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What Is a Fetus by Any Other Name?

Trump CDC transgender fetus science
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman / AP file

Are the scientists of the CDC pandering to the right in order to gain congressional approval? And if so, what could be next?

OPINION: Today, as I was scrolling through Facebook to pass the time, I came across an article written by The Hill. I didn’t think much of it at first, but after the first read, I found myself frantically searching the web, hoping that it wasn’t true. After getting the same information from the Chicago Tribune and AOL, I had to admit that what I was seeing was, in fact, real.

What was being reported is a direct attack on the first amendment to the constitution. This amendment grants protections in respect to establishment and the exercise of religion, the right to peacefully assemble, the freedom of the press, and even the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The one protection that most people remember, however, is the one the article threatened: freedom of speech.

On December 14th, officials with the CDC circulated a list of words that they are now forbidden to use in official budget policy documents for the 2019 year, which is due to be released in February. These words are: evidence-based, science-based, vulnerable, entitlement, fetus, diversity, and transgender. According to the articles, these banned words may also be excluded from official documents in other branches of Trump’s health department.

An analyst who attended the CDC meeting told the Washington Post that the CDC was given alternatives to some of these words. In place of “evidence” or “science-based” they were instructed to use the following: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”.

It is widely known that the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to stifle the media. From calling reports that aren’t flattering “fake news” to denying the smallest of facts when confronted, great lengths have been taken to keep us from the truth. Even the repeal of net neutrality is a way for the people to only see what the government wants us to see. By allowing corporations to control our access to the internet, then the decision of what we learn is left in the hands of those that can profit from our ignorance. For them to directly ban words like this is a direct contradiction to what the first amendment protects. How far will Trump go to change the way we think? If we no longer call an unborn child a fetus, will it be easier to ban abortion? If we no longer refer to research as science-based, will it be simpler to replace the truth with what they want us to believe? Already we see Republicans citing the bible as if it were verified fact, and as if we all should believe as they do. If we don’t openly use the word transgender, then how will we ever receive equal treatment in life?

First, official documents in the CDC. What’s next? Modifying scientific facts our children are taught in their science classes? Many people want to believe that we possess an awareness of the world around us and the current events in our country. In the end, however, how can we know that the news we hear every day isn’t information that has been filtered and edited to be more palatable?

Update: A memo sent to NBC News from CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald stated that no words had officially been banned from the CDC. The statement read:

“The CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution, providing for the common defense of the country against health threats. Science is and will remain the foundation of our work … As I have said previously, there are no banned, prohibited or forbidden words at the CDC — period.”

Dr. Fitzgerald went on to explain that the discussion of verbiage had been a topic of discussion at a staff-level meeting to find the best way for 2019 budgets to pass the Republican-led Congress. However, as Dr. Sandro Galea, who serves as dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, stated to the Associated Press, “If you are saying you cannot use words like ‘transgender’ and ‘diversity,’ it’s a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues.” This could be seen as applicable, even if the words are simply be dismissed from budgetary discussions to win a right-sided vote. 

Meet the Doctor Changing Trans Lives

Dr. Angela Sturm is helping trans people affirm their gender identities through facial plastic surgery

(HOUSTON) — For many people, when they hear about a person transitioning, they immediately recall as much information about gender-affirming surgery to the genitals as they know. For almost as many, that’s not much information. However, what most cisgender people fail to understand is that there’s more to gender-affirming surgery than what is often referred to as “bottom” (genital) surgery. As a matter of fact, NBC News reported than in 2016, less than 0.5% of gender-affirming surgeries actually were performed on the genitals. This news isn’t quite revelatory, as the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that 33% of trans people have not medically transitioned, with 14% of trans women and 72% of trans men saying that they most likely will not ever transition fully. But with plastic surgery procedures to the face and chest, trans people are able to become more comfortable in their own skin.

LADD7089_high_res-218x300 Meet the Doctor Changing Trans LivesThat’s where Dr. Angela Sturm comes in. Dr. Sturm (MD, FACS) is a double board certified female facial plastic surgeon. According to her website, she specializes in rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, facial feminization surgery, and facelifts. Dr. Sturm attended medical school and her residency at Baylor College of Medicine, and has since gone on to join Facial Plastic Surgery Associates here in Houston. She’s been in practice for about six years, and has been doing facial feminization for five of those.

