Culture

How to Refer to Your Nonbinary Family Members


“Hey, Jennifer! It’s so good seeing you again. There’s someone I’d love you to meet. This is Slinky, my sister’s child.”

Jennifer smiles, clearly recalling our many chardonnay-filled nights, then proceeds to embrace you. It’s an ecstatic moment, made all the more memorable by — you guessed it — completely sidestepping there not being a great English word for our specific relationship.

This option won’t be for everyone or every situation, of course. But let’s be honest — “This is X, spawn of…” is sure to float some boats.

On a more serious note, this strategy can be additionally helpful when communicating with folks whose culture might have different naming practices. As López tells them., “I love it when people describe their relationship to me rather than introducing new language, because it feels accessible to my family members.”

Lean into a Gendered Term

Cissies, this one may strike you as a shocker, but it’s actually my favorite. Not all enbies are necessarily allergic to gendered terms. As a trans femme person, there are times when femme-coded language makes me feel seen. That’s why, personally speaking, I prefer to just be called niece when it comes up, rather than any of the other terms described here. And that, I must say, doesn’t make me any less nonbinary than those who prefer gender-neutral options.

As James Factora elaborates, “nonbinary people and others who wish to not be called by gendered terms contain so many multitudes, so you wouldn’t want to assume just because someone doesn’t identify with the gender binary that they’d be comfortable with a word like ‘nibling’ or ‘pibling.’”

They continue, “I’m nonbinary, but that doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable with masculinely gendered terms. People have this tendency to assume that if somebody is nonbinary that means they’re gender-neutral, which is the case for a lot of us, but isn’t universally true.”

Create Your Own

At the end of the day, language is fluid, which means if you’re not feeling any of the options provided here (or anywhere), you can try inventing something new. Of course, this sort of consideration doesn’t come without additional stakes and pressures, López points out.

“While new, non-gendered terminology is great for a lot of folks, for me, it also comes with a weight,” they share. “My family members have perceived new language in the past as something that associates my transess with whiteness, which makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable using terms like ‘nibling’ to refer to myself.”

As with any kind of address, comfort and context are key. The way that you, my enby friend, choose to be called ought to be up to you. And whichever decision you make is the right one.

“In a world where nonbinary/trans people could determine what we were called,” López concludes, “we would have the agency to tell our kin whatever we are most comfortable with and have them honor it.”

This may not sound like an earth-shattering revelation, though the heart of it — the right to self-determination — animates so much of what we trans folks strive to attain. Being referred to in an affirming manner these holidays won’t solve everything. Yet for many of us, it’ll constitute an important start.

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