I met Alec when he was 3 years old. I was coming over to babysit – I had met some of Alec’s parents (4 of the 7 of them) at a polyamory event. Seven parents, all over the gender and sexuality spectrum. Eleven children, ages five months through 12 years. Two big houses. Alec was the only kid in the living room when I knocked. He full on bounded toward the door.
“Hi I’m Alec are you the babysitter mommy said that we can go to the park if you want to and feed the ducks do you like legos?”
“Yep, hi, my name is Andy.” I said, kneeling down, “Let me talk to one of your parents first, ok?”
While I was saying this Alec was looking me up and down.
“Yeah ok, hey, Andy, do you use boy words or girl words, or the other words but I can’t really ‘amember them?”
I looked curiously at his mom, Amelia, who was busy tiding up the table.
“Oh,” she said, “he can’t remember the word pronouns.”
“Ah,” it clicked, “I use boy words. What about you?”
“I use boy words, too. Do you like legos?”
“Of course I do!”
In that 45 second exchange Alec showed me that he knew more about gender than most adults I’ve met in my 23 years on this planet. Alec was, of course, in a unique spot, having three parents who didn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. But his question, “do you use boy words or girl words or other words” (he/him/his, she/her/hers, some gender neutral option) was really a variant of the “are you a boy or a girl?” that I hear from half the kids I meet. He wanted to know what to call me. I later learned that the kids asked this question of almost any adult who walked into the house, regardless of their gender presentation. They had learned that momma’s friend, who may have long blonde hair and big boobs and be wearing a pink dress, might not use the pronouns she/her/hers. The older kids even occasionally asked a person they knew again if their appearance had changed drastically since they last saw them.
These were kids who Got It.
Sure, these kids grew up living with multiple transgender people in their house. Some had breastfed from somebody they referred to as “daddy” and they had no mental disconnect with that. But that same level of comfort with asking about gender can be explained to a kid who grows up the child of a heterosexual couple.
I have known Dorian since he was a baby, and intermittently lived at his house for 3-7 week stretches (I will never, ever know why his parents tolerate me). I came out as trans to his parents when he was under 2 years old (I believe his mom’s response was “no worries” and his dad’s was “it wasn’t exactly a shock” – point being these are cool folks). Dorian has pretty much always known me as Andy and heard people use he/him/his to refer to me. But the last time I was over, I guess sometime in April, he seemed to have no idea what I was. At one point he asked his mom and she said, “Honey, do you remember what Aunt Sarah said to do if you can’t tell if somebody’s a boy or a girl?” he didn’t respond. “You ask.”
You don’t guess or dance around the subject or hope somebody else clues you in or wait for another person to use a pronoun so you can use the same one. You ASK.
Sometimes when a kid asks I ask back, “well, what do you think?” sometimes, to save time or a pissed off parent, I just answer what I’m feeling that day (or, to be frank, what I think will piss off the parent less).
But my point is that kids get it. That this world is changing and that kids GET it. There are kids being raised to simply ask about gender if they are uncertain. Have you ever heard a person refrain from using a pronoun for an entire conversation instead of asking? It’s one of the most awkward things ever. Kids aren’t OK with that nonsense. They just ask.
And there are adults who get it, too. Adults who are OK with stopping mid-something and having conversations like this
“So Andy and I were talking and… Hey, I realize I don’t know, what are your preferred pronouns?”
“he, him, his”
“Thanks. And he said that he can house-sit on the 9th, so we can go do Tom and Carole’s wedding if you want.”
No OH MY GOD FREAK OUT, no evasion, no awkwardness, no Big Giant Deal. Just “Hey, I realize I never asked, what are your pronouns?”
If 3 year old Alec can get it, then you can, too.