While Dr. Sturm’s patients aren’t all trans, many are. She sat down with About Magazine to discuss her role in the gender-affirming process and her advocacy as an ally to the LGBTQIA community.

About Magazine: Tell us a little bit about what your specialties are.

Dr. Angela Sturm: So, I do facial plastic surgery. I end up doing a lot more feminization than I do masculinization.

An interesting point I hear a lot is that there’s more of an emphasis on feminine trans issues than there is on masculine trans issues. Can you tell me a bit more about what you see when trans men come to see you?

A lot of times the face shape changes a little bit because the facial fat changes. And then the muscles are a little bit bigger. So, where you may have had an oval-shaped face, it may be a little more square now. So, maybe [the shape] is there, but it’s not quite where they want it. Sometimes we’ll put implants on the jawlines to make them a little stronger. I’ve had people who had jawlines that are good, but have the genetic pooch of fat under the chin. You know? So, it’s kind of, “Well, [the jawline] is there, but I’d like to be able to see it better.” And then, of course, there’s the Adam’s apple. Not all men have Adam’s apple. So, we can do a little bit of liposuction right there and contour the area so that we can see a hint of it. We can also do an implant there, but for the most part, you don’t really need to.

In your patient demographic, are you handling cases for patients that are in their younger years? Or are they more middle-age to later in life? Or is it a mix?

It’s kind of a mix. Not as many younger people. A lot of times they’re just into their transition. And hopefully, if they’re transitioning young enough, they may not need me at all. And it would be amazing if we could get to that place where people were able to get on blockers and hormones at an appropriate time to where they make the transition all on their own. It’s more mid-to-late-twenties all the way up to a patient I had in her seventies. She had lived her life. She was in the military. She raised her kids and grandkids. And then when everyone was raised, she was like, “You know what? It’s my turn.” I thought that was awesome.

DSC_8839-3512605090-O-300x200 Meet the Doctor Changing Trans LivesAnd do you have any experience doing reconstructive surgery on the genitals? 

I do not, because my specialities are head and neck. But I can do referrals. But in Houston, it’s kind of difficult, because there aren’t a lot of physicians doing that. Which is odd, because we have the largest medical center in the world. There are people in Texas doing it who are doing a really good job. But that’s one of my issues with the entire thing. I feel like it’s really unfair that people have to travel outside of the fourth largest city with the largest medical center. It’s ridiculous. San Francisco has more surgeons, as does California in general because they’re more progressive. Plus, everything is covered under their insurance. They can get facial surgery; they can get genital surgery. There are more people doing it there, because there are more people able to afford it. If you want to do it and have the money, you’re more empowered to go out and do it. Surgeons that are doing it are just kind of spread out everywhere, as well as the people who are seeking out the training. And that’s an issue we’re working on, too: getting more surgeons trained in the programs so that more surgeons come out that are able to do it.

On the topic of the cost, a lot of the issue is that it costs so much money to have these surgeries performed. Which can be a hindrance – especially to younger people coming out of college and getting on their feet. Do you think a reform in health insurance could help people be able to afford to be who they are?

I mean, I think we were definitely going in that direction. But I think there’s a lot of uncertainty right now about the direction healthcare is going in.

(Laughs) To say the least.

(Laughs) Yeah, to say the least. But I think healthcare was going in a really good direction, and hopefully it will continue to go in that direction. I know in Texas it’s always slower. But there are more and more states that are getting things covered. And I think as we’re able to show more science and say, “We’re doing these studies. And this is what we’re seeing …” because there’s a ton of research being done now that wasn’t done before that says certain things are medically necessary, and they can’t be denied if they’re medically necessary. We’re getting there. It’s just a matter of collecting all the data and, like you said, fighting the insurance.

Science is constantly evolving, but we’re sitting in an administration that doesn’t seem to value science. 

That’s the truth.

It’s clear that you’re an advocate for the trans community. So, what brought you to want to do this with your career?

