I was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the 1980s – Pre Olympics. As a child, diversity was divided into the children who were Mormon and the children who were not. My family is Mormon.
This post is not a dialogue on the LDS faith. I do not have those kinds of answers. All I know is that it was a place that I never belonged no matter how hard I tried.
The Morman culture is binary. Past the age of twelve, girls meet together, women meet together, and boys and men meet together. If you are male, you have certain expectations and responsibilities. If you are female, you have a different set. Gender is defined in the home and put on display. Women dress one way, men another.
I remember sitting in our church at a young age. The teacher had prepared a “fun” lesson that included baking cookies. I do not remember what the teacher said that made me feel so invalidated. I remember the emotional impact it had on me. It is the first memory I have of realizing that I was broken.
When I was a young teen, I remember sitting next to my mother at a church conference. There was a man on stage speaking about women’s roles. I remember the anger at this man defining what my life was supposed to be. I remember looking at all the women listening and realizing that I was nothing like them. I remember my mother dismissing my objections.
Except I had no idea who I was.
I knew I was born female.
I knew that others labeled me a Tom Boy – a term I despise to this day.
I wore my hair long, as was expected. I tucked it under a baseball cap, all except for one strand that hung down the side of my head. I wore flannel shirts, blue jeans, and a black jacket – every single day.
Are you a boy or a girl?
I would get asked by total strangers, over and over and over again. Sick of the question, I would scream at them, “I’m not a boy.”
It was the best answer I had.
“I knew I wasn’t a boy. I also knew that I was not very good at being a girl.”
Before I could find my own identity, I got pregnant.
At nineteen, my swollen belly defined my gender for everyone. We were taught since birth that caring for children was the role of a woman.
I love all my children, but I hated being pregnant. I felt like an alien being had taken over my body. It did not feel natural, but by that time, I already knew that I was broken.
I became a mother, and I created an identity. I decided I was a not feminine female. I could live with that because there was not anything else.
When my youngest was in kindergarten, I was getting my master’s degree in developmental psychology. I focused my studies on autism spectrum disorder. Two of my children and I had already been diagnosed a few years earlier.
I read an article saying that children on the autism spectrum often did not know their gender. It needed to be taught to them, so they did not become confused. I already knew that my youngest had no concept of their gender, so I went home and taught them their biological sex. Then I told them that it doesn’t matter because they could still play with cars, keep their hair short, and play until they wore out the knees in their pants. Even still, I felt wrong, and I never attempted to teach my child their gender again.
Unfortunately, society had other plans. I will not tell you their story because they would not like me to. Certain people blamed me for allowing my child to be not female. Even though my middle child was as feminine as possible, they thought I taught my youngest how to be masculine. What is worse is I do not even think they realized the harm they caused as they watched it unfold before them.
When my kid told me they were not a girl, my response was “finally.” I knew how hard of a struggle it had been, and it broke me watching them go through it.
Then my child gave me a word – Non-Binary. Then they asked to change their pronouns. Then I realized that my child had taught me the words I had never found.
For two years, I watched and helped my child transition.
Then I found myself losing a piece of me every time that someone called me female. Still, I held off.
“People will not understand if we both identity as non-binary,” I said.
“Who cares,” my child said.
A mother can have a daughter. A father can have a son. Who will accept that my child and I were both born non-binary? I finally realized that I did not care.
Hello, my name is MJ. Please call me They/Them.