Charlize Theron: It hurt my daughter’s feelings when I used the wrong pronouns

Los Angeles Special Screening Of Liongate's 'Bombshell'

One of Charlize Theron’s daughters happens to be transgender. At first, there was simply speculation online about Jackson Theron, because she wore Elsa-from-Frozen wigs and girls’ clothes. Then Charlize began publicly identifying Jackson as her daughter, and then earlier this year, Charlize spoke about it again, saying that Jackson told her “I am not a boy” when she was three years old. I said at the time that I appreciated Charlize’s sort of blase acceptance, but I was concerned that Charlize was telling her daughter’s story and it should really be Jackson’s choice (or whatever name the girl is going by now). Well, in a new interview with PrideSource, Charlize talks more about why she did begin to discuss her transgender daughter publicly, and a lot more – this is a good read. Some highlights:

On Margot Robbie playing a conservative lesbian in ‘Bombshell’: “I wish I could take credit for that, but no. It was something that was written in the script when I got it and I thought it was really interesting and it is so interesting that people kind of go, like, “Wait, I don’t understand.” I was like, “You can’t understand that a conservative Jesus-loving girl could also love other women?” I’m like, isn’t that so strange?

On experimentation: “I experimented and I did what I think every young person should do: feel brave enough and free enough in order to figure it out. It’s not like the stuff is laid out on a piece of paper for us; we have to kind of go through a life, and until you have certain experiences you don’t really know who you are. I was just lucky that I grew up in a house where my mom was never scared of those things. My mom always said, “Figure it out. I don’t want you to be me. Go figure out what it is for you.” And I think it was because of that I got to share those things with her; when I did go on those explorations I had this person that I could share it with, that I felt safe with, who wasn’t going to judge me or label me. But it turns out – ahh! – that I am straight. It’s a little bit of a bummer.

Conversations about queerness with her kids: “They’re a little too young, but we definitely have these conversations whenever they say, “I’m gonna get married” and I’m always like, “What is it gonna be? A boy or a girl? What is it gonna be?” I love that my kids just know that that’s a normal question to ask. One of my daughters (4-year-old August) is convinced that she’s gonna be married five times and it’s gonna be three boys and two girls, and I just love that she has the freedom to think that way. God knows what it’s going to be, but I love that she feels safe enough to explore in her little-girl brain that anything is possible and that she’s gonna go and discover that for herself.

On her daughter who happens to be transgender: “Well, this is all pretty new for us… My daughter’s story is really her story, and one day, if she chooses, she’ll tell her story. I feel like as her mother, for me, it was important to let the world know that I would appreciate it if they would use the right pronouns for her. I think it became harder for us the older she got that people were still writing about her in the wrong pronouns, and also I was still talking about her in the press using the wrong pronoun. It really hurt her feelings. I don’t want to be that mom, and that was really why I said what I said a while back… I haven’t really talked about it ever since, again, because outside of just asking that respectfully of the press – and the world, hopefully – the rest is really private and it’s her story, and it’s really up to her to decide if she wants to share that.

[From PrideSource]

That’s one of the best answers to why she said something and why she won’t be talking more about her daughter. Jackson got to the age where she was aware of what Charlize said about her and how Charlize publicly identified her and that mattered. Charlize is such a good mom. I really mean that – she’s a single mother with a lot of help from HER mother, and she’s figuring it out as she goes along. She’s doing a good job.

Los Angeles Special Screening Of Liongate's 'Bombshell'

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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25 Responses to “Charlize Theron: It hurt my daughter’s feelings when I used the wrong pronouns”

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  1. KMC says:

    I could have sworn y’all covered this interview before, but I can’t find it anywhere on the site so I guess I’m just getting mad deja vu!

  2. FilmTurtle says:

    Thank you for posting this. It was refreshing and uplifting. I’m not commenting on my adult life, now, just a general thought: I can’t help but ponder how things would have been different if I’d been raised with such a considerate, non-judgmental attitude.

  3. Eleonor says:

    Beautiful. That’s all I have.

  4. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Those are the best things I’ve ever heard her say. And I’m envious she was raised that way. My youngest recently told me how thankful he is I’m his mother. He said when at school, he hears others discuss families and home life and it astounds him how opposite we live. From identity to spirituality, I have no demands…only respect for the journey ahead. And then we laugh when we discuss how I became his ‘best’ mother….my mother. I knew at a very young age, probably pre-teen, I would be the polar opposite of mom lol. Southern Protestants be damned. Come on, the entire establishment was formed as a direct rebuttal of northern’s anti-slavery stance. What does anyone in our solar system expect lol?

  5. Lua says:

    My baby is nannied by a trans couple. My best friend started dating her boyfriend, who is trans, when I was pregnant and whenever he is misgendered it sends him into a depressive state. I wish people would be more considerate of that, and I’m glad she spoke up to put an end to it if was affecting her daughter.

