Episode 3

Published on:

28th Jun 2023

Non-Binary Parenting in a Gendered World - Marley's story

Marley Conte is a British Italian trans non binary person.

They are a parent to a daughter and partner to a husband. Both of whom they came out to as non binary just a few years ago.

Marley shares what being non binary means to them and how growing up in Italy, where everything has a gender, left them struggling with their identity.

Marley also explains how their daughter is their biggest ally and why everybody should consider their language and inclusivity when parenting

Marley can be found on Instagram as @thenonbinaryparent and LinkedIn Marley Conte

Has a young person in your life just come out as transgender or non-binary? Do you feel confused and have a lot of questions?

Perhaps you’re feeling frightened for them? Or maybe you’re feeling upset?

Download Josephine's guide for parents Help! My Child Is Trans at GloriouslyUnready.com/transgender

Please Note:

Everybody mentioned in this podcast series has agreed for their story to be told.

We are keeping the names of Josephine's children private.

The information contained in Gloriously Unready is provided for information purposes only.

The contents of this podcast are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this podcast. 

Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this podcast. 

Josephine Hughes disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this podcast.


GU S2 Marley Conte Ep 3 MIXED


In this series, I ask what's it like to come out as transgender to a world that is not always ready for you, and how can you ever be ready to tell the people that you love that you are not the person they think you are.

Today's guest is Marley Conte, and as a trans non-binary person, they had to tell their husband and young child that they were no longer wife and mother. Marley, who is British, Italian is a writer, has a BA in English literature and holds a diploma in freelance and feature writing from the London School of Journalism.

They share their experiences on social media as the non-binary parent and create resources for trans and non-binary parents. Let's listen to what Marley has to say.


[00:01:45] Josephine: And thank you so much for coming on the show cause it's so helpful to hear different people's experiences. So straight in there, but would you like to tell us a bit about for someone like myself who's like a cisgender woman who hasn't had a lot of experience of transgender and non-binary, would you be able to tell us a bit about what being transgender non-binary actually means?


And then there is the non-binary option, which is people like me who don't actually identify with either gender or maybe identify with both. In my specific, I am actually agender. Which means I actually don't identify with any gender at all. But you have many different ones. You have gender fluid, gender queer, neutro cis. You have demi boy, demi girl. There are so many under the non-binary umbrella.


Cause you came out in your thirties, didn't you?


And so I was starting to wear clothes that I felt were more in line with my identity. I started using a language that was more appropriate for me. And it really, really helped me to settle into who I knew I was, but I couldn't actually express with words.

And also, we were married, we had a kid already. It was trying to figure out how our relationship could evolve and was was an interesting time.


[00:04:47] Marley: If you think anything has a gender in Italian, even like the word desk, the word chair, the word table, everything has a language. So there is no way of escaping it in any way.


[00:05:01] Marley: The language definitely helps. I find myself, I'm at ease when we speak English because there is not a constant gendering. With Italian, I'm finding it a little harder, but they are finding ways around it, and it's a question of adaptability.

That's what I love about languages they're not fixed. They keep changing, they keep evolving. And Italian is doing that very slowly. But in the queer community, they are finding ways of doing that. And so it's it's getting there, I think.


[00:05:40] Marley: I know, right? It's one of those that Oh, they don't think of that. .


[00:05:57] Marley: Definitely. We express everything through language, so if you don't have the words, . It's really hard to even figure yourself out. And when you don't see, especially in non-binary and trans identity, you have a real lack of representation. So when you don't even see them and you don't have a language, it becomes very difficult to understand what you're going through.


[00:06:32] Marley: I felt different. I couldn't figure it out.

And there was that innate homophobia and transphobia and all of that that comes with it from growing up. It's, it is a very religious country. There is a real mindset of this is what a girl should be, and this is what a boy should be, and there is no escaping it and that those are your roles and that's all you do.

So it, it was really hard because I never felt like I fitted in and I actually went the other way. If you could see myself, when I was younger, there was this big push to almost be really femme so that I couldn't get cut out. So it was the dresses, the makeup, the lipstick the shoes, everything.

So that if you saw me, you would think that's what it should be and that's how things should be. And so I, I was hyper feminising everything, but I couldn't feel right. And pregnancy was a big push. My body was doing something so femme, let's say that I couldn't escape it and it just wasn't feeling like me.

