Sarah Hoffman: Keeping Up With Gender Fluid Children

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Gender fluidity in young people can pose unusual challenges for adults who want to support them. Sarah Hoffman has this Perspective.

My daughter’s friend Jenna was coming over. At least I thought it was Jenna.

My daughter is a high school sophomore. She’s got a solid group of friends, some of whose gender identities are in flux. Keeping up to date with them has been difficult in the pandemic. Except for the occasional socially distanced backyard visit, kids don’t come over. So I don’t get to match names to faces, chat a bit and learn a little something about them.

Take Jenna. Jenna started high school using he/him pronouns. Then she switched to she/her pronouns and changed her name to Charlotte. But “Charlotte” wasn’t a fit, so she chose Jenna. I’m comfortable with Jenna declaring her gender and pronouns. But could I trust my middle-aged brain to remember which name to use?

It’s not just Jenna. There’s Tristan, who’s nonbinary. There’s Kai, who uses xe/xem pronouns. And there’s Eleanor, who now identifies as non-binary and uses she/they pronouns, but kept their birth name. I sometimes have trouble keeping track of who’s who, and what to call them.

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You know who I have gotten to know really well during the pandemic? The characters of “Call the Midwife,” the BBC drama about childbirth and community. My favorite character is Shelagh. She was born Shelagh Mannion, then became a nun and changed her name to Sister Bernadette. She trained as a nurse, left the convent and became Nurse Mannion. She then married Dr. Turner, and became Shelagh Turner, or Nurse Turner.

I can remember all that, so why not my daughter’s friends’ names and pronouns? It helps that Shelagh isn’t wearing a mask, that I see her pretty often and that name changes like hers are culturally accepted. But when I think about it, I realize that TV’s fictional nun-turned-nurse-turned-wife changed her name for the same reason that my daughter’s friends did: love.

Shelagh changed her name for love of god, love of vocation, love of spouse. My daughter’s friends change their names and pronouns for love, too: we call it self-acceptance. Maybe realizing this will help me remember their names. An end to quarantine would help, too, so I can see them more often than I see Shelagh.

With a Perspective, I’m Sarah Hoffman.

Sarah Hoffman lives in San Francisco with her husband and their two children. Names in this Perspective have been changed to protect privacy.