Jack Monroe On Life As A Non-Binary Transgender Parent To Their 6-Year-Old Son

'He’s been watching me gradually change his whole life.'

10/09/2016 10:46

For Jack Monroe coming out to your child as non-binary transgender is more simple than people think.

“My son knows that mum is like a girl sometimes and like a boy sometimes,” Monroe explains.

The 28-year-old chef and activist identifies outside the binary construct of gender and prefers the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ and title ‘Mx’.

When coming out to their six-year-old son, Johnny, Monroe used “age-appropriate language”.

“I mean, if kids can pretend to be unicorns and astronauts, it’s surely not beyond their remit that a girl can be a boy and a boy can be a girl.”

Jack Monroe
Jack Monroe in 2013

Monroe, who legally changed their name by deed poll to Jack in 2011, is a household name with a popular blog and a string of cook books under their belt. According to a recent profile in The Guardian, Monroe is the first public figure to come out as non-binary.

Although Monroe came out publicly in October last year - via a tweet that simply read: “Yes I am transgender” - they had told close friends and family beforehand, with some having known for years.

“It took me five or six years before I could come up with an answer [to who I was] with a degree of confidence,” they reveal. “I was very cautious as to who I confided in, I didn’t want to be swayed.”

Last year, Monroe was diagnosed as transgender at a gender clinic. “Not everyone is or feels they need to, but I wanted to be formally diagnosed,” they say.

They started taking testosterone and now reports feeling “much happier and more balanced” than before. 

“Essentially I had an imbalance, so taking testosterone on a regular basis has balanced me out,” they explain. “I’m not saying take testosterone as an anti-depressant - as it is a hormone and interacts with your own chemical make-up and everyone is different - but for me, it is definitely the solution.”

This is about who I go to bed as, not who I go to bed with.”

Monroe has developed a thick skin over the years and can be fiery and self-assured, but there is still an air of vulnerability, characterised by awkward giggling and self-depreciation. 

When they came out to friends and family, the vast majority were supportive, encouraging Monroe to be themselves. But others, some extended family and (now-former) friends, were ignorant or rejected the decision.

A handful of older family members confuse gender identity with sexuality, but as Monroe puts it: “This is about who I go to bed as not who I go to bed with.

Others continue to use Monroe’s birth name, despite being regularly corrected.

“Guys, I have facial hair now, it’s a little bit ridiculous that you’re giving me an overly feminine name that I haven’t used for six years,” Monroe exclaims.

“People say ‘oh I forgot!’ How can you forget? You have my books on your bookshelf, you record me on the TV, you brag about me as ‘Jack’ to your friends, and then you say ‘oh it’s a pen name’. It’s not my fucking pen name it’s my legal name - it’s on my passport, my bank statement, my HMRC, my tax return, my gas bill. It’s not a fun little quirk, it’s who I am.”

Monroe says that when people use their birth name in front of Johnny, he gets confused and asks questions, as he’s never known them to be called anything other than ‘Jack’. This enrages Monroe and, as a result, the pair avoid people who refuse to use the name ‘Jack’.

“Johnny’s relationship with me should be the most stable and secure thing in the world,” Monroe says. “We’ve moved house 18 times, he’s had a lot of upset and turmoil. The only thing constant in his life really is me.”

Monroe and Johnny live in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where they have just recently moved into a new house. Last year, the pair were living in West London, with Monroe’s then-fiancée, Allegra Mcevedy, the co-founder of Leon, and her daughter, but following the break-up Monroe and Johnny moved back to Essex. 

“No matter who else there’s been coming or going, we are solid,” Monroe says. 

“We get through everything me and Johnny. He comes into my bed in the mornings for cuddles and snuggle up. We cook together most days.” 

Jack Monroe
Jack Monroe and their son Johnny in 2015

After Monroe began taking hormones last year, they knew that there would be changes (albeit gradual) to their body and that they would need to speak to Johnny.

“He’s been watching me gradually change his whole life,” they explain. “I’ve always been masculine and a tomboy, so it’s not like what I was doing was going to be any drastically different from who he knew.”

Still, they made a decision to ‘come out’ to him, ensuring the information wasn’t “too extensive” and appropriate for a boy of his age.

“I’m not going into the ins and outs about how my genitals are going to change,” Monroe says, explaining that Johnny needs to know about changes that will impact his life directly: “He knows that my singing voice has changed, he knows I sleep a little bit longer in the morning because I’m more tired and that’s fine.”

Monroe says that Johnny has been very accepting, almost nonchalant about their transition. “If I say to him, I was born a girl and I want to be a boy, he says: ‘OK’. If I say, I was born a girl and I want to be an astronaut: ‘OK’. It’s really simple. He’s never had a problem with me falling in love with women, he’s never had a problem with any of that.”

