Perhaps you've heard the term non-binary on the news, on the radio, on television, or while you listen to one of your favorite podcasts. Non-binary is usually mentioned when discussing people's identity, particular when dealing with gender. For some, hearing the term non-binary might have caused confusion because, traditionally, society has often discussed gender by only referencing male and female. However, some people don't identify as neither male or female. Rather, they identify as gender non-binary.
What exactly is gender non-binary? The word binary means "involving two." Therefore, non-binary means not strictly involving two. Some people who do not necessarily identify as neither male or female have adapted the term non-binary. It is important to recognize that gender non-binary is nothing new or a fad. Many cultures and societies have acknowledged non-binary members for centuries. Therefore, we must not perceive gender non-binary as something which only applies to young generations, but rather, something that has been around for ages, although not always within our own social groups.
In the last few years, people who identify as non-binary have made incredible strides toward social visibility and representation here in the United States, as has most of the LGBTQIA community. In doing so, many LGBTQIA issues and topics have been heavily discussed in the media and social dialogues. As adults, it is important to pay attention to these discussions in order to be educated and aware as well as know how to relay this information to children.
Children are curious by nature. They tend to have a lot of questions. They, too, might come across the term non-binary. Perhaps they've even encountered a non-binary identifying individual. Maybe they even show indications that they might later identify as non-binary themselves. As adults, we shouldn't shut down a child's nature to be inquisitive simply because we don't know the answers to their questions or because the topic makes us uncomfortable. We have to remind ourselves that children are smarter than what we believe them to be. Contrary to what we may believe, children can understand complex topics and issues, including gender.
It's definitely okay to not be certain on how to navigate talking to your children about gender, including non-binary. As adults, we won't always have the answers to everything, and that is perfectly fine.
Here are some tips on discussing gender non-binary with children:
First, define non-binary: It is important to first help children give definition to their curiosities. Although gender is a complex issue to discuss, simplify it by saying that being male or female is actually your biological sex, or the sex you are anatomically born with. Gender is different. Gender can be fluid, meaning there are more options to gender other than male or female. Some people identify as a mixture of both. Give them the example of a swirled ice cream cone. Some people identify as vanilla, others as chocolate. Some identify as both, or, in our example, a swirled ice cream cone. All identities are welcomed.
Explain that there is more than meets the eye: It is easy to concentrate on someone's visible indications to their biological sex such as facial features and body structure. However, these don't imply the person's gender identity. Explain to children that only because something appears to be one thing, that doesn't mean it can't be something else. This can potentially be easier for children to understand than adults because children emphasize on imagination. They haven't developed fixated ideas of what is necessarily particular to one gender or the other. Having these conversations with children can prepare them to be understanding and educated adults.
Encourage them to acknowledge and celebrate people's differences: The most important part of explaining gender non-binary to children is to mention that people's differences should be acknowledged and celebrated and not feared or ridiculed. Children's ability to see beyond race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality is often taken for granted. Instead of being wary about having these kind of conversations with children, we should be looking out for any opportunities to discuss certain realities with them and encouraging them to see the world for what it is; full of diversity and variety.
Encourage them to continue asking questions: Just like adults, children will develop further questions and thoughts based on the conversations they have. Follow-up with children by asking them if they have any further questions or thoughts regarding gender non-binary. Continue the conversation by explaining to them that other identities exists, such as other members of the LGBTQIA community. In doing so, you will be enhancing the child's social skills, comprehensive skills, and building them up for a brighter future.
For more information on gender non-binary, here is an article where 9 young people explain what being gender non-binary means to them.
Southwest LatinX celebrates everyone's identity and differences. We operate as an all-inclusive organization and welcome everyone as they are.