It all started with talking to people when I was coming out of training about what’s going on in our city and in our country. And it was just being here. I trained here, too, in the largest medical center in the world. And I realized that there was just this huge need, and that it’s such an underserved community right next door that we’re not taking care of. It’s ridiculous to me that trans people are having to travel and go over all these hurdles. So, it was looking at what I do and what the needs are. So, I went and got some extra training in doing the facial feminization and being able to do it to a high level and provide that care, because that’s what everyone deserves. The whole thing was crazy to me that this was a need here in our backyard, if you will. It also kind of spoke to the feminist part of me that was like, “Yeah! Don’t tell me what to do because of my gender! Be yourself. I’m fighting this fight for you, too.”

“Don’t feel like you have to get stuck in one box and be comfortable with it, because there aren’t any boxes!”

There’s the term passing privilege in the trans community, which is something someone has when they’re able to pass as cisgender on the streets when they’re, in fact, trans. And I think that’s what makes the line of work you do so important, because it affords people the opportunity to feel more comfortable in their skin, even if they can’t put forth the cost of a full transition.

To that point, you know it’s letting them feel comfortable, but it’s also their safety. Because the number of trans people that have been assaulted for simply walking down the street is outrageous. It’s that ability to walk out of your house and not worry as much – I don’t know that you’re ever not going to worry. It’s a horrible place to be when you don’t know what’s going to happen when you leave your house.

Exactly. And you know, in the queer community, we’ve gotten to a point where gay and bisexual, cisgender men and women have the luxury of not facing that fear quite as much, but the trans community hasn’t gotten to that point yet. And ignorance really perpetuates itself to the point where people end up losing their lives. Does it give you a little peace of mind to know that you’re making a difference this way?

That’s part of what makes it rewarding. I love what I do and helping them gain confidence and feel good in their skin. But knowing that it’s affecting their life that intimately, it’s an honor for me to be a part of that process.

I know that this isn’t your speciality, but there are a lot of misconceptions about what gender-affirming genital surgeries look like. Do you know enough about it to give a brief description to maybe clear up some of those fallacies? 

Probably very generally. (Laughs). Typically it’s much easier to go from male-to-female than it is female-to-male. So, male-to-female involves taking out a large portion of the penis, but you keep a part of the … well, the head, basically, and make that into the clitoris. And then you’re using the testicle skin to make the labia. It depends on the surgeon and how they perform it and what skin they’ll use to make the lining of the vagina. Some people use a skin graft. Some may have enough skin in that area to be able to invert it. It depends on the person’s anatomy, and also the surgeon and what their preferences are. Then they reroute the urethra, so you’re able to have sensation and you’re able to go to the bathroom. There’s a little bit of maintenance, because you have to keep the vagina open. So what a lot of people don’t realize is that you have to dilate it with time. And as time passes, you don’t have to do it as much. But there’s quite a bit of homework on the patient’s end. Things can happen, where you have to go back to surgery. And sometimes it’s more than a one-stage process in order to get things to look and function the way you want.

With the opposite, is the penis able to become as functional as the vagina? 

Kind of. It all sort of depends on the doctor, how they’re doing it, and what the patient’s desires are because there is a wide variety of what you can do with it. There’s a surgery called a metoidioplasty, which basically just allows you to be able to stand and go to the bathroom. So, basically, you’re just lengthening the urethra and keeping what you had, but releasing things so you’re able to do that. Then you have the actual phalloplasty, which is where you are creating the penis. So, what they’ll do is actually take tissue from somewhere else – either the leg or the arm – and kind of create it. It’s a very complex surgery. And then you have to hook up all the “plumbing” and all that stuff. So, the people who do that usually have very extensive training in urology and plastic surgery, or they have a team that has that training. A lot goes into it. So, as far as function, there are ways you can make it sort of semi-erect so that you can use it and so that it’s not erect all the time. Or you can have a pump put in it, and some people do it that way. Because it’s so complicated, you make a big decision. Some people will do the metoidioplasty, but it’s not nearly as involved as the entire phalloplasty.

Tell me a bit about your practice.

I am a part of a private practice with another physician, Dr. Russell Kridel. I have clinical appointments at UT Houston and UTMB, so I get to teach and have a foot in academics. But I have the private practice, so I really get to have control over who my staff are and how educated they are on all these things.

When you teach, what are you teaching?

