Understanding Gender These Days Is Way Over My Head — But My Teen Girls Are Helping Me Get There
By Paula Schuck
Photo © Rushay/Twenty20
Jan 16, 2019
I am a mom living in London, Ont., and I have two teen girls, aged 14 and 17. Some days I can hardly begin to explain how different teen life is from when I was a teenager. Thirty years ago I never for a second questioned my sexuality or gender identity. I was a girl attracted to boys. And I’ve been married to my husband for 26 years. I find simplicity and comfort from that statement, but I also acknowledge there’s a level of privilege because I’m straight.
Kids are now armed with so much more information about sexuality, gender and identity that it’s a completely different experience growing up and becoming a young adult. Which also makes it a different world parenting teens today than it was in 1985.
My children are advocates and they are very into social justice. I love that about them. They are accepting, tolerant and caring young people. They have a huge variety of friendships with a diverse group of young people who identify as straight, lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans, queer and non-binary. These days, it’s increasingly apparent that gender is a much more fluid concept.
My teenagers are also at an age and stage where they question a lot of things. Which means they also hold me to a higher standard sometimes.
Our conversations sometimes go like this:
Teen: “I was talking with X because we have a project due. X is trans/poly-sexual/transitioning/non-binary.”
Me: Initially I confuse polysexual with polyamorous, which is not the same thing at all. So I say something like, “I don’t even know what polysexual is. Explain that to me please.”
Teen: “It means X is attracted to many genders.”
Me: “OK.” At this point, I’m slowly processing what I’ve been told.
Teen: “Mom, there are at least 63 different genders.”
Me: “63?” I then sit with a puzzled look on my face, and make a mental note to Google how many different gender and sexual identities there are later. (FYI: this is what they were referring to, and one of the better explanations I could find — though now their count has reached 81.)
Teen: Leaves my office and goes out to a friend’s house.
Me: Sits at home questioning and trying to process this new-to-me information.
I pride myself on striving to use inclusive language in many areas of life. I am accepting, tolerant and I love my kids. As much as they learn from me, I am also learning a lot from them and their friends, too. Which doesn’t mean I don’t lapse and forget the proper pronoun every now and then — because I do. But I am trying. I work hard on biting my tongue when I want to say: “How is that even possible? When I was your age there were only two genders.”
I am far from perfect, but I am open to learning and listening.
Relevant Reading: Embracing 'Kiddo' — Talking to Kids About Gender
There has been a rise in role models for youth who don’t conform to traditional gender roles thanks to social media. YouTube star James Charles is a young, gay makeup artist with almost 20 million subscribers and his face is his canvas. Ezra Miller and Jaden Smith are high profile examples of people who are gender fluid, wearing basically whatever they want and posting looks online. Celine Dion even created a gender fluid line of clothing for children. Basically, the world is evolving through language, fashion, beauty and social media.
I am balancing this reality while also handling the usual territory of high school, social media use and abuse, reproductive health and growing independence. It is a lot to take in some days. It’s often tempting to blurt: “Hey, I was a teenage girl once, too.” But the distance between teens in the '80s and teens now is actually worlds apart.
Sometimes I fail, but I am trying hard to keep up. I’ve added a few new words to my vocabulary and I am slowly internalizing all of them. I am a mom of teens trying to live in the now and it’s vital that I keep learning on the job.
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