Respecting a fellow parent's unique lived experiences and identity is the bare minimum, but it's OK to have questions.
As LGBTQ+ Americans of all ages continue to fight for equal rights, freedom, and safety, they face discrimination at every turn just for being who they are. Respecting someone’s identity should be the absolute bare minimum, but for people in marginalized communities, being seen, heard, and accepted for who they are can feel like an unfortunate rarity.
If you’re hoping to treat the trans, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming parents in your life with the respect and kindness they deserve, you might be wondering what, exactly, to call them. Thankfully, it’s a pretty straightforward answer with a pretty simple solution, as Rebecca Cariati, L.Ac., LGBTQ+ Health Specialist at Spectrum Chinese Medicine, tells Scary Mommy.
Cariati, a non-binary parent, sums it up pretty succinctly. “There are no rules when it comes to parent titles for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming parents.” Within their community and with their clients, they add, “I've seen everything from ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ to sweet nicknames that are a play on the parent's first name to words in that parent's culture for a loved one,” such as “Baba” or “Renny.”
How To Broach The Conversation Respectfully
And while you might be apprehensive about someone’s preferred identifiers, Cariati emphasizes that the best course of action is simply to ask — and don’t make assumptions. “Just like you ask someone their name when you meet them, ask them how their kid refers to them,” they note. “Calling a non-binary or trans parent ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ is only OK if that's what they've told you they use. It's not any different than the norms around asking someone their pronouns before jumping in with your assumption.”
“In my practice, I always ask people, ‘What does your little one call you?’ which is usually preceded by, ‘My pronouns or they/them, what are yours?’ In a social situation you could say, ‘I'm [insert your parental name], what does your kiddo call you?’” Ultimately, Cariati reassures that it really is as simple as asking someone’s name when you meet them.
Just as each person’s lived experiences are unique, Cariati reiterates that there is no “typical” identifiers that trans or non-binary parents use, even if they transition or come out after they’ve become parents. “Two people can come out as trans or non-binary and their experiences couldn't be any more different,” they say. “You can come out as trans and keep your pronouns the same. You can come out as trans and keep your parental name the same, or not. There are no rules or norms. It's about what is a genuine expression for that particular trans or non-binary parent.”
Creating Tiny Teachable Moments and Open Dialogue with Kids
These introductions can also be teachable moments for your little ones, especially if they express curiosity about why someone might not go by “mom” or “dad.” Says Cariati: “The vast majority of kids are not as acculturated to binary gender guidelines as adults are. We put the gender binary overlay onto our kids, thinking pronouns, same sex couples, queer families, and ‘different’ parental names are a much bigger deal to explain than they actually are.”
“A simple, ‘Oh, that parent likes to be called ‘Baba,’ not ‘Dad’ will do. Most kids won't ask why, they'll just nod or say OK and carry-on with whatever they are doing,” they add, although the moment can spark a conversation that helps your kiddo make better sense of those around them. “If your kid does ask ‘why?’ you can reflect the question back to them, asking, ‘What do you think?’” says Cariati. “You'd be amazed by the wisdom from even the youngest minds. They'll likely say something like, ‘Cause they like that name better,’ which couldn't be more true!”
Hopefully, these conversations and practices will become so normalized that it will simply become the standard to respect someone’s pronouns and chosen parental identifiers. But until that time, it’s always worth a reminder that approaching any person with kindness and respect is of utmost importance.