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Parenting Beyond The Gender Binary

A stick-figure cartoon of a mother and her daughter.
Courtesy of Marlo Mack
A cartoon representation of Marlo Mack and her daughter, M.

In light of the ongoing national discussion around the health of trans kids, we wanted to revisit our conversation with parents raising gender-expansive kids from last summer.

It’s one of the first things people wonder about a pregnancy, even when the child is still just a blob-shaped being in utero.

Is your baby a boy or a girl?

But assigned gender at birth doesn’t always reflect a child’s identity as they grow older. Gender binaries can pose challenges for kids exploring who they are — and for parents figuring out how to best support kids who come out as transgender or nonbinary.

Host Anita Rao talks with Harrison Casey Garcia, a member of the Youth Leadership Team of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and his dad Vince about how their family supported Harrison Casey’s coming out. And two moms with children who came out as transgender at an early age talk about their parenting experiences. Marlo Mack is the host of the podcast “How To Be A Girl” and the author of a memoir by the same name planned for release in October. And DeShanna Neal is an activist and founder of the Intersections of Pride Foundation.

Resources for Parents:

Support groups and organizations for kids and families in NC:
Transforming Families NC
LGBT Center of Raleigh
Youth Outright

Gender Spectrum
Inside Out 180

Book: "It Feels Good to be Yourself" by Theresa Thorn
"My Rainbow" by DeShanna and Trinity Neal

Thank you to Megan in Raleigh for help in compiling this list!

Interview Highlights

Vince Garcia on what concepts he has un-learned about gender as a parent:

Harrison Casey Garcia with his dad, Vince
Harrison Casey Garcia
Harrison Casey Garcia with his dad, Vince

The biggest one is this idea that — male or female — people have to be a certain way. I remember being at one of the [support] groups, when we were still doing them live before COVID, and one of the kids was talking about, you know, that he wants to spend more time around his uncles, because his father was not very present. And he wanted to spend more time around his uncle so he can learn how to walk like a man. And that kind of got me thinking, because Casey had asked the same things like: I need to dress like a man. And I'm like: Well, you're a man. So however you dress is how a man dresses.

Harrison Casey Garcia on his advice for parents supporting gender-expansive kids:

Honestly, it's not going to be easy. I'll say that flat out. I wish I could tell you there was a way that you could just do it and be good at it, but there is no way. Honestly, just listening to them. Hearing what they need is the most important thing ever. And simply just using their preferred name and pronouns — that goes a longer way than you ever think it will. Just hearing what they need ... that could even be: I need to figure myself out and I'm not ready to have these conversations. Supporting them in that way is going to be the most important thing ever.

Marlo Mack on her journey to affirming her daughter’s identity:

I pushed back for a year. I just tried everything that I could think of to help my child find a path to manhood. I thought: That's my job here. So I said: Look, you can be the girliest boy on the planet. You can wear every princess dress that exists. But you're a boy because you have this anatomy. This is just how it is. ... But there was something so deep and profound and innate about her identity about who she was. And so eventually, I found out that there were kids like mine who had transitioned and they were doing well. And I found a support group. And I sat her down one day and said: Okay, honey, do you still want to be a girl? And she said: No, Mama, I still am a girl. And so from that moment on, we haven't looked back.

Trinity Neal and her mom, DeShanna
DeShanna Neal
Trinity Neal and her mom, DeShanna

DeShanna Neal on talking to her daughter about her safety as a Black, transgender woman:

I actually never told her she was transgender. She didn't know until she was about 10 or 11. For me, she was my daughter, and she was a girl. I guess I just intuitively did that for her safety. But, of course, she knows she's transgender now. And she understands the statistics. People we have been connected with and close to have been some of those Black trans women who have been taken too soon. ... And it's very difficult. As for the conversations for my family, I have four children. And as a Black parent, we have that conversation starting very early. You know, this is how society might see you, and this is what could happen. So you need to take steps to keep yourself alive and safe and come home to me. So that's just a normal conversation I have to have with my children to begin with.

Please note: This conversation originally aired on June 11, 2021.

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Kaia Findlay is the lead producer of Embodied, WUNC's weekly podcast and radio show about sex, relationships and health. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.