I Consider Myself An Ally And Even I Was Taken Aback By A Family Member’s Coming Out Story

By Quentin Janes

Photo © Hanni/Twenty20

Nov 16, 2021

My daughter is an only child.

I have given myself a hard time about this fact, since she has so much love to give and so much energy.

But my daughter makes friends wherever she goes. She will welcome everyone with open arms and an open heart.

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Family Togetherness

My daughter and her cousins have always been extremely close.

It has been an absolutely fascinating thing for me to observe.

Every time she sees them, she comes back a little bit older and a little bit more savvy.

They are her older siblings as far as she is concerned. And all she wants to do is learn everything they know.

The only shame is that they live so far away.

A New Mindset

My daughter and her cousin Vex are almost inseparable when we visit, because they are very close in age and have very similar interests.

I am so happy and proud that my daughter has such wonderful people in her life.

Although when I met Vex, I was not introduced to them as such — no, not at all.

When I met my nibling (their preferred title replacing niece or nephew), I thought they were someone completely different. Of all things, I thought they were a boy. Turns out I just had no idea.

We were heading over for a pandemic Christmas when I got a call from my brother. He said, “Just so you know, your nibling might be wearing some strange clothes, maybe warn your daughter so she is not confused.”

"When we got there, Vex was in a gorgeous lavender plush sweater."

That didn't seem weird at all, because their entire family wears strange clothes pretty much as a rule.

I mentioned it to my daughter and she had no idea what I was talking about. She is a pretty stout tomboy, so wearing clothes not designated for her gender was not exactly pushing boundaries.

When we got there, Vex was in a gorgeous lavender plush sweater.

It was a true Canadian level of cold outside, and I'm not going to lie — I looked at the nearly perfect sweater and was a little envious.

The hang was not as eventful as we had been asked to prepare for. 

Family Identity

A few months later, my brother told me that Vex had determined they are non-binary.

I am no stranger to sexual or gender identity, but I can admit that I was shocked.

Not just at the news, but at my own initial shock. 

I had no idea where it was coming from.

Because you see, I consider myself an ally. I go to the gay pride parade every year I can, and my sister is a proud lesbian and a pillar in my daughter's life.

I have even worked in Toronto's 2SLGBTQ+ community for years.

Yet the surprise, if I'm being honest, remained.

Talking To My Daughter

I was a bit unsure of what to say. 

I looked at my daughter and my mind was blank.

I actually bungled the situation pretty bad, so much so that I asked Vex to explain what was going on to their cousin. 

"I know it's not a non-binary person's job to educate people, but in that moment I felt lost."

I passed the buck, but I did so with some purpose: I wanted to be around for the conversation, so that I could learn as much as my daughter would.

I know it's not a non-binary person's job to educate people, but in that moment I felt lost.

And I'm so grateful that Vex was happy to help. 

Getting To Know Vex

When we were all vaccinated we planned a get-together.

My daughter and I would finally get to better understand who Vex is.

Vex very calmly and clearly outlined how they feel and what they would like to see from us going forward.

And because my daughter is the most welcoming, open-hearted person you've ever met, it should come as no surprise that she didn't even blink.

It was clear that she had no hangups. She loves her family, and Vex is family. There would be love there no matter what. 

My Own Racing Mind

Despite all of the pleasantries, I could not shake my anxiety.

I was so worried for them.

You read so much about the struggles kids like Vex go through. I can offer all the security in the world at home, but what about the big, scary world out there? 

I was viewing their experience through my own childhood lens.

But Vex told us a story. In it, they were describing how they came out to their class. 

Again, I thought about what it was like for me in Grade 5. My teacher at the time would later lose her teaching position after sharing some anti-abortion rhetoric, rooted in her religion. She was in a screaming match with a 14-year-old who was fighting for a woman's right to choose. 

In those days, I wondered, would that teacher have gone to lengths to convince Vex that what they were going through was just a phase? Would she have staged an exorcism? 

But as Vex continued with their story, it was clear to me that a great deal of courage was had to be brave enough to come out so publicly. They described how their classroom helper identified as non-binary, and how their teacher explained what that meant. And in a moment of courage, Vex took the opportunity to raise their hand and say: 

"That's me, too."  

A Brave New World

I don't think anyone would argue that our world is perfect.

There are divisions for almost everything, including how people view gender identity. That's still very much an ongoing issue. 

But hearing this story gave me some relief. 

"I don't think anyone would argue that our world is perfect."

It made me realize that we are further along than I thought. That a class of Grade 5 students could sit and accept a non-binary child, and not jump to bully them, seemed like great progress. 

Clearly much has changed in the 33 years since I was in Grade 5.

Hearing a story like this gave me a real sense of pride. To be a Canadian, to live where I live. 

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A New Attitude

The initial shock was very short-lived.

And the whole situation made me think about my own daughter.

Should she grow up and not fit prevailing sexual or gender norms, I have hope that she will be accepted by society anyway. Not all of society, but I have hope that she will find a place. A chosen family of her own.

Much like a fifth grade classrom, there will hopefully be more places that give time and space to people who may not identify with one gender or another. 

Moving forward, I don't know what the future will hold for my child. As parents, we can have our own hopes for our kids' futures, but really it's just a waiting game. They will grow into their fully realized selves in their own time. 

What I do know is that my family has experienced accpetance in this country, where there was worry that they may not. So I believe it will be a place where my daughter is free to be whomever she wants to be.

Because Vex can be who they really are and that fills me with hope.

For if our children's future is not brighter than our own, then I believe we have failed. 

Quentin Janes

Quentin Janes is a writer whose influences include Raymond Kurtzweil, Steven Pinker, Noam Chomsky, Niall Ferguson, Jeremy Rifkin and Martin Luther King Jr — among countless others. He is a putterer, a tinkerer and a fixer of broken things. From bad grades to bad dogs to toilets, kids or drywall, he says he can fix it all.



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