And once you are the birthing parent, there is only one way you're gonna be referred to it for the rest of your life. And that is a very specific gender rule that you're never gonna get rid of again. And you're even boxed in even more. So it was really hard. And as I said, I didn't have a language I couldn't understand because I knew I wasn't a boy.

And I knew I wasn't a girl. . But I didn't know what it was.


[00:08:15] Marley: I'm always more attuned to, let's call it masculine. Like I always rather be misgendered with a he than a she. But it's still not right.

It's just better. It's not what fits.


[00:08:41] Marley: Everything just felt wrong in a way. Not,not the baby, obviously. That was very much wanted and it was you know, but everything that my body was doing was just I can't deal with this. Growing up as well to try and minimise the curves and everything. I have a big history with eating disorders cuz the smaller you are, the less you have curves. So when pregnancy hit was, there's no controling this. There is no escaping this. This is just, my body is just doing whatever it wants to do. And you don't, unfortunately we don't have a system that is set up for non-binary and trans parents. Again, there is no language that is used that is actually affirming to a parent that is going through something like that. You're always misgendered most of the time. You're always called mother. .


[00:09:58] Marley: My mental health wasn't great. And it was not great for few years after that.

There was a lot going on. My father, unfortunately, was also passing away at the time that was pregnant. So there was that added to it. But my mental health was not great. It wasn't post natal depression, thankfully, because I don't think that's where my brain was going. But it was more I don't understand what's going on with my body and this is not what my body should be doing.

There was a lot of going back to bad eating habits again and trying to really push my body into something that I could recognise . And could function with. And yeah once you are, once you're a parent, you then put yourself second anyway. So my mental health suffered a bit through that. It was really lonely for a while because you don't have. Places for you. . It's all mother and baby.


[00:11:03] Marley: It is. You're pushed into a role. I always say it's probably also the only part of life where men are excluded from as well.

And when all you need at that time is actually creating new connection and get out of the house and don't be completely absorbed by this role. Everything, if you're non-binary, everything is mother and babies, mother's groups, mum's coffee morning. And you feel even more outcast.


[00:11:35] Marley: Because there's no place for you and you know you're gonna be misgendered and you know you're gonna be called mum and you know you're gonna be called ladies.


[00:11:45] Marley: Oh God. Oh, that one really gets to me. It's just, oh my God. .


But you, you've got your child and you've talked about being a non-binary parent as well, haven't you? Mean just, you talk a lot about this, don't you? On, on Instagram.


So I wanted to try and find the language that I could use that was easily accessible for kids as well. And the moment you Google and you put the words trans parent or non-binary parent next to it, what comes up is often the kid. Which is great because we need all the resources in the world to help trans youth and non-binary youth to be happy and accepted and all of that.

But there is also quite a big chunk of us on the other side. They need resources to navigate our journey and how to make it easy on our kids and our spouses. Because they're going through it with us and they need to have help to understand it themselves. We all going through it together and we all want acceptance and we all want love, but it is a journey for our partners and children too.

So that's what I try to do. I try to see what work with my family and how to help other people with if they have questions, if they, oh, how did you talk about this with your kid? And, oh, this is what I did. And this is what worked, and maybe I would do it this way next time.


[00:13:38] Marley: I think children are so much easier than adults to talk to because they have no biases. They're born with no biases, and if you are lucky that you raise them in an environment that is open and honest and diverse. They will grow up with a lot less biases than we do.

And it's very easy for them to understand. With A, we sat down and as I said, my kid was four, A is the only person who is allowed to refer to me as mum because it was a word that we already used. She was comfortable with it. There was no gender attached to it, so we carried on using that, but only with my kid, everyone else it's parent.

So when we sat down, I was like, mummy would like to start, maybe change their name and maybe change some of the words that we use when we talk about mummy because I don't feel like a boy or a girl. And she looked at me and was like, ok And that was it. And that was it. And sometimes, it's a conversation that keeps on going.

She's now seven, and every once in a while you have the, so why don't you feel like a boy or a girl? .And you just carry on talking. I think it's a conversation that keeps on going. And it expands as they grow, but I think as long as you honest and open, and if you don't know something, you simply say, I don't know, let's look into it together. We ended up, every time we have a question like that, it's shall we see if we can find a book? . And we find a book and we read it together and we explore it together. And that really helps getting the conversation across because it's something that A really understand is books and pictures and words that are great for her age. But we often have conversation about pronouns and, and I often ask, is this a word that you, makes you happy and more often than not, she's "I like the word she girl is good." But I do often ask her because she might change her mind and.


