When Your Family Won’t Use Your Child’s Name or Pronouns

My son Leo came out as transgender at the age of eighteen-and-a-half. For all those years, my brain and mouth associated one name and set of pronouns with my child. I used that name and set of pronouns dozens and dozens of times a day. Then suddenly, overnight, I had to change to a new name and set of pronouns. It was challenging and took a lot of practice. I needed time to relearn a new way to refer to my son.

Image is vertical strips in the colors of the rainbow, with tiles that say they/them in the middle, for a post about what to do when your family won't use your child's name and pronouns.
Photo by Katie Rainbow 🏳️‍🌈 on Unsplash

Six months later, someone in our life told us they couldn’t use Leo’s new pronouns. They said it was too hard for them to switch to he/him/his. It astounded me. I was doing the work so, I didn’t mess up when I spoke to or about Leo. I spoke slowly and carefully and corrected myself and others when they misspoke. And this person was essentially saying they weren’t willing to do that work. I wasn’t having it and said as much.

In my post Using Proper Gender Pronouns, I write, “When a person chooses to actively ignore a person’s request to use their pronouns, they are saying they don’t value and respect that person.”

There’s a difference between trying and making a mistake and not wanting to use them at all.

If someone in your family is struggling to use your child’s name and pronouns, there are things you can do to help. You can offer to practice with them. Send them tips on how to make it easier. Be patient with them. Remember how hard it was for you.

It’s important to remember that other people don’t use our children’s names and pronouns as often as we do. We get more practice than they do. This means it’s easier for us to re-associate a new name and set of pronouns and begin rebuilding that muscle memory sooner. It takes longer for our family members because they are likely only using our child’s name or pronouns when they speak to us.

Be patient with people who are making a real effort.

You might have family members who won’t make an effort to get your child’s name and pronouns correct. They purposefully use the wrong name and pronouns. There is a good chance these people aren’t supportive of your child and never will be. What do you do about these people?

When your family doesn’t use your child’s name or pronouns because they don’t support them, you have to decide how to move forward with those people. You have two choices. Either cut them out or don’t allow them access to your child.

Our job as a parent is to ensure our children feel safe and supported at all times.

This includes any interactions involving extended family, no matter how important they are. You should always use your child’s correct name and pronouns when interacting with these folks. It is exhausting, but you should also correct them when they misname and gender your child. This shows them that you mean business when it comes to your child. It also shows that just because they refuse to be supportive doesn’t mean you will allow it. If they get annoyed or frustrated with you, remember that their reaction is their problem, not yours.

You can’t control how people respond to your child being transgender. But you can control their access to your child.

Set boundaries with people who don’t support your child. And if you can’t, give your child an out. Your child should have the option to stay home instead of going to the house of an unsupportive relative. Likewise, if you have to invite someone to your home who refuses to use your child’s correct name and pronouns, your child should be allowed to stay in their room or go somewhere else. Your child’s mental health and well-being are more important than any extended family member’s feelings..

Finally, try not to take it personally. I know that’s easier to say than to do, especially regarding your child. This isn’t about you or your child. If someone isn’t supportive of your child being transgender, that’s on them. It has to do with who they are as a person, not who your child is or who you are. Let go of any negativity and focus on your fabulous child. They are who matter most.

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