I touch on all of facial plastics, but I do end up spending a fair amount of my time talking about trans and gender-affirming surgeries, because they’re not getting it from other places usually.

With the private practice, is it important for you to have a staff that understands the importance of what you’re doing with the trans community?

Absolutely. It’s always important that your staff understands your patients and the patient experience. But here’s it’s really important.

Do you think it’s important to build a strong doctor-patient relationship? 

I mean, I think so. The feedback I get from my patients is positive.

Based on your Vitals.com reviews, people really seem to like you.

I love people and getting to know them. I love to see them at different points in their lives. I have the luxury within medicine to have a practice where I can spend the time to get to know somebody and where they’re coming from. And I love it especially because I’ll get messages from my patients who live in other places who are like, “I’m getting my bottom surgery today!” They let me know where they’re at and how they’re doing. It’s a very cool thing to be a part of all of that. I’d really miss out if I didn’t get to know them so well. You get to get excited with people, and that’s one of the things I love about plastic surgery. I get to be a part of that!

Last question: if you could say something to trans people about medical treatment and surgery, what advice would you give them to help them decide what’s best for them?

These are things that we think about very deeply. And there are a lot of great people, especially in the city, therapists and social workers and such, that are available to talk about all the facets of it. It’s this great self-discovery process, and being able to have someone to talk to is very important. And many of those people who can help are trans themselves. So they’re able to see it differently than you or I can. Gender is three different spectrums. It’s gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex. So, figuring out where you are on those is a big deal. Don’t feel like you have to get stuck in one box and be comfortable with it, because there aren’t any boxes! Being able to figure that out and be comfortable with it is most important. It’s frustrating and amazing trying to find yourself, but you want to be able to have those thoughts and think it through and talk with someone before you have surgery, because it’s a big deal. And with talking to someone, you can sit down and say, “Okay, here’s the plan …”

You can learn more about the amazing Dr. Angela Sturm on her website.

About Adds New Editors, New Business

2018 Will Bring New Editors Into About Magazine, About Editions, The Magazine’s Publishing Company.

(HOUSTON) – In addition to its new trans-specific content page, About Magazine will be adding two new editors to its staff in 2018. The first of which is Jessica Olsen, who will serve as the assistant editor for About Magazine under editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez. The second of which will be Ian Townsley, who will serve as the associate editor for About’s trans-content page, About Trans. Additionally, Ramirez’s publishing company, Black Magic Media, will be absorbed by About Magazine in December. The new publishing company will be a branch of About Magazine, called About Editions.

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Olsen has worked with Ramirez at Black Magic Media as the editor of fiction. Her responsibilities will include content editing and generating creative ideas for new content. Though not LGBTQIA herself, Olsen is an avid supporter of LGBTQIA rights and an ally to the entire community.

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Townsley is an outspoken advocate for the trans community who hosts support groups at the Montrose Center and local churches around Houston. He is also a drag king who performs in and puts on numerous benefits to serve the trans community in obtaining gender-affirmative surgery. Additionally, he has taken on the endeavor of helping trans people legally change their gender status. Syder-Blake himself is an out trans man.

Though Black Magic Media was not strictly LGBTQIA content before (though many of its titles were written by queer writers), it will be after it’s first season of books. The first book, a collection of poetry by Short Story America prize winner Mathieu Cailler (May I Have This Dance?) will be released December 14th, 2017. The remaining books to be published throughout 2018 are How to Break My Neck (Jessica L. Walsh), Heart Radicals (Les Kay, Sandra Marchetti, Allie Marini, and Janeen Rastall), Lifelong Learning (Ezekiel Jarvis), the second edition of Ramirez’s novel Witches of the Deep SouthSpace Baby (Nicole Oquendo), Nesting (Kristen Figgins), Lady Leda’s Dancing Girls (Amber Edmondson), q & a (Steven and Ben Ostrowski), i was born dead (Caseyrenée Lopez), Maleficium (Witches of the Deep South #2 (Ramirez), Naomi and the Reckoning (Christine Stoddard), and Shotgun Mirage (David Rawson).

Mathieu Cailler’s May I Have This Dance can be pre-ordered here.

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Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Kiki the Genderfluid Non-Binary Child Gender

Moco & Maize Steinman of art duo Mandem give insight into raising a genderfluid child.