[00:16:03] Marley: No we try from activities to words, to, to talking about people from books. We do try to be as inclusive as we possibly can.

Especially like with, we really try to push the concept of don't make assumption. Because you have no idea. And she's got so good that recently, not long ago, we were coming on from school and it's a really narrow lane. We were driving back. So I pulled myself to the side to let another car go by.

And Aasked, oh, why did you stop? And I said, oh, I'm just gonna let her go. And she looked at me and said you don't know its a girl. Yeah, yep it's fine. Absolutely, you are right. And you just called me out and it's great. I think, and that, that's what it is. It's just they pick up what they see and they hear around.

So if you diversify your libraries, your cartoons, your toys the activities they do, if you use a gender inclusive language, they pick it up and they find it much easier to use. A is often the one, the correct people on my pronouns, is often the one that if we go to Pride. Last year we went to Pride in Hasting with some friends and I turned around and said, look, this is Pride.

And she turns around and said pride is every day. But they do, they pick it up and they're so much better at dealing with this than adults are.


Can you tell us a bit about why you think that is?


They grew up that knowing that one day if they ever need to come out, they won't even need to do that. They will just show up at the door and just say from now, can we use these pronouns or this is my partner? Because there is acceptance. And there is love and there is no questioning that love.

And I think by try to have these conversations, you open their mind to be accepting of everyone. So even if they're not queer themself, which you know, we don't know, but even if they're not, you bring them up as ally to other people. You bring them up able to speak for other people if they hear something wrong and question what they've been told, society tells them to do and it's like wait a second, that's not right.

So I think you're just growing a generation that is far more empowered than we are. And you're also not passing down your trauma as much. That generational trauma that at some point, we are trying to stop by having conversations and I'm always, I'm a big advocate for therapy and I tell my kid all the time, I like, oh no, mummy goes to therapy cuz sometimes you need to talk about things with people that are not your are nearest and dearest. You need different perspective. And I often say, and if you need to, you can have it too. When you need to, when you need to talk to someone that might not be me or Daddy.


She will be a strong ally and very much supportive of people.


She corrects people on my name. She often says people, my mummy is a they, is not a she. She's seven. So it can only get better.


[00:20:27] Marley: I think it used to be very different.

Politically wise, trans people I've been used as a weapon to, to sway voting and to sway opinion. So unfortunately I don't think at the mument we are in a very good place. , because I don't want what they're doing with my identity to reflect on my child's life. But at the same time, I preach being honest and open and we have to have this conversation.

So we do talk.


[00:21:11] Marley: This anti-trans rhetoric, this anti LGBTQ rhetoric lately that's just gone.

If you look at statistic, I believe it's crimes against LGBTQ people have risen of 348% in the last six years, which is an insane percentage. . But when all you hear are the same old stories and scare mongering and, and rhetoric it's hard to escape it. There are days that I can't even look at the news because it's like I can't, my mental health is nowhere near a good state to actually look at the news today, because I don't know what's gonna, what's gonna be out there. It's usually nothing good anyway.


[00:22:03] Marley: We are such a tiny number. I don't understand how we have become such a big issue, for the world is we are such a tiny number and we always been here.


[00:22:27] Marley: And I think social media helped me find the language because I didn't know, and it's only because I came across other social media accounts and things that was like, oh, wait a second. This is familiar. This is helpful. What is it? And then you start. .


[00:22:50] Marley: but then we should all be cis and straight. If that's the argument. Then we can turn someone into someone considering what we all grow up with the cartoons, the programs, the books, everything that we absorb, we should all be cis and straight because all is heteronormative families. It's people of a certain color. It's people of certain genders.

And it can't work only one way.


[00:23:28] Marley: oh, it's that lightbulb moment of, I found it. This is me, and that's why visibility or representation is so important.

Because if you don't see it you can't be it.


[00:24:00] Marley: I didn't know it could feel this way. And I think is that moment of this is what you all feel. All the time. This is how it, this is how it is, this is how it's meant. Especially after I had top surgery, especially after that. I didn't know. And when people say, wow, does it feel, and it always, I, my answer is this is what, when people look at themself and see themself for the first time, must feel. I had no idea.

