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Recently, I had a conversation with a young lady merely 15 years my junior. She informed me that she identifies as genderqueer, nonconforming, and Hufflepuff Mother of Dragons. Half those words went over my head. Before rushing to condemn me as ignorant, let me explain.

Growing up in the early 90s, there were two genders that were dominant and widely acknowledged in society—male and female. At the time, I was moving on from elementary to middle school, walking through puberty, and denying my budding interest in men. Did I choose to ignore the gender spectrum? Not consciously. Instead, those around me never brought it up, so I continued to live in my bubble.

“Gender identity” and “gender spectrum” were terms that surfaced in the 1960s. That’s a lot of time—more than 50 years—before I had this conversation with my genderqueer friend. While it is difficult for me to grasp new concepts that challenge themes I was born and raised to know as the only way, I am not so closed-minded that I can’t be taught.

Related article: The Gender Discussion at The Dinah 

I asked her to explain herself and then proceeded to share with her what I just did with you. Thankfully, she graciously understood and was so very patient with me. She listened to my questions and explained her answers thoroughly, thus opening my eyes to the gender spectrum, something I knew existed but never really understood.

What I cherish about this experience is that we were both honest, and we were both open-minded enough to learn about the other in order to co-exist more peacefully. Being that out community (the LGBTQ community) is one that has been through a thing or two, we should be paving the way toward social peace and have each other’s backs.

That being said, I was extremely hesitant to even broach the topic with her after she made her identifying statement. As I write this, I’m nervous that I am not referring to her correctly, and that I will be chastised for confusing my words. Here’s the thing: I’m not being malicious or slanderous.

I simply don’t know enough. I have not been exposed to the gender spectrum for very long. In the bit of research I have done, there are a slew of identities out there. Should I be reprimanded for my small amount of knowledge? Or should I be understood, just like I am trying to better understand  people who grew up with these terms?

My genderqueer friend provided us with a fantastic example of how we can move forward in society. With grace and patience. But it also applies to people my age and older—we need to park our egos and not brush off this new(ish) way with frustration. Instead, take a breath, and admit you don’t know, and then listen. In the end, we may not see all the light, but we’ll see enough to build a bridge and strengthen our community so that we can better be there for each other.

Through patience, understanding, and dare I say friendliness, I think the frustration and confusion around the gender spectrum can become obsolete in this conversation. I had that conversation two years ago, and already, we’ve come a long way. So, let’s continue to make our rainbow shine. Be good to each other, and let’s light each other’s way.