When Jay Jackson was asked “are you a boy or a girl?” by a child, they did not expect the parent to step in with a perfect explanation about what it means to identify as non-binary.
“At work a kid asked me if I was a boy or a girl so I said ‘neither’ and their parent explained that some people are ‘he’, some are ‘she’ and others are ‘they’,” barista Jackson tweeted.
“The kid replied that they had never thought of that, and the parent said they could think about it more together later.”
Jackson added: “Parenting done right, I welled up, my coworkers were emotional, it was everything.”
The tweets about the interaction have been liked and shared thousands of times, and Jackson said it was touching because it’s not the reaction they have come to expect from telling people they are non-binary.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Jackson, who works in Brighton and is also an artist, said: “Usually I don’t even hear that question asked politely, it’s usually shouted or jeered at me in supermarkets on the street.”
Jackson said colleagues were really happy such a positive experience happened at work, as this is not a regular occurrence with customers.
“I regularly come out as non-binary to people and am met by blank faces or strange looks, so to casually mention it like that expecting a bit of confusion or awkwardness and have it met by a really considered answer was touching,” they said.
“It says something lovely about the way that person is going about their family life to be so open to talking with a young child about what is a complex topic to a lot of adults.”
For parents who may not know how to address questions from children about gender identity, Jackson said this was a “really perfect” example. “The adult spoke enough to let the child know what they immediately needed to know to understand my reply, and kept it really open for future discussion and thought.”
This lets children know it’s okay to be curious and ask questions, but doesn’t force a stranger to be used in the learning process, Jackson said.
“Just realising that kids can understand these concepts and that they are not born inherently against them is important,” they added.
“A lot of parents have been replying to my tweet saying that kids shouldn’t be ‘exposed’ to transgender identity but that secrecy is just harmful to kids that are transgender or gender non-conforming.”
But Jackson has had a lot of positive reactions to the tweet, too, including a number of people donating to the fundraiser they have set up with their partner Reuben Lisgarten for fertility treatment to be able to have their own baby.
Some parents may have children who are exploring their own gender identity. Jackson said in these instances, the best thing parents can do is to not make children feel they should conform or change. Instead, parents should make sure children know they can talk openly. “Don’t tell them it’s a phase - whatever,” Jackson added.
“If your kid is struggling with bullying or society’s reactions to their identity, the problem is with the bully.”
Researching different gender identities and expressions can be helpful for children to find a term that helps them feel comfortable, Jackson added. And reaching out to organisations that support parents of trans and gender non-conforming children, like Mermaids, is also helpful.