Marsha Warren and Becka Morgan are proud parents of transgender and gender nonconforming teenagers in Oregon. Each came to understand and affirm their child’s gender identity through their very personal journeys, which continue to evolve and grow to this day. Today, both are fierce advocates for creating a world that is accepting and affirming of their kids.

In January, Marsha and Becka testified in Dallas, Oregon to support the Dallas School Board’s efforts to create a safe and affirming learning environment for Elliot Yoder and other LGBTQ teens. Both will be speaking with their kids at our educational panel on transgender advocacy this Sunday, March 6th in Dallas. The following is an interview with these tenacious moms.

Tell us about your kids.

Marsha: Our children are just your average teenagers—they’re kind, funny, silly, gentle, and strong individuals, but others can sometimes have a hard time seeing beyond their gender identities. We understand the confusion that may arise; there’s very little information out there about what it means to have a gender identity that falls outside of the norm, and it can frankly be a scary experience to go through as a parent.

Becka: That said, we are parents and like every parent, we are protective of our kids. We need to build a world that is more accepting and supportive of our transgender and gender non-conforming kids.

When did you know that your child was transgender?

Marsha: I knew from the time he was five that Jay’s gender did not align with his body. He was depressed for several years because he knew he wasn’t in alignment. When he started 7th grade, he began identifying as a boy, and I immediately saw a transformation in his disposition. He became a completely different person—happy, healthy, and well adjusted. Now Jay is identifying as gender fluid, meaning that he sometimes feels feminine and sometimes feels masculine. He also wants a more gender neutral name to fit this identity.

Becka: My child identifies as transgender, but specifically as non-binary. Kira came out to me just last summer. Admittedly, I was confused at first, since I didn’t understand what it meant to be non-binary. I did some research though, and continually work to create a supportive environment for Kira. Since I started affirming Kira’s identity and using the pronouns that they ask me to use with them, I have seen Kira be less depressed, and more confident in themself and their body.

What is non-binary?

Marsha: Non-binary means that a person doesn’t identify as either male or female, but somewhere in between. In Jay’s case, his gender identity flows back and forth between these end points.

Becka: Think of it this way: when I was growing up, we talked about tomboys. Tomboys were girls that didn’t have “girly girl” interests, but weren’t boys. This generation understands gender as falling along a spectrum, and has the language to match. Kira is equal parts feminine and masculine. Because they do not identify as one or the other exclusively, they are non-binary. They are to be referred to using the gender neutral pronouns they/them/theirs.

But isn’t using “they” grammatically incorrect?

Becka: We already use they as a gender neutral pronoun. For example, if I have lunch with my friend Pat, and you want to know what their job is but are unsure of whether they are a man or woman, you would ask me “What do they do?”

Marsha: There are also other gender neutral pronouns to choose from— it really depends on the individual’s preference. Like gender, pronouns are a very personal thing.

Why is it important to affirm people’s gender identities?

Marsha: More than 40 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming Oregonians will attempt suicide in their lifetimes because of lack of acceptance and discrimination. As you can imagine, this is a very scary statistic for a parent to learn. By creating an understanding and emotionally safe environment for Jay to come to terms with his gender identity, I am making sure that my child has the support to keep him from becoming another statistic.

Becka: It makes them feel comfortable, and it doesn’t hurt anyone else. It’s worth it to make sure that my child feels comfortable, accepted, and loved.

Have your kids experienced gender dysphoria?

Marsha: Being transgender and gender non-conforming often comes with a degree of gender dysphoria. Dysphoria is a deeply harmful distress that happens when you feel that your body does not align with your understanding of your gender, and when your understanding of your gender is not recognized by the people around you. This is and was a source of Jay’s depression and it has been very important that we recognize and address it. At this time, Jay is deciding whether or not he wants to transition from a biologically female body to a male body.

Becka: Definitely. Kira also has some dysphoria around their body, and they have become much happier and much more confident in their own body ever since they have started using a chest binder. I also want to add that even though each person’s relationship to their gender is a deeply personal experience, it’s disrespectful to not address a person by the correct pronouns (known as misgendering). You can observe the discomfort that comes from being misgendered even in small children—a little girl that gets called “he” often feels hurt. The same is true for adults—it’s hurtful, and sometimes even harmful.

Earlier, you mentioned gender expression and gender identity. How do you explain the difference to people in your life?

Marsha: Gender identity is a person’s personal understanding of their own gender. Since it’s internally held, it can be invisible to others. Gender expression is the way a person expresses their understanding of their gender, and the way they make their gender visible to those around them. We all express our gender identities; think about the kinds of clothes you feel comfortable wearing.

Becka: I want to add that sexual orientation is independent of gender expression and gender identity. Think of sexual orientation as who you love. Gender identity as who you know you are inside. There are people who identify as men who are attracted to men, and there are men who are attracted to women, and men who are attracted to people who fall outside the binary. People just are who they are! It’s not a choice.

So how do your children navigate bathrooms?

Marsha: Jay has been using the boy’s bathroom and locker room for the last two years at school. As he is coming to the realization that he is gender fluid, we have talked about which bathroom he will use. For now, I have asked Jay to use whichever bathroom feels the safest in the situation. Jay believes that gender neutral bathrooms for everyone would remove this question completely.

Becka: Kira uses gender neutral bathrooms when they’re available. If there’s no available gender neutral bathroom, they will not use a public bathroom unless it’s an emergency. It really depends on which bathroom feels the safest.

Any closing comments?

Becka: Our children are just expressing who they are. As parents, we stand strongly in support of our children’s right to be themselves. I have the words “infinite hope” tattooed on my arm, because I have infinite hope that our society will not harm my child physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually and because I hope they can live their life being true to themselves.

Marsha: I agree. Our children are on their own journeys in life, and all we can do is show them unconditional love and support, and advocate for others to treat them with respect and dignity.