Raising children isn’t a task anyone is up to. They come into the world completely unpredictable. You can’t say if they’ll grow up to excel at math or at mischief. Their sexual orientations will begin to reveal themselves at unknown times. It’s impossible to know if they’ll be artists, or scientists, or humanitarians. What’s also impossible to predict is the gender – if any – they will identify with.

The latter was the case for young Kiki, the gender-fluid, sometimes non-binary child of parents Moco and Maize Steinman-Arendsee. Kiki prefers the pronouns they/them/their, and as an aside from being non-binary (not a defining factor of who they are), they are also extremely talented in art and linguistics. They are loving, kind, and possess the brains of well-attuned adult.

Kiki’s parents (and Kiki!) sat down with About Magazine to discuss what it’s been like raising a non-binary child, how it’s changed them, and the pride and humility their child brings to the both of them.

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About Magazine: Let’s start by hearing a little bit about your child, Kiki.

Moco & Maize: Kiki is a super-affectionate and clever child with a tendency to hyper-focus on research into their interest of the day (currently ant-keeping). They’re also bouncy, hyper, and resilient in the face of tragedy, though easily made sad by failure or rejection. At the end of this semester, they’ll have just turned 7-years-old and will be in third grade. They’re in public school via a virtual/online option, which allows them to work through things at their own rate and (more importantly) allows them to do math while jumping on the trampoline, wear pajamas all day, and take sanity breaks whenever needed. It’s a great system, and Kiki is doing well with it. They want us to add that they have multiple imaginary friends who are very important to them, and that they’re a very kind person.

Kiki’s pronouns are they/them/their. Kiki is, presumably, non-binary. Correct?

Yes, that is mostly correct. If you were splitting hairs, I think you’d say “non-binary spectrum” because they alternate between being a boy, or a girl, or both a boy and a girl, or agender. Under some classification schemes one might call this gender-fluid, but non-binary works.

Tell us a little bit about how that discussion came up between the two of you as parents, if you don’t mind.

We are asking Kiki all of these questions because we don’t want to speak for them, but when we asked “how did you realize you were both a boy and girl,” they express confusion because that’s just how it is. I think most six-year-olds when asked “when/how did you realize you were a <gender identity>” would be confused – it’s just how they are. And Kiki has been outwardly expressing this gender identity since before they can remember. So we’ll try to answer without them.

But to be honest, this is hard to answer – it didn’t come up between the parents, it developed naturally with getting to know Kiki. They brought it up. So you get a narrative.

We started with the awareness that we didn’t actually know their gender. We did originally use their “designated at birth” pronouns (which we’re not going to mention here), but with the psychological awareness that we were open to whatever gender identity they developed. We also were choosing mostly non-gendered clothes (to the best of our ability) and such early on because we wanted this to be something that could develop naturally.

Before they could talk, Kiki started developing a strong preference for clothes and toys that were coded for the “opposite” gender; and as soon as they could talk they started saying they were the “opposite” gender of their assigned-at-birth sex – and correcting people about that. So, we started using the pronoun “they” because we weren’t sure what gender was going to stick. Around 3 1/2-years-old, Kiki started going through a six month femme stage, and at the same time started identifying exclusively as a boy. At that point they’d explain to everyone “It’s okay, boys can wear dresses too,” and correcting us whenever we misspoke or referred to “boy clothes” or “girl clothes.” But they grew out of the “all femme all the time” stage when they were around 4 to 5-years-old, and then they verbally articulated that they were BOTH a boy and a girl, and sometimes neither a boy nor a girl, and that they just wanted to be able to change between them. Consistently since then, they have been fluid in their identity – mostly settling on “both a boy and a girl.”

You two also began using the they/them/their pronouns, and you mentioned to me previously that Kiki asked this of you. Can you tell us a little about how that conversation and decision went?

