Mothers and Daughters
First off, a disclaimer. The subject of this writing is neither a mother, or strictly speaking, a daughter. Still, since she was born a daughter, and she is my granddaughter, I think this fits in my exploration of family relationships between women. You can judge for yourself.
Nellie, I’ll call her Nellie, because I do want to protect her privacy, was born 19 years ago in Brighton, England. My husband and I rushed to greet her from our home in Michigan. She was perhaps a week old at the time, the first child of my husband’s son and his wife.
Fast forward to Nellie’s high school years. She was active in theater, singing in school musicals, and getting good grades. Several years ago I began to hear from my own daughter, who is gay, that Nellie was feeling not so much like a girl, but not so much like a boy either. I have come to understand that the proper term for this is non-binary. My daughter said that Nellie was sometimes calling herself Simon.
I am already aware in this paragraph four, that I am using improper terms for Nellie. Although I have not heard her use the pronouns they/them/their referring to themselves, I know that their father uses these terms. I want to respect who they are and to encourage them to continue to grow and declare themselves who they are most comfortable being.
Both my husband and I have been lazy in this regard. Some of this laziness is confusion and discomfort at the newness (to us) of multiple gender identities. The excuse I hear from some of my friends, and one I’ve used myself, is, “I’m too old to learn this.”
Nellie dropped out of freshman year in college after Christmas vacation this year. They tried to fit in and to make friends, according to Nellie’s dad. According to Nellie, making friends was going well until there was a disagreement within the group and Nellie stood up for one of them. The group turned on Nellie and that crushed them. They just couldn’t recover from the blow.
I’m cooking with Nellie once a week or so. Another relative has offered them a job two days a week. One of my own friends, a retired child social worker, suggested I NOT ask Nellie any questions about their school experience. If Nellie wanted to talk, they would talk. That talk has begun.
I think I have used my friend’s recommendation as a chicken’s way out. I’m uncomfortable asking Nellie questions about their identity. But how will I learn to know and respect them if I’m unwilling to understand their own feelings about who they are. I’m taking a deep breath this week and diving in.
BTW I have changed almost every pronoun in this short essay from she/her/hers to they/them/theirs as I have written this. It is no easy change. But it IS one I believe I have to make for Nellie and for all of those people who don’t fit into the neat boxes we’ve long assigned them.