  6. Jensies says:

    This is how to be an ally.

  7. Valiantly Varnished says:

    That was such a thoughtful and respectful answer. And I love that the only reason she talked about was because her daughter’s feelings had been hurt and she wanted to publicly make sure that she didn’t misgender to the press. I think Charlize is probably a great Mom. I get the same vibes from her that I get from Angelina. They are really tender and connected to their children.

    • Yup, Me says:

      I agree. I’ve had some concerns, with her history of talking over Black actresses, about her being a single white mother of unambiguously Black children (where are her checks and balances- who are the Black folks around them and in their lives?), but she does come across as extremely sensitive and caring in this regard.

  8. Rapunzel says:

    This is so important to be aware of. I teach college and it’s a challenge to get correct pronouns from transgender students because often, the dead names are the legal names on the roster. So it’s hard for these students to shed the dead pronouns.

    A year ago, I had a deaf transgender man who was listed under a distinctly female name. This student had an ASL interpreter who kept referring to him as “her” and I had to continually correct the interpreter as this transgender man had clearly indicated a desire for a he/him pronoun (I have my students fill out bios and indicate their preferred pronouns). It was frustrating. The interpreter didn’t do it intentionally and always apologized, but continued to get the pronoun wrong because the man was listed under a woman’s name on the paperwork, so the interpreter kept wanting to ascribe a female pronoun.

    Transgender folks really need to be able to change names/gender markers more easily in order to facilitate smoother transitioning.

    ETA: this deaf transgender man was hurt by the interpreter’s continual pronoun errors, and eventually dropped my class because of it. I filed a complaint against the interpreter, but it wasn’t intentional so nothing happened. This pronoun stuff makes a world of difference.

    • tealily says:

      Wow, that’s so sad. I hope he was able to continue with his education in a way that made him feel more comfortable. Talk about a load of obstacles!

      • Rapunzel says:

        Very sad, Tealily. I have a transgender woman this semester who is listed under a male name. This male name could be female if you add an -a. But she goes by a really feminine that is drastically different.

        Day one, I called the dead name on the roster, because obviously, I don’t know the situation. I was thinking this pretty girl didn’t respond when I called role, so she must want to add. I tell students to see me after class to add, but she didn’t, but a writing assignment turned in had a female name that I didn’t have on my list, so I figure that’s her and she just forgot to stop and add after class.

        Then, I get an email from the dead male name, which I’d marked absent, explaining her other name. She was too embarrassed/scared to speak up in class. I can’t imagine the fear.

      • tealily says:

        …And then she had do do that with each and every one of her other profs. What a bummer.

    • liz says:

      That’s awful. Pronouns are so important. I have a non-binary teenager, who came out about a year ago and uses they/them pronouns. I do my best, but I still sometimes make mistakes (particularly when I’m upset or angry and they are still a teenager with a teenager’s attitude, they do piss me off sometimes). And I apologize and try always to do better next time.

      Thankfully, the high school they attend (which was chosen before they came out) has been wonderful. The teacher’s roster has the preferred name and pronoun of every student (there are other trans/non-binary students at the school, as well as kids who use their middle names). It’s all part of the information given to the school when you enroll. Legal name, preferred name, home address, mailing address, phone numbers, pronouns . . . The legal names have to appear on any medical documents and permission slips, but they are not part of the day-to-day.

  9. sassafras says:

    The children today are sooooo different and evolved on this issue. There are two trans students at my child’s school and none of the kids think a thing about it. It’s only when adults come marching in that there’s suddenly an issue.

    • whatWHAT? says:

      as a general rule, people fear what they don’t know. whether race, nationality or gender issues.

      if you grow up with it, it’s not an unknown, and it’s no big deal. I remember one of my nieces, when she was young (now 21), telling me that one of her classmates had two moms and “isn’t she LUCKY?! two moms would be awesome!” 🙂

  10. shells_bells says:

    This interview makes me respect her so much. She sounds like a great mom.
    I’ve long suspected that she kicked Sean Penn to the curb because he wasn’t supportive.

  11. Jojo says:

    This brought a tear to My eye. So much love.

  12. Christina says:

    Deep respect.

  13. Amelie says:

    I think I read this interview awhile ago? It’s not brand new as all these quotes were familiar to me. It must be so hard to be raising a transgender child in such a public forum. You want your child to be safe and have privacy but you also want the public to refer to the child by the right pronouns without giving too much away. I think she did the right thing—gave the bare minimum of information while respecting her daughter’s privacy. She sounds like a good mom with good instincts (minus the whole getting engaged to Sean Penn, thank the Lord he is no longer in the picture).

  14. hogtowngooner says:

    I love her answer. She acknowledges that it’s a process for both her and her daughter. Maintaining her daughter’s privacy while informing people of her pronouns/gender identity is wonderful. By and large, when we know better, we do better. I’m glad her daughter has a mom like Charlize who is giving her the space and support to explore her identity. Many trans kids aren’t so lucky.