The entire family did transition to using they/them pronouns, though it’s not as simple as “Kiki asked us,” per se. We have both self-identified as “genderqueer” for over a decade (we were both gender nonconforming), but within the context of being in a queer relationship and not in the context of changing pronouns or thinking much about that aspect. When we were queer youth, the idea of changing one’s pronoun was a lot more niche than it is now (we are a bit older than most people think we are) and trying to survive (as disowned queer teenagers) was more on the forefront of our mind for a long time. And it also seemed to us before that being trans was a very binary thing, that there wasn’t space for someone to be “not a boy and not a girl.” But talking through with Kiki how they felt about gender helped both of us realize that this was also a more authentic way of thinking about our own lives as well. I suppose it helped that Kiki would frequently ask us our pronouns/genders (“Today I’m a girl. What are you today?”) and no one had ever asked either of us that in a safe environment before. (Plenty of, “So… are you a boy or a girl?” from street harassers, of course!) So just having a reason to interrogate that was amazingly healing.

I’ve met several parents, actually, that came out as trans or began to identify as trans after seeing that their children were gender nonconforming and thinking “that’s just like me as a kid” – and then realizing that they could love their children regardless of gender or binary presentation. A good parent with a trans kid can come to this line of thought: if I can love my genderqueer kid, then the problems I had as a child couldn’t have been my fault – it was a societal fault, or a parental fault, or whatever… and if my child should be proud of who they are, then how can I try to repress it in myself?

We’ve both had this experience along multiple vectors of abuse, while watching our child grow up. There are all these little moments that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love, such as “when my child breaks things and cries about it, I just want to cuddle their little heart and make them happy again…. how could my parents have hit me when I broke things?” And then you forgive yourself for having been a “bad child,” because you never were.   But that’s getting a bit off topic.

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Do you think that more parents should adopt the ‘they’ pronouns? And what are the more important aspects of it that you would stress?

Kiki feels strongly that parents should start with a gender-neutral pronoun – we’re all fans of “they” for that – and switch to he or she (or keep they) when the child becomes aware of their own gender identity. Kiki says it can negatively affect a child to be misgendered, and that if you call them he or she they might be mad that their parents have been using the wrong pronoun.

From a slightly more adult perspective, keeping in mind how slowly society changes and what challenges face a child, we would suggest a more moderated answer.

So, yes – more (all) parents of gender nonconforming children should ask their children if they would like gender-neutral pronouns and be willing to support that if the answer is yes. There is sometimes a rush to assign children to a binary gender – even with trans kids – and this shouldn’t be so parent-driven. Parents already say, “You were born with this genital configuration so we’re going to gender you thus,” and switching over to, “I see you have these gendered interests so we’re going to re-gender you this other way” isn’t the answer. Allowing kids to have the space to explore their gender while using non-gendered pronouns is a really good measure that takes into consideration the concerns regarding young transition while also acknowledging the reality that trans kids often know their authentic gender very young. And of course only a non-gendered pronoun is going to be an authentic fit for a child whose gender exploration is going to also end with a strongly non-binary identity. This needs to be youth-driven in that parents should ask and listen about their children’s authentic gender expression.

Kiki is probably right that it’s also true that more parents should start out saying, “We don’t know for sure what my child’s gender is,” and that starting with a gender-neutral pronoun and waiting to see what gender develops would be a brilliant. But in real life, this is a battle that may not be worth it in most cases. Using a non-binary pronoun means you have to defend the pronoun and face transphobia really early on, and there’s also this sense that then you’re putting a weight on a child to pick a gender ASAP because everyone is asking about it. For us, when Kiki was very little, it was easier to use a gendered pronoun until such time as they expressed a preference, even though in terms of clothes and toys we mostly gave them non-gender-stereotypical things. That said, I think what would be really glorious would be if parents could avoid aggressive gendering of children (i.e., buying them only toys marketed to one gender, adhering to gendered colors or styles, etc.), and then just check in occasionally to see if they have a preference on gendered terms and pronouns.

Did having a non-binary child change your opinions about things like gender-reveal parties, and learning the sex of a child before birth?

Learning the physical sex before birth can help parents prepare to take care of that particular configuration of physical body parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since parents need to be prepared for the fact that doctors are going to try to pressure parents into gential-altering surgery if the child is born with a penis or intersex genitals, and parents shouldn’t go uninformed into that situation. Knowing what physical parts the baby is going to have can be totally separate from assuming gender.

