My child is nonbinary. I pretty much failed grammar in high school. I never could fill out a whole Mad Libs book because I always mixed up pronouns and adjectives. And then my second child tells me they use they/them pronouns. I learned my pronouns pretty quickly after that. And the proper use of they, they’re and their.
I got married straight out of high school and had my first kid when I was 21 years old. I married a member of Chabad and called myself “Lubavitch through marriage.” I had five kids in six years (bli ayin hara), all healthy, thank G-d. They are my world and I am nothing without them.
My now ex-husband and I have always been on the same page when it comes to raising our kids. The religious part was never my strong suit, though. I have always been wishy-washy in my way of staying connected with G-d. But! Keeping the kids in religious schools and creating that Jewish foundation has been very important in our child rearing. I keep an Orthodox home and Shabbat is something very special to me; that’s something I hope I can pass on to my kids.
At the age of 12, my then daughter told me she’s attracted to girls. Being the fluid person I am, I told her the job she has at 12 is to be the best she can be and not limit herself to a label. I told her that when she develops more sexually, she’ll have a better understanding of her own sexuality and where she holds herself. I was proud of myself for what I thought was a good parenting moment.
Fast forward a few years, she asked me to join her therapy session, which I did happily. She told me in tears that she felt dismissed by my response. It broke my heart. At the time of that session she had already told her therapist she was nonbinary but she hadn’t yet come out to me because she was scared of my reaction. Cue my tears. Here was my kid, whom I love with all my heart and whom I fully accept, and I’d hurt her. I wiped my tears, took a deep breath, looked at her and said, “This isn’t about me and my feelings. What can I do to be more supportive of you? Teach me what you need from me because I don’t know.” And that, I learned, was how to support. To take myself out of the equation.
After 11th grade, my kid told me they can’t go to a religious school anymore. They never felt like they belonged. Aside from trying to find their place in our religious world, they were trying to figure out their experience within their own body. Depression set in; anxiety was triggered. My studious, 3.9 GPA kid wasn’t hacking it. I met with their therapist privately. “Why does my perfectly intelligent, capable, beautiful, empathetic, gentle child not love themselves? I want to understand my child better so I can show them the love and support they need and so they won’t be uncomfortable in their own skin.” And that’s when I learned about gender dysphoria.
It’s taken me 40 years to figure out what true faith is for me. Faith is trusting that G-d loves us even more than a parent ever can. G-d’s love is infinite while we, as parents, are limited to our world. My job is to take care of my kids to the best of my ability, but at a certain point, they make their own choices with their own consequences, which they alone have to live with. I want to save them from any hurt or harm I possibly can, but they have to make their own mistakes to learn. I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts, which aren’t just made from experience and mistakes, but also G-d. I realized my child’s pull to leave a religious school was a gut instinct for them; they felt that they couldn’t grow while they were still “trapped” in a school where they felt out of place. It’s comforting to watch my child develop their own gut instincts and know that’s G-d in them. Trusting in G-d is trusting that their gut will guide them the same way it has guided me.
I enrolled them in a local high school that had dual enrollment with a local community college. They went on antidepressants and were tested for and diagnosed with ADHD. At this new school, they flourished. They made friends. They were coming out of the fog and into their own.
This past May was their high school graduation. It was on a Saturday at the local university’s basketball arena. We are a Shabbat-observant family, but this was important to them. I contacted the Chabad on campus and asked if my kid, my oldest daughter and I could stay for Shabbat so we could walk to the ceremony. They, of course, said yes. We arranged to have all their things waiting for them with friends. I watched my kid, with their short moussed-up hair, black slacks that I hemmed so they fit right at the spot they wanted: on top of their black Doc Martens, and cap and gown walk, their face glowing with joy and pride.
I went to every performance they had as a kid — the Pesach plays, the productions, choirs and end-of-year celebrations but there was something different this time, at this gigantic venue. There was something in their face, their energy, their very being that wasn’t the same. I looked at my oldest daughter and said, “I have never seen Hadas look more like themselves than right now.” And then I cried. And my oldest child, who holds in every emotion so as to seem calm, cool and collected (yeah, we’re working on that…) started to tear up as well. Walking down that aisle, my kid looked content.
Last month, we celebrated Pride; my kid celebrates so they can feel and be part of the love in their community. I celebrate because I am proud of the journey my child has taken to get to the point of contentment. After all, what does a parent want other than raising loving, decent human beings with whom they actually enjoy spending time, and who are comfortable in their own skin?