And it's hard in a way because unfortunately, as we said, we live in a society where we are not understood or respected. But I'd rather this a million time over. My mind was taking me in really dark places before. And now it's good. I still have my, like anyone, your bad and happy days.

But this is so much better.


So tell us a bit more if you're okay because you chose to have top surgery. And I think a lot of people would think, oh, that's something that trans men would do.


It was no other way for me. That was a big part of my eating disorders growing up. It was if I am as small as I can, they, it won't grow as much and it would be, people won't notice as much and I won't be misgendered as much.

I am not on T. I don't want any other surgeries. I don't want to transition medically any further, but that for me was a big thing. It was like it gave me the body that match my identity, I guess my gender identity. And not, and I think that's a big misconception when people think of surgery as a binary option anyway, but also not all trans people want surgery. Not all non-binary people feel dysphoric and want surgery. I think as everything is a spectrum. And what works for me does not work for another non-binary person and et cetera, et cetera. ,


[00:26:44] Marley: You know what I really got lucky. I really got lucky because unfortunately this is not an experience that many trans or queer people have anyway when they have a partner and then they come out. But I already came out to my partner as bisexual and grey sexual and when, actually, when I told him, he looked at me, I was like there's nothing new there.

Like I knew really, it's just means that I'm a little queer too, because you're not a woman. And I was just like, I got really lucky. But we did have to work on how to reframe a lot of our roles and a lot of our language in our partnership. We, how do I want to be referred as, my wife, so what do I call you?

Spouse, partner, other half? We had to reframe a lot of our marriage and how we parent and it gave, I think in a way it actually brought us closer because we had to lay everything out. We couldn't keep anything in anymore if we wanted it to work, we had to have discussion about everything.

And actually I think it made us a lot stronger. Because there was like, you lay all out on the table and there were really good days and really bad days, but when we came out on the other end, it was, this is it, this we good?


It's not just in a sense what you represent or . What you can,


[00:28:27] Josephine: So he actually told them .


We were lucky enough that we were able to do privately, but it still takes about a year at least. And the first question everyone would ask him was like, oh, what do you think? And his immediate reaction was like, it's their body. I got nothing to say. It's their body. I have no say in this.

And he took a lot of the fight on him. I'm very grateful because at times, I dunno if my mental health would have managed he's such an advocate .


[00:29:39] Marley: My, my mother and I don't have the best relationship in general anyway. I think it got better once I moved away and we see each other in very small pockets of time. Two, three times a year.

A couple of weeks. Fine. Perfect. I think that's how we cope better. So it was actually probably worked out better for us that he had the conversation. And it was on our term because we were here and I wanted it to be here because I wanted it to be, if anything goes wrong, this is my house. And there is the door. And I think that had a lot of pull on how the conversation went because she couldn't go anywhere. So that really helped. But also it, Italians tend, I, and my family in particular is I know about it, but we won't discuss it, so it's not happening. So we had one conversation and never again.

I had surgery and it's like nothing happened. Okay. I feel is the all let's not talk about it and everything is fine. Which suits me in a way because it's I don't live there. I don't see them often and I don't have to argue about it.


[00:31:06] Marley: Pretty much the same. No, they're, they, it's easier with them in a way because they're half English. So the language barrier is a lot less. They're really good with the name, but again, we don't really discuss it. It's happened and we got on board with pronouns and name, and we just don't, not gonna look into it anymore.

In a way, it's better because there's no misgendering because of the pronouns. Because we use they, and it's great with my family there is the awkwardness of, oh, that's a female word, but it's okay, we'll deal with this. .


[00:31:48] Marley: And we do, every once in a while I do send an article go, oh, I think you should read this.

Or I think you should watch this. And if they do or they don't, I don't know.


[00:32:22] Marley: I almost feel like I picked all the middle grounds in all my LGBTQ letters. Unfortunately like many, like bisexuality and grey sexuality and non-binary, you are so in the middle sometimes that you get flack from both sides. Because you are not queer enough, but you're not cis enough. Or straight enough. Or sometimes you're battling both fronts and it can be really tiring and frustrating. But when you look at it, bisexual people are the highest numbers.


[00:33:03] Marley: My favourite is when people look at me as oh, but you can't be bi, you're married to a man. And it's like but, when you marry someone, you stop finding other people attractive. Is that how it works?


