Many brave voices in the LGBTQ+ community have defined our modern-day movement in the sphere of individual freedom from patriarchal social conditioning. This has reshaped our understanding of human sexuality, gender identification, and overall versatility in the general population. However, as we redefine, rename, and reenvision the future of our society, the whirlwind of current culture has left many OG, cisgender, older generations scratching their heads in dismay. We have created a new language that supports the integration of this new world for those who are in the process of coming out and redefining themselves. Yet we have failed to provide adequate support and guidance to those who play a significant role in holding this experience for their loved ones.
While schools can support preferred pronouns and names of their students, minors go home to their parents at the end of the day, and if their parents don’t know how to make heads or tails of their children’s internal experiences, the end result is rejection and confusion. In these cases, the primary support for parents is to tell them that they must accept their children’s preferences. This wouldn’t be problematic if it wasn’t for the fact that parents are also told to hold boundaries for their children, to guide and protect their children’s exposure. They must restrict their access to social media, set age-appropriate expectations and goals, and understand that children are growing, developing beings. They should maintain an adequate level of authority to provide a safe growing environment. In the face of such a double bind, the common outcome is mistrust in external counsel, and thus conflict within the family unit. Parents feel demonized, while the children often feel victimized and misunderstood.
There has always been and will continue to be a portion of the population that experiences profound feelings that are at odds with the mainstream. It is, however, also true that if we simply look at the extensive data in human sexuality, dating back to Kinsey reports, human beings are rarely binary. While religious social norms have imposed a black and white position on the subject of self, the reality is that the self is, in fact, a fluid and dynamic kaleidoscope of nature and nurture over a span of time. In the last few decades, access and the normalization of psychotherapy have equipped the new generation with an extensive language to communicate their inner lives to the world. Hence, it makes sense that our children can describe their inner fluid process to us as it unfolds in real-time. Our responsibility as parents is to hold this developing experience to allow some breathing room without panic or excessive need to concretize the process at hand.
Understanding the history of gender fluidity in the context of our past, culture, and social conditioning, as well as statistical data on human sexuality, allows us to require less concrete labeling, hence, softening the divide between the feeling of “us” and “them.” The “strange” nonbinary folk versus the “normal” mainstream populous. Our children are bombarded with endless pressure from social media and other cultural outlets that compromise and threaten the natural process of developing self. There is the constant sexualization and objectification, constant beautification, pressure in fashion culture, and monetary competition.
While we try to understand what it means to be nonbinary, we have forgotten to ask our children: What does it mean to them to be binary? What does a 13-year-old girl, for example, have to embody to feel sufficiently female? We do not consider the fact that for the current generation, being nonbinary may be, at times, a plea for a timeout on this unbearable social pressure that the binary world imprints on their developing minds. Being nonbinary can mean being free to just be, without fake nails and fake lashes or premature sexual experiences and perfect bikini bodies on Instagram. A timeout from self-restricting diets and self-loathing, that being queer can mean, “Please can you leave me alone, okay? I’m weird.” And perhaps, if parents can understand and hold that without panic and fear, this natural fluidity that is the inner life of the self will unfold organically with less protest and tension. And perhaps in that process, we can embrace the formation of whatever self emerges without needing a constant label that can never fully encompass the totality of who we are. spt