A mother strives to understand and support her non-binary child
'This was not something I understood, and it was hard at first,' says mother of non-binary child
For 18 years, Susan Knoppow thought she was raising a daughter.
But that all changed when her child, Miriam Saperstein, came out as non-binary, a broad term that encompases people with gender identities that are not exclusively male or female.
"This was not something I understood, and it was hard at first," she told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.
"When Miriam identified as queer [at age 14] — which at the time I thought had more to do with sexuality than gender — that made sense to me," Knoppow said. But she struggled to understand what her child's latest declaration meant.
Knoppow prided herself on being a feminist parent, like her own feminist mother. But she said that didn't include much talk about gender. She didn't realize how strongly she held the desire to raise a feminist daughter of her own until she realized she didn't have a daughter at all.
I had to rethink it and I realized that my child was exactly the same human being. Nothing else about them changed.- Susan Knoppow
Looking back, Knoppow admits she didn't have the best reaction to the announcement. At first, she said she couldn't use gender neutral pronouns.
"It was not my finest parenting moment, although at the time I thought I was being very supportive," Knoppow said.
She then told Saperstein that they shouldn't tell other people until they were certain they were non-binary.
"What I don't think I fully grasped … was this wasn't a discussion, this was a pronouncement," Knoppow said.
Making space for struggle and acceptance
Still, Knoppow wanted to support her child.
"How can you be the parent that says 'I will really do anything for you, but I don't understand this'?" she said.
Realizing she had a lot to learn, Knoppow sought answers online. But she couldn't find anything that spoke to her experience as the parent of a non-binary child. Instead, she started writing about what she was going through on her own blog.
"People started to find me because they had the same question - Where do I go to learn about this? … My way of learning has become writing about it, and seeing what kind of responses I get and having conversations with other people."
It took some time, and many blog posts, but Knoppow said she eventually realized that she was making her child's identity about herself.
"I had to rethink it and I realized that my child was exactly the same human being. Nothing else about them changed."
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Knoppow says her own discomfort had been distracting from what her child needed – a supportive mother. She realized that her child's story was their own, and that she needed "to support that story and not pretend that it's not hard, but not put that burden on them."
Now that Knoppow has come to terms with her child's gender identity, she feels comfortable explaining it to others and tries to be a good ally.
She said those in a similar situation should "listen, don't be sure that you have answers, be willing to live in the uncertainty … most of all, remind your child, remind yourself, 'I love you.'"
This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Whither Gender?"