A non-gender conforming child applies lipstick


Understanding Gender These Days Is Way Over My Head — But My Teen Girls Are Helping Me Get There

Jan 16, 2019

I am a mom living in London, Ont., and I have two teen girls. 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.

Relevant Reading: Librarians Recommend 10 Books That Deal With Gender Identity Or Sexuality

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. 
Me: Sits 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. 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.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.

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