    • lucy2 says:

      I love her answer too. Her children are indeed lucky, she seems like a great mom, and I hope they are given the privacy they deserve.

  15. Margetta says:

    Last year I had an student (middle school) who is transgender, but didn’t come out until a month or so into school. We as the school team, along with the student and his family, immediately switched to his correct pronouns, used his preferred name (it was Grey as a girl name, but he decided on Greyson so it wasn’t such a profound change and “Grey” became the new nickname, so no big changes there at all), and guidance stepped in too in rolling it out as seamlessly as possible so there would hopefully not be bullying issues or any big snafus. We were nervous about the kids’ reactions (I mean, they are 13 and 14, so…sometimes they are amazing and sometimes they just can’t manage kindness quite all the time yet), but the kids accepted it with barely more than a shrug and “Ok then!” I was SO damn proud of them. We expected it to be at least a little bumpy of a ride, but it wasn’t at all. I literally never ONCE heard about any negative commenmts or bullying. Any of you who teach teenagers know that sometimes they just mess up in the process of learning to be kind and empathetic as they are growing into themselves.

    The hardest thing for me was not to slip up with the pronouns. I’ve had five transgender students in the four years I’ve been teaching and it was never a remembering-the-right-pronouns problem until Grey. Grey presented very much as a girl still. He was slowly changing things up–hair, clothes, etc., but everything about this child screamed GIRL and I have no idea why really, but I *almost* slipped up with his pronouns a LOT those first couple months. So anyway, I had a habit with my students (sometimes) when they came into the room of saying, “So and so is here! Woohoo! She (or he or they or whatever) is here!” It was just a silly thing and it sounds dumb, but the kids loved it and it was one of the silly ways we bonded. It also helped me remembering name at the start of the school year. So anyway, I’d been doing fine with his new pronouns, but one day he came in and I said, “Grey is here! Mabel is here! Excellent! Welcome ladies!” The moment I said it I wanted to sink into the ground. I felt absolutely horrible and I saw the look register on his face and it was one of those terrible gut feelings that feel like you swallowed an anchor. As I said “ladies” I sort of trailed off and added “and gent” but it was too late. It was an obvious attempt at a save and it failed. My heart was in the right place but my mouth messed up. I made it a point to reference him as he during instruction several times (I reference all students during instruction, so it wasn’t anything obvious or overt…I was also sort of trying to mentally undo what I did for myself I guess)–for his benefit and mine. Just so he didn’t get the idea that I wasn’t on board with the new pronouns.

    At the end of class I planned to quietly apologize for my mistake because it was important for me to do so. I know it wasn’t the end of the world, but it hurt his feelings and I felt his hurt in my gut. It probably was also as embarrassing and disappointing for him as it was for me. A kid rushed up to ask a question about homework and Grey left for his next class. He was absent the next three days. Guidance came and told me that he was feeling depressed and disheartened because two teachers messed up his pronouns that day. Now before you say he needed to toughed up or something, just imagine how difficult it is for a child to do what he was doing. Probably natural to feel down, discouraged, etc.

    When he came back, I did get that chance to apologize and everything was fine. But this story with Charlize and her daughter hit home for me. I saw Grey’s face crumble in an instant (even though he quickly covered that look up) and I KNEW I’d hurt him. It was an accident and I felt terrible, but I still hurt him. I can only imagine how much more difficult this kind of thing is when you are just a private citizen, a child of a celebrity, though, and you end up in the news and everyone has an opinion…. I think she’s an amazing mom and I commend her for saying what she did and then saying why she said it and that the rest was up to Jackson to share when and IF she ever decided to. By addressing it this way, she is normalizing who Jackson is while she is very very young and she is also shutting down the narrative and conversation and giving the power of her own story to her. She did it eloquently and with a lot of grace and love.

    Sorry this was so long.

    ***P.S. Greyson/Grey is a made up name to protect privacy, but it was a name set up just like that–a small change, but also a really big change…sort of a non-gendered type of name…if that makes sense.

    ***P.P.S. I no longer address my students as ladies or gentleman. I address them, as “young humans” or “young humans, aliens, and other magickal creatures” or just “YO people.” 🙂

  16. wendywoo says:

    I love and admire this woman and everything she does. I want to be her when I grow up (I’m 40 this year… baby steps….).

  17. Sparkly says:

    I really love this article and the comments here. I’m so glad to see the Celebitchy family is full of so many allies, because I avoided these topics before after seeing hurtful comments.

    I think Charlize had a great statement about it. She spoke out about only what was necessary to be true to her daughter and honored her story to tell in her time. It’s so important to use the right pronouns, especially with trans kids and teens, and I can only imagine how that might be on a global scale. Charlize should be able to freely say “My daughters” without having to disclose their whole journey or explain themselves to anyone, so I really commend her response.