Busy Philipps hasn’t totally gotten used to using her child’s they/them pronouns yet, but she’s getting there.
On a recent episode of her podcast Busy Philipps is Doing Her Best, the actress opened up about Birdie, the eldest of her two children, coming out as gay and non-binary.
Birdie, who gave their mom permission to talk about all of this this publicly, is 12 years old now. They were 10 when they first came out to Philipps and her husband, screenwriter Marc Silverstein. Recently, Birdie shared their pronouns.
“I’ve been doing a bad job with the pronouns,” Philipps admitted. In part, that’s because the actress, author and media personality shares a lot about her home life and kids on her social media accounts, but didn’t want to discuss Birdie’s identity without explicit permission.
“I have this public persona, and I want Birdie to be in control of their own narrative, and not have to answer to anybody outside of our friends and family, if they don’t want to,” Philipps explained. But when she asked Birdie whether they were comfortable with Philipps discussing this aspect of their life, she said, “Bird was like, ‘I don’t give a fuck. You can talk about that I’m gay and out; you can talk about my pronouns. That would be cool with me. That’s great.’”
“So, Birdie, my out kid, [uses] they/them. I fuck up sometimes, but I’m trying my best.”
One of the podcast’s co-hosts, writer Shantira Jackson, agreed that changing the pronouns you use to refer to someone can sometimes be a bumpy ride, but shared some of her tips.
“It’s like any other muscle, any other new language, any other new thing,” Jackson said. “You will get right at it, and it will become second nature.”
Practice makes perfect
To speed up that process, Jackson suggested practicing at home, by saying the person’s name out loud with their new pronoun, and using it in sentence to “try to connect that part of my brain with that pronoun”: Birdie talked to their parents, Birdie said they’re looking forward to next summer.
Jackson has friends who have changed pronouns recently, she said, and she knows she won’t see them in person for a long time. The goal is to have their pronouns down by the time she does hang out with them again. “I’m not gonna see you for a year, but when I see you, I’ll have worked on it,” she explained.
She’s also trying to use gendered pronouns less in general so as not to assume anyone’s gender identity. Replacing a pronoun with someone’s name is easy enough in conversation, she said. And she’ll try to say “y’all” or “folks” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “you guys.”
These are small things anyone can do, even if there isn’t a trans or non-binary person in their life right now, Jackson said. Many people don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; preparing yourself to be supportive if someone in your life lets you know their pronouns are changing can be an act of allyship.
Philipps called that observation of Jackson’s “a great fucking point.”
Especially after 2020, a year that opened a lot of people’s eyes about civil rights, people will sometimes wonder what it means to “do the work,” when it comes to recognizing privilege or helping marginalized communities.
A lot of the time, the answer is “figure it out yourself,” Phillips said. “But here’s a thing you can do” to be a better ally.
“It’s not their burden to bear for you to figure out how to say they/them,” Jackson said.
“Nor is it their burden to have the conversation with you [about] why,” Philipps replied.
“And if you find that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ you should go to therapy and talk about it,” Jackson added.
There are likely going to be some people who don’t want to practice pronoun use, or who feel they shouldn’t have to “put in the work,” said the podcast’s other co-host, Caissie St. Onge. But she pointed out that coming up with reasons you shouldn’t have to understand or be inclusive is work, too. Resistance to established medical research and basic human dignity also takes a lot of time and energy.
“You’re putting in a lot of work to stay the same,” St. Onge said.
Philipps also talked about a recent conversation she had with Birdie when they were feeling down, talking about how they felt like they were alive, but not really living yet.
Near tears, she talked about how much she related to what Birdie was saying, and added what she relayed to her child.
“You get to build your life however the fuck you want to,” Philipps said. “And it doesn’t have to look like anything you’ve ever seen, or anything that’s ever been modelled for you, because maybe it doesn’t exist... It doesn’t have to be any of these constructs that we’ve all been fed our whole lives. This is a different world, that you get to fucking build.”