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Los Angeles mother and young adult author Jennifer Chen says she's "so proud" that her daughter has decided to announce that she is non-binary and prefers to use they/them/he pronouns.
The child, kindergarten-age Claire, now wants to be called "Clark" and asks those around to refer to her as Chen's "kid" or "son who is non-binary."
What are the details?
Chen shared the family's holiday card on Instagram in late November.
The card features Chen, her husband Brendan Hay, and their twins, Chloe and Clark.
"I'd like you all to meet Clark (formerly known as Claire)," Chen captioned the family photo. "Clark prefers they/them/he pronouns and would like to be known as my kid/my son who is non-binary. Clark asked us to tell our friends & family who they are now."
Chen added that she and her husband fully support their child, and their daughter Chloe is following suit.
"Chloe is the first to correct me when I accidentally use the wrong pronouns or name. As a family, we love Clark and support whatever their journey might hold," Chen continued. "For me, when we've honored their choices to cut their hair short or wear clothes that feel like them, the JOY & LIGHT on Clark's face is what lets me know that we are doing the right thing."
Chen, who closed comments on the Instagram post, cautioned critics to reach out to her in a less public venue — such as a private message — if they want to debate her parenting choices.
"I ask that if you disagree with our family's choice — that you tell me privately in a message — rather than put it in a public comment," she concluded the post. "Not everyone will understand our decision to respect Clark's choices, but we love Clark and that's all that matters."
'I was scared of what conservative family members ... would think'
In an editorial on Today, Chen said that Clark made the announcement after Chen read her children a book about gender identity.
"It was a November morning, and as I was about to share on social media, I paused and re-read my words for the 10th time: 'I’d like you all to meet Clark (formerly known as Claire). Clark prefers they/them/he pronouns and would like to be known as my kid/my son who is nonbinary. Clark asked us to tell our friends and family who they are now,'" Chen wrote. "My heart beat like a drum and my palms were pure sweat. Before this moment, I had only told a few trusted mom friends. My in-laws knew. But by sharing our new family holiday photo — my twins at a public garden in Pasadena — it would be clear that Claire was now Clark."
Despite reservations that some family members might not understand, Chen said that she was confident that sharing the post was the right thing to do.
"I took a deep breath and clicked, making my post live," she continued. "I was scared of what conservative family members on Facebook would think. I feared people would judge my parenting choices on Instagram. The online world is far more terrifying than my liberal Los Angeles neighborhood where Clark is one of several nonbinary children."
Chen said that she suspected her child was non-binary — or some variation thereupon — during the summer before kindergarten when Clark (then Claire) said that she didn't feel like herself in skirts and wanted to wear shorts instead.
"It was the moment I realized that how we reacted would forever be cemented in my child’s mind," Chen said. "I dug a pair of shorts out of the laundry hamper, did a sniff test, and handed them over. Clark’s tears dried. Their smile appeared. I knelt down to my sweet child. 'Do you want me to get rid of your skirts and dresses?' They nodded."
Chen recalled bringing the child what she believed to be an appropriate bedtime story: author Theresa Thorn's "It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity."
Chen added that Clark couldn't get enough of the subject matter, and so the doting mother visited a local library to borrow Jodie Patterson's "Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope."
"As I read it, Clark inched closer to the pictures of short-haired, tie-wearing Penelope," Chen recalled. "A bright smile took over their face. 'I feel the same way too!' Clark exclaimed."
'We said sure'
As the school start date loomed closer, Clark began asking for boys' clothing and short haircuts. Just two months into the school year, Clark — still going by the Claire moniker — told her parents that she wanted to be called "Clark" and no longer "Claire."
"We said, 'Sure. Let’s try it at home and see how you feel. If you want to change it permanently, you can,'" Chen explained. "Of course, it took Brendan and I several weeks to get the name change right. Chloe was the first to correct us if we got Clark’s name or pronouns wrong. Then, one day, Clark said they wanted to tell their teacher and class. Brendan and I had already communicated with their teacher about the name change. She was super supportive. The school principal emailed me a form to change Clark’s name in the school records."
Clark soon felt emboldened enough to reintroduce herself to the class as Clark — and no longer Claire.
"When we arrived at their after school program to tell the staff, one teacher said, 'Clark already told us,'" Chen recalled. "I was amazed to see that my kid’s name tags on the table and cubbies were already changed."
Clark said that she received many comments of support following the announcement.
"My children’s bravery to express themselves boldly and lead with love led me to see that my fear was misplaced," she concluded her editorial. "I was scared to share their authenticity, but when I hit post that day, I reflected on their joy. When we’ve honored their choices to cut their hair short or wear clothes that feel like them, the joy and light on Clark’s face is what lets me know that we are doing the right thing."
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