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Parents of nonbinary autistic child say child asked to be called 'they' at 6: ‘How did you feel when you first realized that I was a boy-girl?’

 Massachusetts parents Shira and Ari have opened up on their child's announcement that the child is "non-binary."

Shira and Ari's autistic child, 9-year-old Hallel, was born a boy — but Hallel, according to his parents and WBUR-TV — made the announcement that he was both boy and girl at just six years old.

During one particular round of "pretend," Hallel said that younger sister Ya'ara wanted to play "parents."

Ya'ara, according to the outlet, wanted to be the mother, as she is a girl, and said that Hallel would be the father. Hallel immediately felt uncomfortable with this assignment, their parents said, and responded, "But that doesn't feel right, 'cause I'm a boy-girl."

Shira said that she took note of her child's proclamation and responded, "I was like, 'Well, we love you whoever you are, give me a hug.'"

Ari recalled that it felt like the beginning of a long journey.

"I don't know exactly what's going to happen next, but what I do know for sure is that this is happening," he admitted.

WBUR reported, "To clarify, Ari and Shira had known for some time that Hallel was not a traditional boy. If they bought action figures, Hallel preferred female characters. Hallel would watch fairy movies one day and draw dresses, then dress and act more like what they expected from a boy."

Ari and Shira said they never had an issue with their child's expressions of play, because they know that there's "lots of ways to be a boy and lots of ways to be a girl."

"Both parents had read about people who are transgender, but didn't know anyone who'd made the transition from male to female or female to male," WBUR's Martha Bebinger wrote. "Shira and Ari were not familiar with the term 'nonbinary,' which refers to people who don't see themselves as strictly male or female, or people who move between genders. Hallel's self-described status as a boy-girl seemed like it might resolve years of confusion."

A few months after Hallel stated feelings of being a "boy-girl," Shira took to Facebook and announced the news.

She wrote:

Here are some things I would like to throw into the Facebook stratosphere instead of telling anyone directly. ...My child who was born a boy tells me he is a boy/girl. This is okay most of the time because we are mostly happy and mostly secure and have wonderful supportive friends and family who don't see gender as a barrier. ... Sometimes I go places where people don't know our family and I get questions which come from a good place but they are hard to answer: '... What are you going to do when he hits puberty? Shouldn't you be telling him who he is instead of allowing him to figure it out?' ... The best advice we have gotten is to follow our child, and that is what we are doing. ... Not in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be struggling with these issues. ... Control over our children is an illusion and I'm glad I learned this lesson early. Still I am so happy with the family we are.

'I just feel like myself, and that's it'

Three years later, Hallel crawled into bed with Shira and Ari and asked, "How did you feel when you first realized that I was a boy-girl?"

Shira answered, "I was kind of scared because I just wanted you to have a normal life. I didn't want things to be super hard for you. Abba [a Hebrew name for daddy] and I knew for a very long time before you said anything that something was a little bit different about your gender. So we were not going to force you to fit in a certain box. But I think when we first found out, we were nervous because we want things to be easy for you."

Hallel told Shira and Ari that the child was unable to describe what, in particular, a "boy-girl" feels like.

"I just feel like myself, and that's it," Hallel told Shira and Ari. "I don't feel that differently from anybody else. ... There's nothing specific for boys or girls. I just feel like a girl, as well as a boy."

Shira and Ari said that they take Hallel to "special needs camps," spend a lot of time explaining "nonbinary" to the curious, and attend "nonbinary meetups" to further Hallel's comfort level with the announcement.

Shira told Bebinger, "I literally grew somebody who I thought was a boy in my body. I gave birth after three days of labor ... so if you think you're having trouble with my child's gender, imagine what it's like to have concerns day in and day out about whether this child is going to be OK when they grow up. When people raise objections, it really, really hurts and it makes me mad."

The family say they often struggle to maintain using "they" when referring to Hallel, but the 9-year-old has a suggestion: "Refer to me as a group of people."

Shira said she recalled asking her child, "Do you remember what grandma said to you, the way that she helps to remind herself? She thinks of God. She feels like God is very universal, and not a he or she, but more a they. And so she thinks of God when she refers to you."

Nonbinary in school and other places

Hallel said that children at school often tell Hallel that the child is in the wrong bathroom.

"On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I go into the boys' or men's bathroom," Hallel said. "On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, I go into the women's bathroom. And on Sunday, I just go to whatever bathroom's to my right."

Bebinger also said that the family is concerned about what will happen when the Jewish family is ready to prepare for Hallel's bar mitzvah and said that they are planning a "bart mitzvah," a combination of a boy's "bar mitzvah" and a girl's "bat mitzvah."

"What is that going to look like when the whole ritual is about affirming yourself as a Jewish male or a Jewish female?" Shira asked and pointed to concerns surrounding Hallel's puberty.

"We've started to talk with Hallel a little bit," Ari said. "Hallel very much understands that there are male bodies and female bodies, and on the basis of this conversation, Hallel says they feel comfortable with having a male body. So that's where we are right now."

Concerns

Despite the family's welcoming disposition toward their child's unconventional announcement, Shira said she is nervous.

"I am very worried about what Hallel's future will look like," she said. "My kid affirmed who they are, and ... I decided to accept them. But what's that going to look like when Hallel is 11, 12, 13 in adolescence? I hope it's gonna be wonderful. I don't know though."

Ari, who teaches at a local college, added that he believes Hallel will be OK.

“My students are very comfortable with the idea that people don't have just male and female genders, and I think that says a lot for our future," Ari said. “I'm personally very hopeful that Hallel will live in a world where they can be who they want to be."

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