Keen to foster an honest and open relationship, Monroe encourages Johnny to ask any questions he may have. They’d rather be the one to answer, than leave it for others to fill in the gaps.

A typical inquisitive six-year-old, sometimes Johnny’s questions are direct and blurted out in public. Laughing, Monroe recalls one time when he asked, loudly and in the middle of a busy supermarket: “Mumma, how can you be a boy when you’ve got such big boobies?”

This is what Monroe values in children: their innocence and directness. “Kids just are so honest and open, they learn to be unkind and to lie,” Monroe explains. “I just find them so wondrous, open and accepting.”

Monroe’s chilled-out open approach also extends to other children. When a friend’s daughter first met Monroe and called them a boy, no one corrected her. Still to this day the little girl switches between using “him” or “her” to address Monroe, but she’s given space to explore, wonder and ask questions. For Monroe, this is how it should be.

On the other hand, Monroe also has a need to protect their son against prejudice and transphobia, which Johnny has experienced on multiple occasions, both directly and indirectly.

Shortly after Monroe came out, Johnny got punched in the playground by an older child who said “Your mum’s a tranny”. Johnny returned home that evening and asked Monroe what a “tranny” was.

“That was quite difficult to deal with,” they explain, adding that they had no support from Johnny’s school (he has since moved to another school).

When asked how they deal with such situations, Monroe explains: “I just turn it back on the person who was out of order and say: ‘That was a really unkind word that people use for people who are like Mumma, who were born girls but are actually boys, or for people who were born boys but are actually girls. It’s a really rude word and I don’t want to hear you saying that.’”

Monroe is no stranger to criticism or trolling and this has intensified since they announced their transition. One major concern people have expressed over the past year is that Monroe will influence others, particularly younger generations, to believe they are transgender.

At first, Monroe hesitates to use the word “transgender children” in the interview as it “brings thousands of feminists raining on my head”. But then, opting to put themselves in the firing line to raise awareness for others, they decide they’d rather include the term.

“We know there are transgender children and they are valid and legitimate. It is such a bone of contention. People think there are nasty trans people kidnapping children and chopping off their genitals,” Monroe explains. 

Monroe, who has always been masculine and came out as a lesbian at 15, says they are accused of “telling all butch lesbian women that they’re transgender”.

I’ve always taken a stance that I only speak for myself,” Monroe says.

They are often sent letters and emails from people questioning their gender and looking to Monroe for answers. But Monroe says it would be “irresponsible” to advise anyone about their gender identity, instead they pass on helpful resources and explain it is a question only the individual can answer and that it might take them years to find their truth. 

Monroe explains that they first started questioning gender “from a very young age”, adopting the nickname Adam and cutting their hair short. Monroe has worn a chest binder for years and is considering a breast reduction. 

Despite the criticism surrounding their public transition, Monroe is optimistic about the changing attitudes towards the transgender community. 

“It was only a couple of years ago, ‘My Transsexual Summer’ came out on Channel 4. Now, that’s not even a term we use, we use the more respectful term transgender. ‘Transsexual’ implies it has something to do with sexuality, but sexuality and gender are different things,” they say.

Describing the programme as a “novelty” at the time, Monroe describes the programme as “pioneering” in paving the way for trans acceptance in the media. 

“The media shapes so much of what we do, rightly or wrongly... so I’m excited to see what the next year brings,” says Monroe, who recently co-founded the Diversity In Media Awards to celebrate the voices seldom heard in the media.

Looking ahead, does Monroe think we need a gender-neutral term for parents?

“It depends on the relationship you have with your child and how important a term of address is to you, as to whether you’re willing to shoehorn it into your relationship with your child, or if you think they’ll accept it. So it’s really on a case-by-case basis.

“We have gender-neutral titles now and gender-neutral options on Facebook, it’d be quite nice to have a mainstream non-gendered parent title.”

Monroe tells HuffPost UK about a friend, who is a non-binary trans campaigner and whose children call them MaPa. 

“I think it is quite nice. But you can’t force your children to call you something different if they’ve also known you as something else,” Monroe says.

Johnny has always called Monroe ‘Mumma’ and they feel no need or desire to change that. “I have always been Mumma, not Mummy. That’s never sat well with me,” they explain. “I saw myself as a Mumma, maybe I have delusions of being younger and hotter than I am.”

Having spent time with half-siblings and Monroe’s former partners’ children, Johnny sometimes calls Monroe ‘Jack’ or ‘Mumma Jack’, as the other children do.

But for Monroe, ‘Jack’ and ‘Mumma’ and ‘Mumma Jack’ are perfectly interchangeable. 

In summary, the fight to be called Jack isn’t just about what names one uses, it’s about respecting and understanding an individual’s true identity. 

And if it’s simple enough for a six-year-old to understand...


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