for our judgment. My child hasn’t explained to me what it means for them to feel male or female, and they never have to. No one has to justify changing their pronoun or gender identity.
By letting children explore gender and pronouns, we let children become sure of themselves. They build trust and confidence and are able to believe in themselves as they grow older. Our desire to raise healthy, thriving children with high self-esteem starts with respecting and supporting their decisions concerning gender and pronouns.
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.
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