National Horseradish Month and Gender Identity
 
Happy July! Did you know that July is National Horseradish Month, National Hot Dog Month, and World Watercolor Month? Perhaps more relevant to our work here, July is also the month of International Non-Binary People’s Day! Non-binary is a term for an identity that falls outside the gender binary of male and female. Following right on the heels of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, It’s a great time to take advantage of the teachable moments these celebrations offer and to start talking with your kids – about horseradish, hot dogs, watercolors, or gender identity.
 
Gender is being discussed more frequently and more publicly as more of a spectrum than a binary of one or the other. There are many transgender and non-binary celebrities, changes can be made to gender markers on legal identification, and media content highlights diverse identities. The terms “transgender” and “cisgender” are more widely recognized and used. Many parents strive to show their children they are open and accepting but may be nervous about talking to their children about gender identity or may not be sure where to start. This is an enormous topic that cannot possibly be covered in just one issue of the Parent Buzz, but we have to start somewhere! Just like you teach your children, we’ll start talking and take just one step at a time.
 
The terminology around gender and sexual orientation is always shifting and changing. For example, “queer” was derogatory and offensive 20 years ago but has been reclaimed and embraced by the community. New terms are surfacing, helping many feel more seen and more comfortable in being who they are. You do not need to know all the definitions or even all the words to support the young people in your life. A lot of parents don’t say anything because they don’t want to mess up. It’s okay to mess up! If you do mess up, just apologize and keep trying. Depending on the context and conversation, you may not even need to apologize — just adjust your language and keep talking.
 
Listen to what your child is saying, ask questions, and keep an open mind. If your child shares that someone has started dating, consider responding with a general question, like, “Oh, who are they dating?” instead of “Who’s the new girlfriend?” If you overhear that someone has a crush on someone else, respond without mentioning gender.
 
Look for opportunities to practice so that the language feels more fluent and natural. Invite another parent or family member to have a conversation about your children using only gender-neutral terms. Set a timer over dinner and invite the entire family to avoid saying “he” and “she” until the alarm goes off. Sometimes this feels bumpy when it’s new, but with a little bit of practice, avoiding gendered language and pronouns can become natural and easy, and you may not even notice that you’re doing it.
 
Most importantly, let your child know that you accept them for who they are. You don’t have to have all the answers or all the right words. As a parent, you want your kids to be healthy and safe; making sure kids know they are accepted and loved, no matter who they are or how they identify, dramatically improves health and wellness outcomes.