Non-Binary Child and Their Family Explain What Gender Means to Them | 22 Words

A non-binary child and their family have explained what gender means them to them while on a journey they "never envisioned"...

Now, the number of people identifying as non-binary has been rising steadily throughout the last few years.

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Historically, people - transgender people included - are either male or female.

But recently, some are insisting that they don't quite fit into the categories of "man" or "woman," or “male" or “female," and thus identify as "non-binary."

But what exactly does the term "non-binary" mean?

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Well, "non-binary" is the term used by people who don't identify as male nor female.

Just to break it down for you...

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The idea that there are only 2 genders is sometimes called a “gender binary," because binary means “having 2 parts." Therefore, people use “non-binary" to describe genders that don't fall into one of these 2 categories, male or female.

And that isn't all.

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On top of people identifying as "non-binary," some people have been claiming that "male" or "female" are not the only genders out there.

Despite our physical anatomy...

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They believe that there are over a hundred genders in which a person can identify.

The British broadcaster, BBC, came under fire for promoting such an "absurd" theory...

In 2019, the BBC told teachers who work with children aged between 9 and twelve that there are “100, if not more" gender identities.

While some praised their efforts of being inclusive...

Others were outraged by the concept and insisted that the claim of a hundred genders was actually disrespectful to trans people, and therefore, not inclusive.

Many are still set in the belief that there are only 2 genders.

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Stephanie Davies-Arai, the founder of Transgender Trend, which represents parents concerned about the surge in the diagnosis of children as transgender, said:

“This is made-up nonsense. People are free to identify as anything they like, but this does not change the reality that there are only 2 sexes."

No matter what people believe, there's no doubt that there's an increasing fluidity when it comes to some people's gender identity...

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And now, one child who identifies in such a way and their family have explained what gender means to them...

Meet 9-year-old Hallel, a non-binary child, who with the help of their mom, Shira, and dad, Ari, has been exploring what gender does and doesn't mean to their family.

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Sharing their story with WBUR, the family share their journey they "never envisioned."

The journey starts with a game of "pretend parents."

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One day, Hallel's little sister Ya'ara wanted to play "parents" and she decided that she would be the mommy while Hallel was the daddy.

Hallel protested her proposal but Ya'ara insisted that Hallel is a boy, and therefore must play daddy.

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And in response, Hallel said to their dad: "But that doesn't feel right. Cause I'm a boy-girl."

For a long time, Ari and Shira had known that Hallel was not what people may perceive as a "traditional" boy.

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When bought action figures, Hallel preferred to play with female characters.

One day, Hallel may watch fairy movies and draw dresses.

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And the next, they would act more like what they expected from a boy.

It was never a problem for parents Ari and Shira, but they did find it confusing.

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"There's lots of ways to be a boy and lots of ways to be a girl. But at the back of our mind it was confusing," Ari said.

When Hallel made the boy-girl announcement, Shira said the family finally had an explanation that made sense.

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And although they first wondered "is that an option?", Ari explains that "it felt really right" and now, three years later, "it still feels really right."

Despite how accepting the family has been, Hallel's identity has triggered worries.

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One night at bedtime, Hallel asked Shira: "How did you feel when you first realized that I was a boy-girl?"

"I was kind of scared because I just wanted you to have a normal life. I didn't want things to be super hard for you," she answers.

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"Abba and I knew for a very long time before you said anything that something was a little bit different about your gender. So we were not going to force you to fit in a certain box. But I think when we first found out, we were nervous because we want things to be easy for you."

And Shira also had a question for Hallel: "Can you tell me what it feels like to be a boy-girl?"

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"That's hard," Hallel responded.

"I just feel like myself, and that's it. I don't feel that different from anybody else."

Shira then asked: "So, what about you is a boy?"

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To which Hallel answered: "There's nothing specific for boys or girls. I just feel like a girl, as well as a boy."

And when Shira tried the conversation a few days later, Hallel simply responded that it is "too complicated."

After announcing Hallel's gender revelation, they sought community support, something that has been hard due to Hallel being on the autism spectrum.

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"It's very confounding. And hard to find a community where Hallel feels at home," Shira explained.

The family takes Hallel to special needs camps where they spend a lot of time explaining nonbinary.

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They have also attended nonbinary meet-ups before but find they have to leave because the noise and commotion is too much for Hallel.

Hallel now goes by the pronoun "they" after asking Shira and Ari to stop using "he."

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And while Shira and Ari have now changed their language, there are people like Ya'ara, Hallel's grandparents, and some friends and teachers who struggled to do so.

And Ari, who studies linguistics, knows why...

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Explaining to Hallel, Ari says: "We say 'he' or 'she' or 'they' or "it" in almost every single sentence. So we have a lot of practice using a pronoun in one way, kind of like walking. Imagine if you had to walk in a new way, it would probably take some time, right?"

But Hallel has a suggestion for those who struggle...

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"Refer to me as a group of people," they said.

Now, when it comes to clothes, Hallel likes colorful ones, be that dresses or clothes that might be seen as boyish.

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Ari estimates Hallel wears dresses about a third of the time, clothes that might be seen as boyish about a third of the time, and clothes that don't read as either gender for the remainder.

"When people first see me they think I'm a girl," Hallel explains.

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Sometimes, they will correct people, but not always as Hallel explains: "I don't blame them. It's new. The first time, I'll let it slide."

The first time Ari dropped Hallel at school while they were wearing a dress was difficult, but that soon changed.

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"They have taken such pride in who they are and in telling people," Ari said.

"And Hallel's friends have completely embraced Hallel. I'm very grateful to their families for not pulling them back because this is something new or different."

But of course, despite Hallel's friends embracing them, not every child at school has.

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And one time this can become an issue is when they're using the bathroom.

Hallel estimates they've been told "about 50 times," they're in the wrong bathroom but that doesn't stop their system for deciding which bathroom to use.

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"On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I go into the boys' or men's bathroom. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, I go into the women's bathroom. And on Sunday, I just go to whatever bathroom's to my right," Hallel said.

But while Hallel can use the bathroom of their choice in Massachusetts, after the family campaigned for Hallel's right to use a bathroom aligned with their gender identity...

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Laws vary in each state meaning sometimes Hallel's parents have to intervene.

And legal concerns are not the family's only worries either.

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Following their Jewish faith, Hallel will shortly begin preparing for a coming-of-age ceremony, using Hebrew, a language that doesn't have a gender-neutral pronoun.

And of course, as Hallel gets older they will approach puberty and changes will begin to happen.

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Ari and Shira have spoke with Hallel who "understands that there are male bodies and female bodies, and on the basis of this conversation Hallel says they feel comfortable with having a male body."

The family are receiving help for Hallel through a program at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters for LGBTQ+ youth and Shira looks forward to receiving guidance from someone who can help her understand life as a nonbinary teenager and adult.

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"I am very worried about what Hallel's future will look like. My kid affirmed who they are, and ... I decided to accept them. But what's that going to look like when Hallel is 11, 12, 13, in adolescence? I hope it's gonna be wonderful. I don't know, though," she said.

While Ari adds: "My students are very comfortable with the idea that people don't have just male and female genders, and I think that says a lot for our future. I'm personally very hopeful that Hallel will live in a world where they can be who they want to be."

Hallel currently has lots of project underway, but for now they don't worry about the future. Simplying stating: "I'll know it when I live it. I don't really want to think about that stuff because now is now."