Coming out as nonbinary to a three-year-old

May is a 20 year old gender studies student, now living out of home but close with their three-year-old half sister, Georgie. May is nonbinary, and uses they/them pronouns - not particularly uncommon in the inner-north Melbourne scenes they frequent. But how to explain gender identity, the changing thereof and the politically and emotionally driven forces which both create and abolish it… to someone who has barely conquered her ABCs? This is how it went down with May. 

LBDO: Can you tell us a bit about coming out as nonbinary to your family? 

May: I am lucky to come from a family whose political beliefs are both reasonably aligned with my own, and who are open to different forms of gender expression and identity. My Mum, Dad and stepmum were all very quick to start referring to me by my correct pronouns after I came out. 

My Dad was the first person to raise the question about Georgie, and how I would like to go about telling her. We decided to start by just using they/them pronouns for me, and seeing how she responded. 

LBDO: And how did that go? 

May: Naturally, she still lives in a very gendered world, so it’s hard to say that she fully understands that I’m not female, and will still refer to me at times as a woman, and always as her sister. But we have noticed that she will effortlessly go along with whatever pronouns you use in a conversation. So if my Dad starts a conversation with her, “Hey Georgie, May is drawing a really nice picture over there, aren’t they?”, she will typically respond with something like, “Yeah, they are drawing a really nice picture...but mine is prettier.” 

LBDO: Do you find it gender dysphoric at all when you are referred to as a sister? 

May: Actually I don’t mind being called a sister. For myself personally, sisterhood more describes my bond with my two siblings than an inherently gendered experience, although the same couldn’t necessarily be said for other nonbinary folk. For me, it means protection, nurture, closeness and bonding more than anything else. 

LBDO: Did Georgie have any follow up questions after the initial chat? 

May: Yes, actually. Probably the most profound, and maybe my favourite conversation we had on the topic went like this: 

Georgie: Mimi (she calls me Mimi), I’m a little girl. Are you a lady? 

May: No, I’m not a lady. 

Georgie: Oh. 

Georgie: … 

Georgie: Mimi, I have lots and lots and lots of friends. 

LBDO: What would you say were the key takeaways from your experiences with Georgie on this topic? 

Honestly, she has surprised me at how willingly she accepted this broader understanding of gender and associated pronouns. She has done so with much more ease than a lot of people my age or my parents’ age, and with much less push-back. Kids can ask questions that might seem pointed at first, but they are never coming from a place of hate, just a child-like, uncensored curiosity. Once you provide an answer that they are satisfied with, they could not care less, and it’s on to the next activity. 

LBDO: Do you have any sort of roadmap to how you will continue this conversation as she gets older? 

There’s only so much she can understand at three, at the moment she vaguely accepts that I am neither a man nor woman, and gets my pronouns right with a tiny bit of encouragement. That’s all I could ask of her right now. As she gets older, I’m going to let her be the guiding force behind how much she knows. I will always answer any questions she has, and will never push her to know more than she’s ready for, or learn anything she’s not interested in.

LBDO: Do you have any advice for people talking to their own families or young people about their own gender identity? 

It’s impossible for me to give any overarching advice as everyone's experience and family dynamic is completely unique. My family is largely accepting and understanding of my gender, and have really made an effort to educate themselves. Of course, they don’t always get it right, but for me it’s just important to see that they are trying. 

There is no one way to come out, no one way to be nonbinary, and no one way to ‘accept’ it. There are so many factors that can influence a family’s response to ‘coming out’, and determine what is appropriate to share and how to go about it. I just feel lucky to have had a relatively painless coming out journey, and a relationship with my parents and younger sisters that isn’t dictated by my gender, but by everything else that I am.


Image credit: @karlandkristof

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