That said, to be honest we were never very comfortable with gender-reveal parties. I think people assume that a kid’s genitals are going to tell you a great deal about their personality and that’s just not a given… so there’s a sense that the kind of person who cares so much about the infant’s genitals isn’t going to be very able to let go of those preconceptions and be happy to allow the kid to develop into whoever they want to be. But maybe it’s just something neurotypical people do that we’ve never grokked. It wouldn’t be the first thing that seemed confusing.

When people asked us, “what do you want?” assuming we’d answer boy or girl, we used to respond, “A clever kid.” It threw people for a loop when we answered that way.

Also, a name-reveal party would be more fun.

How supportive have the reactions of other parents, teachers, and children been about the non-binary pronouns?

It’s a mixed bag. Concern about that is a small part of why we’re doing virtual school (though to be honest that has more to do with Kiki’s learning style).

Kiki says that the teachers at the Youth Club they attend have been very supportive but still don’t pick up on using “they.” However, they are not being bullied about it and that’s pretty cool.

Kids are often confused — they ask Kiki a lot of questions about “how does that even work, being a boy and a girl?” and Kiki tells them “I just am.”

When we use “they” casually in conversation, we get a lot of “wait, there’s more than one?” and then people trying to explain grammar to us, which is frustrating. Of course we’re prepared with the entire linguistic history of singular they, but even people who have within minutes used the singular they without realizing (as in, “I don’t know who left these keys but I’m sure they’ll come back for them,” or even “Are they a boy or a girl?”) then act confused when we used the singular-they to refer to Kiki! Despite common usage, people seem reluctant to use it for people who self-identify as such.

Online we get a lot of support — a lot of questions, a lot of people seeking to understand, and that’s really encouraging.

kiki-6-169x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Aside from the use of the they pronoun, you could do anything to adjust the school of thought on gender identity, what would that be? Either as parents or as people.

Kiki says everyone should use “they” for people they don’t know and only use he or she if they have confirmation that’s the right gender identity/pronoun. Kiki says they wish people would not use physical appearances to assume gender identity – like long hair vs. short hair.

And Kiki says they wish other parents would realize that they’re hurting their children by not letting them choose their gender. They said that if their parents didn’t respect their gender, “I would be sad and have to wait until I was an adult with my own house to get out of their presence! I would have to lie to my parents … but I would tell my friends in secret that I was nonbinary.”

We think this question is more complicated than it first appears, because in asking about “adjusting the school of thought,” the question assumes that there’s just one school. And there are people on every side of the aisle that do think that there’s just one school and everything else is wrong. But we’re more inclined to think that gender and gender identity are both societal constructs… that the reason we have gender nonconforming folx appearing all across society is that almost all of the schools of thought are attempting (metaphorically speaking) to draw a round, 3-D world on a square, 2-D map, and necessarily that means warping elements and flattening elements and also choosing an “up” and a “down” and a “center” in a way that reflects all kinds of biases and false assumptions. Making a 2D square map is an inherently biased process. Likewise any school of thought on gender is going to have biases based on the culture it comes from, the gender of the people making it, and all kinds of religious and social and class issues.

If there was one thing I wish people knew, it would be that their school of thought was a construction – a flat map of a round world, or a classical mechanics system that doesn’t explain quantum-level functions. It’s good enough to get around with, but it’s not going to be 100% true or accurate, and the more granular your resolution (e.g., the individual rather than the masses) the less it will hold up. Likewise the more binary the school of thought, the more stuff in the middle of the spectrum that gets erased. But binaries are easy, and the instinct is to fall back into them (“cis” and “trans” are also binaries in many ways).

People who are genderqueer or nonbinary or “other” may find that they don’t have the words to describe what they feel and are, until such time as the construction and the language evolves. That’s why some people will talk about being nonbinary as “a fad” right now, because just ten years ago the language and ideas weren’t popularized enough that people “in the middle” had words for their feelings. Nonbinary people always existed; they just didn’t always have the language to describe their lives. So…. be kind to those who are struggling now to find the words. Be kind to yourself if you’re looking for this language. And if there wasn’t room in your construction previously to allow for a space between “boys” and “girls,” then do your research and make sure you really think your construction works…. because binary divisions are almost nonexistent in nature. There’s always a gradation.


Moco & Maize are artists of several varieties, collaboratively making up the duo Mandem. You can visit their website here.