My oldest child, Ember, who is nonbinary and bisexual, decided last winter that they would use only gender-neutral pronouns and change their name. When they told me, we had a lot of conversations about it. Because I was trying to understand them better, I had a lot of questions. One of the questions I asked that I realize now that I shouldn’t have was when they would come out to everyone else. That was none of my business. I was asking because it’s important not to out your child before they are ready to come out on their own.
This can make it hard for you to have conversations with other people about your child. It requires a lot of mental effort to continually switch back and forth between two different names depending on who you are talking with. When I spoke to Ember, I had to remember to use their new name because they had asked me to. If I spoke to someone else about Ember, I had to remember to use their name given at birth because the person I was talking to didn’t know they were changing their name.
Suppose your child has begun to use new pronouns. Switching back and forth can be incredibly hard. Learning to associate new pronouns with your child is already hard. The reason is that your brain has had a certain number of years of practice using one set of pronouns with your child. When your child changes those pronouns, your brain has to learn to associate new pronouns with them.
But the default setting is the old pronouns.
When you are in a rush, tired, or frustrated, even though you are practicing and trying your best to get the pronouns right, the old ones might come out. Give yourself grace when you make mistakes. When you have to switch back and forth between two sets of pronouns before your child is ready to come out, it makes it even harder.
When I asked Ember when they were planning to tell the rest of our family they were changing their name, it was because I was excited for this next step in their life. I wanted everyone else to be able to share in their news. I didn’t ask because it would have made things easier for me regarding talking about them, although I can see now how it might appear that way.
Coming out takes time.
I learned from Ember that coming out is a very layered and personal experience. It’s not just a one-and-done situation. There are a lot of emotions tied to it. As a mother, I want my children to feel supported and loved. I learned that what feels supportive to me can sometimes feel intrusive to other people.
You may have a transgender child who isn’t out yet. Or who is just beginning to transition socially, but only at home. Neither of those things makes their being transgender less valid. For their safety and well-being, it’s crucial that you don’t out them before they are ready to come out on their own. If you need to, get support for yourself. Let them take the lead. Honor their journey.
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