What And Just Like That Gets Right About Parenting a Nonbinary Child, According to an Expert
You can find more information here Sex and the CityCharlotte, a 30-year-old woman who had dreamed of being a mother, was Charlotte. In the show’s sequel series, Just like that, she’s a middle-aged mother of two and facing parenting challenges she never quite expected. Charlotte’s main arc on the new show has centered on one of her kids, who comes out as nonbinary midway through the season.
The first episode hinted that Charlotte’s child Rock (who at the time was called Rose) was uncomfortable with certain gender roles when their mother insisted that they wear a dress. Rock adopted a new name in later episodes and requested that their teachers and friends use the they/them pronouns. Just like thatHas Received mixed reviewsSome viewers, however, have a different view. The series has been embracedIt tries to reflect real conversations on the gender spectrum between children and parents.
Gender Spectrum director Lilly Rivera is obsessed with every episode. She works to promote gender-sensitive, inclusive environments for children and teens. Rivera, who frequently works with parents of children who come out as nonbinary and guides them on how to support their child at school and at home, says that while Charlotte’s response has been far from perfect, it’s also common and the show’s portrayal of their relationship could be educational for parents across the country.
TIME interviewed Rivera to find out how Just like that handles Rock’s coming out as nonbinary, Charlotte’s reaction and what parents of nonbinary kids can learn from the series.
Learn More How to Break Down And Just Like That’s Big First Episode Twist
Are you a big fan of the original series or not?
No, I wasn’t an original fan. I watched a couple of episodes and felt like I couldn’t connect with their life. It was way too decadent and so distant from where I am that I was like, I’m not really interested in your lives or Manolo Blahniks. But now this series, I’ve been really engaged in, and I don’t think it’s a surprise. I think they’ve been really conscious about the diversity pieces they introduce. It can be slightly nauseating, it’s so over-the-top, but it does include more audiences.
Is it somewhat nauseating, you ask?
Like Che’s podcast is a bit much. No person in their lives talks like that, regardless how much they know about social-justice issues. The two of us connect together as people and have conversations about various topics. It feels so self-righteous. Although I enjoy the character, the podcast feels a little heavy.
In the original series, all the female characters were straight and white. Are you shocked that two of the characters in the sequel were nonbinary, Che (Sara Ramirez), Rock (Alexa Swigon)?
I’m totally shocked to have an adult who’s nonbinary on the show, an actor [Ramirez]The show features a nonbinary character playing the role and a child at a different developmental level. The Che character, I believe, is meant to push one of these characters and raise questions about what sexuality looks like for middle-aged females. I think that’s interesting, especially when thinking about Cynthia Nixon and her own journey.
Much has been made of the show’s heavy-handed attempts to update its themes. Sometimes watching the show it feels as if Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) were cryogenically frozen for 20 years and just emerged and were like, “Wow, the world has changed.” How realistic do you find their naïveté about issues surrounding gender in particular?
In my experience people in that age group living in a place like New York City will have specific questions about issues they’re curious about, but they won’t be totally oblivious to all of it. Particularly with last [presidential]Administration when there was a reckoning over racial injustice, we had an open discussion about trans rights issues. People had no choice but to have these conversations. I have found that women who live in Manhattan’s particular neighborhood would be extremely savvy and informed, and could even get involved in making changes.
This season’s major storyline has seen Charlotte struggle with Rock her nonbinary child. How do you feel about that story?
I think it’s a brilliant choice because young people are identifying at higher rates around nonbinary identities. Parents are often left in the dark. It’s sometimes easier for parents to navigate a child coming out as trans and as gender-specific trans, right? A person who is a male or female by birth, and now identifies himself as a boy. Parents think, “These are the things that we as parents have to do so that our child can live congruently.”
These things will be defined and defined by the nonbinary child. I think Rock’s story line is great and leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, which is where we need to move around gender—moving towards more ambiguity so people have more freedom to define who they are. I think it’s brilliant that they chose Charlotte because Charlotte is someone who needs to control her environment, and when your child is nonbinary, you can’t control any of it. You can’t control the environment.
Charlotte insists that her child wear a dress in the premiere episode. Charlotte’s inflexibility is hard to watch.
