One Parent’s Story: Breaking the Binary

We live in a social construct of binaries- black and white thinking. if something does not fit into the binary, we can assume something is wrong.

Often when our limited world view gets threatened with changes, it is human nature to resist and grieve the loss.  Whether it is an expectation of how our life will go, a job that we accepted that wasn’t what we expected, having a neurodiverse child or a child that does not fit within the rigid constructs on our view of gender- it throws our world into a spin.

Sometimes things that we think we know, or the things we don’t know we don’t know can blindside us. I hear parents say, “I didn’t know my child is ____.  But it can’t be. I have raised my child and did not see this coming.”  It can be human nature to challenge our child’s reporting of their own experiences such as their hobbies, aspirations, friends and gender identity.

Emily’s story is that she came out at 35 years old and discovered she was attracted to women. She married a women and enrolled her children into Camp Ten Trees, an LGBTQ camp to provide children of LGBTQIA parents a supportive, safe environment. Over time she came to learn that her child assigned female at birth was having a transgender experience. The child she thought was female said that their pronouns were they/ them and not she/ her. This took time for Emily to adjust to the new reality about her child having a non-binary experience and figuring out how to support her child. Emily divorced from her child’s father a long time ago and the father is not affirming and wants his child to fit the mold of what he expects:  “neurotypical”, female, limited body hair and wanting his child to work instead of pursuing education.

This is the complexity that non-binary people live in;  in some social situations or relationships it is safe to come out and in others it is not safe. In many situations it is unclear how the person will respond. The threat of losing a parent’s love and approval can be terrifying. The fear of not being loved. Emily even had thoughts that her child may be saying they are non-binary because they are surrounded by other non-binary people.


Emily viewed a window into her child’s experience when she took her child to a Transgender Healthcare Fair. Emily saw her child’s eyes light up, jumping up and down for joy when her child finally found a space that was affirming to non-binary people and recognized them for their gender identity. The most notable moment was when Emily’s child, who previously had long hair all their life, got their hair cut short. Emily noticed an immediate change in her child’s confidence and knew at that moment that her child was non-binary and that she needed to affirm her child’s gender.  Emily’s child gave her a gift- a gift of experiencing her child’s joy.


PFLAG provides educational materials for parents and gender expansive people.

Camp Ten Trees provides a safe summer camp experience for youth to be in gender affirming safe space.

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