Q&A by Judith Fein
Dear YourLifeIsATrip.com Reader,
About six months ago, I received an email from Erin Durrett that mentioned her non-binary child. I was intrigued because I knew nothing at all about what it means to be non-binary. I asked Erin if her child would be willing to answer questions, and, months later, the answer was yes.
In order to have a context for the Q&A, I asked Griff’s mom to introduce herself, and you will read her words below. The rest of this is straight Q&A with Griff, Erin’s child. Not one word has been edited, so you can hear everything directly from Griff without any mediation.
I learned a tremendous amount from Erin and Griff, and I trust you will also have your eyes opened. Please feel free to comment after reading what these brave, honest, articulate people have to say.
Judith Fein, Executive Editor, YourLifeisaTrip.com
Griff’s mom – Erin Durrett—her introduction
I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by Native American culture and this was where my heart went the moment I realized I was pregnant. Not knowing if it was a boy or girl, I decided to give them an Indian name that would leave us free of gender. So, before Griff was born, they were known as “Better Than Two Kittens”.
In some Native American cultures people who are homosexual, transgender or non-binary are referred to at “two-spirits,” and they hold a sacred role in those cultures. but it took me a while to realize that the nickname I had chosen for my child held a deeper truth than I realized at first.
After Griff was they born we called them Nell, because they were born with a female body, but they didn’t strike me as a very feminine person and I noticed that I felt more comfortable dressing them in a more masculine way – rompers rather than dresses. When Nell was 4 years old they asked, as all preschoolers do, “Mom am I a boy or a girl?” By this time I knew them well enough to say, “You are lucky - your energy is very evenly divided so you can be whatever you want”.
It’s only in the last year as they were 15years old and in 10th grade that Griff has decided to identify as masculine and start using masculine pronouns at school. Until then they had been more neutral and using the name Nell. It’s a big challenge for our family and friends to switch from automatically calling them Nell and using she/her pronouns to calling them Griff and using the neutral they/them pronouns – but over the next year I hope we will become comfortable with using their new name and pronouns consistently so that they feel fully supported in their choice.
The Questions for Griff:
When did you first realize you were non-binary?
It was an “always knew’ sort of thing. I would tend to play masculine characters as a
young kid and was always very androgynous – and still am. If people asked me I
would never give them a straight answer. It was okay to make people guess.
I found out the term ‘non-binary’ through social media. I always knew there were
people in media like that but then I realized that people did this in real life and it
was actually an option for me – and I was blown away. I slowly started identifying
more as non-binary and began more often using masculine pronouns. I use he/him
because it’s really hard for people over 40 to use they/them. I refer to myself as a
guy. I don’t necessarily like being labeled as a man or a boy – just doesn’t strike me
as true – because I really I am in the middle or even off the scale entirely. I really am
non-binary physically too, neither male nor female.
I already knew from a scientific biology point of view that there were animals who
could change sexes and people who were both through a dysfunction in
Meiosis - it is possible for people to be both male and female. Gender is really just a
social construct anyway, and I didn’t worry about it too much because my parents
didn’t put me in a box. The only time it was an issue was with grandparents or
parents of friends or other adults who really didn’t know me very well.
Whom did you talk to and what was their response?
I talked to my mom when I was four and asked if I was a boy or a girl and she said my energy was very evenly divided, so I wasn’t really either one and I just went with that.
How do you connect to others like you?
My boyfriend is gender fluid – he fluctuates between being a man, a woman and in
between, though he uses male pronouns and wants to possibly transition physically to male through hormone treatment.
I connected with friends through social media and lots of friends in and out of school who were figuring out where they were but who came out to me because they knew they could trust me, that I was queer and I would respect them.
Joys and pleasures.
Being NB is quite nice because it gives me a sense of being able to identify with my full self.
Bad because you are much more aware of when you’re negatively treated or misgendered, just as when you’re trans (which I am as well personally, thought all NB are not necessarily trans.. I feel it when people misgender me – even when they don’t notice.
My best friend still sometimes uses she/her pronouns because she has known me since kindergarten and for most of that time I identified as a girl. But her doing it doesn’t bother me as much because I know she knows me better than just about anyone and she’s not doing it to bug me.
The interesting thing is, as I’m non-binary and trans I wish to transition physically to a more androgynous state by having top surgery (removing breast tissue). Having top surgery would help me feel less dysphoria because I would feel like my physical self matches my self-concept better
Find a binary pronoun choice you feel a little more comfortable with out of the two, and use that, especially with older people. If you can use they/them or something else around your friends that’s great but a lot of people still don’t get it. They/them is treated as something new even though “they” is already used as a neutral term for a singular person of unknown gender and has been around ever since gender was invented.
An example of this would be like two people discussing a lost item’s owner whom they do not know: “do you think they’ll come back for the bike?” “Yeah, they forgot to chain it up, so I’m sure they’ll be back soon.” These characters aren’t familiar with the person who owns the bike, so they use a gender-neutral term since any gender can ride a bicycle. This is how “they” can be used in a gender neutral, but singular manner. Get stuck in a place where you have to use a word that defines the person's gender? Just use their name in its place, and no one will notice as long as you don’t do it constantly and use “they/them” as much as possible.
It helps me identify the way I do by thinking of myself as a character -- and what that person will be like years from now, like in a comic book or novel. When I looked at how my character would develop in the future and I realized that person didn’t have breasts and thought of themselves as “they” and “them” or as a more masculine person that really helped me feel reassured of where I was going and being secure and comfortable with that choice when I first started identifying with it. But don’t let that stay solid! Always look into it and don’t set just one future for yourself. Keep rewriting your own character until you get where you’re comfortable and try to maintain that.
If you feel unsafe or aren’t comfortable with your friends or family knowing, then the internet (though filled with negative opinions) can be a good place to reach out for people like us! It’s also nice because you’re in less danger of being hurt when you come out, and you can present however you like. If you have a Tumblr, feel free to reach out to me! You can find me at @CoffeeCommie or @Commiescribbles.