I identify as non-binary, so I can’t be myself at home

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a student in my 20s, and I’m seeking advice on how to interact with my family. I live with my mother and father. My older brother moved out four years ago after starting a job.

My father has difficulty with interpersonal relationships, yelling and using violence in bad situations. This behavior has destroyed my mother mentally and physically, and has made me scared of him. Because of this, my mother and I grew closer, especially since my brother left home.

However, one day recently, my mother called me “insane” because I identify as non-binary, which means I don’t see myself as female or male. She later apologized, but I feel sad because I’ve been worrying about my gender identity for many years and I thought my mother would understand everything. Now I feel that I cannot be myself at home or in my family.

I’m thinking of leaving home when I get a job, but I worry about leaving my mother because of my father’s abuse. I feel responsible for protecting my mother. How should I interact with my family in the future?

— M, Chiba Prefecture

Dear M:

Growing up in a complicated family environment must have been very difficult for you. However, it seems you cannot be decisive about your relationship with your family, as you wrote that you cannot be yourself at home, but at the same time you are worried about your mother.

I am somewhat familiar with the circumstances of sexual minorities because I am a family sociologist. Our relationship with our parents is the closest human bond in our lives, and that very fact often makes it difficult for many members of sexual minorities to talk to their parents about their gender identity.

Undeniably, more and more people understand sexual minority issues. However, many parents still find it difficult to accept their children’s situation. In some cases, children have been disowned and never saw their parents again. In this case, your mother apologized for her comment. Objectively speaking, this is a wonderful thing.

Parents and their children have different personalities, even if they think they understand each other. Why don’t you take the latest incident as an opportunity for you to become mentally independent from your mother?

You can get your own place and, watching your family from the outside, once again support your mother. If possible, encourage your mother to contact counseling services for women provided by the local government.

— Masahiro Yamada, university professor