Introducing non-binary, gender inclusive pronouns to kids
Words in red are defined below.
I admit it, as an activist parent, one of the socially conditioned habits I seem to have the hardest time breaking is using pronouns he and she according to how people look, and according to a person’s sex. But activist parenting is not about being perfect, it is about honest self-reflection and always trying to do better. I’ll keep correcting myself until I form a better, and gender inclusive, pro-trans habit. In the meantime, I am trying to be intentional about raising kids who are naturally inclusive of all genders and gender neutral people.
There is no need to wait until your kids are old enough for conversations and explanations about gender and about how not everyone identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. Your kid does not need to understand the word ‘binary’ in order to understand that some people fit outside of the binary gender system. In fact, I think it is much easier for young kids to get it than adults, whose thinking is heavily conditioned.
If you grow up only hearing the words ‘she’ and ‘he,’ then you learn those are the only possibilities. As activist parents, we can strive to keep our children’s minds and hearts open by expanding our pronoun usage to include non binary, gender inclusive pronouns everyday. And it really is quite simple. Here are three tips to help get you started…
When you meet new people do not assume gender by how a person looks. Sex, gender, and gender expression are different parts of an identity. Considering that parents buys the clothes and dress their young kids, we can not assume that the way a baby, toddler, or kid is dressed has anything to do with the way they will personally identify. In everyday life we can use gender neutral pronouns (see below) when talking about someone, unless we know how they identify, then use the pronouns they use. I think key moments are when your kids have just met another kid because if gender neutral pronouns are always used in these cases then it really highlights the fact that we can not assume to know a person’s gender by how they look. And if your kid is at the stage where they need some parent support while they are learning how to share and take turns, you really have a lot of opportunities for using gender neutral pronouns. (“they had the red car first, please wait for your turn” “the blocks are for everyone, please share with them” “you have 3 balls and they have 1, give one more to them please” etc, etc) Personally, I tend to use the pronouns “they, them, etc” until I know otherwise. Or at least I try to remember to.
If your kid plays with characters- whether dolls, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, Barbies, army guys, or anything else that interacts during play – then you have plenty of perfect opportunities for normalizing non-binary, gender inclusive pronouns. All it takes is playing with your kid and using a mix of pronouns with the different characters. Younger kids will often follow your lead, older kids who have already been conditioned may need a little encouraging. My 2 year old has cars that talk and sometimes eats with us, so really, any toy can be incorporated for learning.
My favorite way of utilizing an expanded pronoun vocabulary is through nursery rhymes. For one, it is simple. You just replace the he and him with any other pronoun option. Second, it is fun. I sing and dance with my kids everyday, several times a day.
“….. but the one little duck with a feather on hir back, ze lead the others with a quack, quack, quack…”
Often, rather than singing the whole song we’ll just sing this same line throughout the day as we are doing other stuff -getting dressed, eating, picking up, whatever – but I’ll change up the pronouns. And my kids love the 5 Little Monkeys song. You know the one, they jump on the bed, fall off, bump their head. With just one song you can use five different sets of pronouns!
|Possessive Determiner||Possessive Pronoun||Reflexive|
|He sang||I asked him||His foot kicked||That is his||Himself|
|She sang||I asked her||Her foot kicked||That is hers||Herself|
|They sang||I asked them||Their foot kicked||That is theirs||Themself|
|Ne sang||I asked nem||Nir foot kicked||That is nirs||Nemself|
|Ve sang||I asked ver||Vis foot kicked||That is vis||Verself|
|Xe sang||I asked xem||Xyr foot kicked||That is xyrs||Xemself|
|Ze sang||I asked hir||Hir foot kicked||That is hirs||Hirself|
|Ze sang||I asked zir||Zir foot kicked||That is zirs||Zirself|
|Ey sang||I asked em||Eir foot kicked||That is eirs||Emself|
Binary Gender System: the classification of sex and gender into masculine and feminine, as two distinct and opposite categories.
Non-binary, gender inclusive pronoun: a pronoun that does not associate a person specifically with either category of the binary system. See above table for examples.
Sex: a person’s sex refers to their biological characteristics, namely their genitals and reproductive organs. When a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform to either male or female they are referred to as intersex.
Gender: One’s internal sense of being a woman, man, gender neutral, gender non-conforming, transgender, or non-binary.
Gender expression: the way in which one expresses their gender. This may include a name used, clothes worn, style of haircut, pronouns used, or any number of ways people express themselves.
Wiley Reading has a good article talking about the difference between gender and gender expression.
Normalization: Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal’ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life (definition from Wikipedia)