It was obvious that the dress didn’t fit with their child. They took the dress and customized it for their specific needs. But Charlotte’s response is really, really typical of how parents respond at first. They often respond with, “This is not a thing. This is not who you are.” And then there’s the struggle for acceptance. Charlotte is likely to choose a gay friend and feel secure. [Anthony]In particular to speak about Rock and deal with her emotions.
Rock informs friends, teachers and classmates at school that Rock prefers to be called Rose instead of Rock. They/them pronouns are used first before Rock tells their parents. How did that happen?
It was really well done that they were able to highlight that the child felt comfortable and disclosed at the school first—what their name is, what their pronouns are. The conflict really is not between the child and the teacher. Charlotte is the conflict, which is often how these conflicts play out in families. Charlotte has given Charlotte a lot of time to reflect on it and is comfortable with their peers having those conversations. They also support other children who are moving towards being themselves. The conflict really lies with the parent trying to keep their child out of that uncomfortable place.
What did the school do in this situation?
That would be considered protected information in New York City where the show is held. So the teachers couldn’t necessarily disclose that information to the parents. But what they could do is respect and honor the young person because we don’t want to create any challenges at home that could create conflict, that could involve Child Protective Services. However, we want parents to be invited to have a dialogue about the best ways to support their children.
It’s a common occurrence because children know who is going to be their ally, who is going to judge them and who is not. They’re able to assess that really quickly. It is important that parents are informed about what their children do. But it’s not uncommon that they’d come out at school first.
I don’t think all schools have the capacity to be able to navigate that conversation with the family, but where the show is set, at a private school on the Upper East Side, that’s typical.
During the conversation with Rock’s teachers, Charlotte and Harry assert that Rock is too young to know what they want. How would you respond to parents who have that first reaction to their child speaking out?
That’s a very typical response.
The first thing I’d say is that gender forms very early. We understand ourselves and who we are through our gendered lenses at the age of 3-4 years. We interact with the world using very gendered methods, regardless of how much we realize it. Even before the baby is out of utero, we’re having these conversations about gender. Like, we have gender-reveal parties in our society—they’re actually genital-reveal parties. This is what you would call gross. So children know very young that they’re entrenched in certain gender roles.
The second piece is, if it’s not actually who they are, what harm have you caused in believing your child? If a child changes their name, and one day they go back and say, “I’m no longer Rock. I’m Rose,” what harm was done by acknowledging that they wanted to be called Rock? You’ve actually created a trusting moment with your child because you said, “Yes, I believe you. You are my friend. Tell me more about this.”
Learn MoreBeyond He or she
Rock was also recommended by Charlotte to be nonbinary as another student at school had changed their pronouns. Is it possible to respond to friends who suggest that their kids change their pronouns?
There are lots of parents who think that it’s just because the peer group is doing this. It’s possible that is the case. But it’s part of the step towards an authentic identity for them and what that means for them.
I think when a parent says that they don’t take into consideration that the child also risks being rejected by their peers. Many young people are not able to embrace or accept differences or changes. And I don’t think any child would purposefully, even for the acceptance of a peer group, change their identity or who they are innately to fit in.
They can also have friends [who are changing their pronouns]Maybe [they’re friends with that child]Because both kids are dealing with the exact same problem. So instead of it being, “My peer group is changing their pronouns, so I have to do it to,” maybe it’s “I have found friends who are facing similar challenges.”
Are you a fan of this depiction of Rock and Charlotte? Do you believe it is helpful or good for parents who may one day have to navigate similar conversations with their children?
I think it’s totally helpful. I think Charlotte’s initial confusion and denial is normal. Then, she seeks support. I work with parents of nonbinary children all the time, and when parents are experiencing this, they’re usually experiencing it in isolation. Parents long to be able to talk to others who have had similar experiences to learn how they can navigate it. And I think parents blame themselves or feel really bad when they realize, “This is who my child is, and I shouldn’t initially have said no or rejected their identity.” But it’s a natural response.
It’s important for parents to have these conversations with their children because it may not be your child, but it could be one of their peers. And how kids respond to their peers could be positive or negative, so we want to make sure that there’s visibility of families struggling with this. And it’s timely because research is telling us that children understand gender in really complex ways. An increasing number of people are nonbinary, and this is happening at an ever younger age.
It would be great if they included an exchange between Rock and Charlotte about this. I get that parents are afraid to have these conversations, but I would encourage parents to go to their child and say, “Tell me about this. I don’t understand. I want to understand where you are and what this means for you.”