[00:33:19] Marley: It's easier. If you are in a box, because I can make out where you are. It's difficult when you're outta the box because I don't know this and don't know is scary. The more people get to know us, the more accepting they are. I was looking at some stats lately about, I believe it's up to 84% of people in America do not know a trans person. When you don't know us, you can't understand us. But you see the acceptance of trans people is proportionate to knowing them. The moment a person know another person, then it's like you humanise us.

Absolutely. We are not a thing anymore. We're actually a human being with feelings and experiences. And...


Because like you say, they are people.


I love being non-binary. . And we can have very fulfilling happy lives. And I think it should be more representation of that also for our trans youth. See that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that it can happen and it's happy.


And that was your relationship,


[00:35:21] Josephine: I think so, and I think, this is my experience with having transgender kids is that actually you just get rid of all this sort of stuff that actually isn't as importan as your true connection and relationship with each other. And love for each other. And the rest of it is the word, the phrase that comes to mind is the bonfire of the vanities. It's just getting rid of that stuff that doesn't matter because it's more important actually, your connection at a deeper level.

And I think that's part of what makes people who are transgender, they have to go through that sort of difficulty. But when they resolve these things with the people who love them it actually is very fulfilling.


[00:36:07] Josephine: It makes it easier to be you doesn't it?


[00:36:23] Josephine: Brilliant.

Thank you so much for being here, Marley. How do people find you if they want to?


[00:36:52] Josephine: Brilliant.

Thank you so much for coming. It's been such an pleasure, interesting conversation. To hear your, like your perspective and what it's like to be Italian.


[00:37:05] Josephine: Thank you Marley.

The Guardian review of the first series of Gloriously Unready said Hughes is brutally honest, so brace yourself here comes some of that honesty. One of the tasks of counseling is exploring with the client their reasons for feeling as they do. And so during Marley's description of how their body didn't feel right both during pregnancy and puberty, what was coming up for me was the gender critical argument that transgender feelings are due to a lack of acceptance, of changing body, and that's often used as an explanation for eating disorders too.

So this got me thinking. How many times are girls' feelings towards their bodies pathologised could an explanation for their discomfort with their changing bodies be that they're transgender. Is this ever considered when treating someone for disordered eating? When you listen to Marley, you hear someone who is comfortable with who they are.

Their main source of stress is not who they are. But how they're treated by a society that is unwilling to listen to their experience. It seems to me that non-binary people and trans men often have their views and feelings disregarded in what is the antithesis of feminism. They're told they're mistaken, they don't know themselves quite simply that there wrong and hasn't that ever been. So for those who are assigned female at birth.

And I talk more about this with Sam Hope, whose interview is coming up next.

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About the Podcast

Gloriously Unready
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But humans like routine, it helps them to feel safe and in control. Change can be difficult to navigate – whether it’s welcome or not.

So Gloriously Unready is all about change: how to make the most of life and the surprises it deals to us.

In Series 1 Josephine shared her story of becoming a mum to two transgender daughters.
In Series 2 she's finding out more about transgender people's experiences because as she adapted to having transgender daughters it helped her to get to know transgender people.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Everybody mentioned in this podcast series has agreed for their story to be told. We are keeping the names of Josephine's children private.

About your hosts

Josephine Hughes

Profile picture for Josephine Hughes
Josephine is a BACP Accredited Counsellor and Mentor who helps other counsellors find clients. With a deep ineptitude for anything technical, Josephine is testament to the power of marketing being first and foremost about relationships - having built an active and engaged Facebook group of over 10,000 counsellors. In her Facebook group and podcast, Good Enough Counsellors is a phrase that resonates with many therapists and Josephine is on a mission to help therapists overcome their self-doubt and make a difference to their clients' lives.

Josephine's other passion is in advocating for transgender people and their families. Initially thinking she had a family of 3 boys, she lost two sons and gained two daughters when they came out as transgender in their teens and early 20's. Her podcast Gloriously Unready was named a "Best Podcast of the Week" in the Guardian who said:

"Hughes is brutally honest and endlessly wise as she tells their story, outlining the moments that many parents face with so much love and support she can't fail to help others".

Josephine lives in Essex with her husband Tim, a programmer who despite having a brain the size of a planet, still has to issue instructions like "Alt-Tab" at regular intervals.