I am heading up the stairs, carrying a tray with three tubs of sherbet and as many spoons. In a week, on International Transgender Day of Visibility, I will tell the world I’m nonbinary—the world, in this case, being my 658 followers on Twitter—but right now I’m about to tell the person I love most. He’s six. He loves taste tests.

“Really?” he asks, eyeing the tubs.

“Yep,” I say, setting down the tray on a battered trunk we use as a table. I line up the spoons. He grins.

I didn’t figure out I was nonbinary until I was fifty-one, about the same time I started hearing from the AARP. At first, I felt an existential vertigo, realizing I’d lived roughly half a century estranged from my true self. Yet I also felt a delight, even a lightness, in finally being more me. I wanted to share that with my son.

But nonbinary, as a concept, isn’t easy to explain. I don’t entirely get it and I am it. How would I explain it to a six-year-old?

So, buddy, there’s this thing called the gender binary. It’s why you call me “papa” and mama “mama,” and you’ve been living in it since the moment you were born. But here’s the thing, buddy, the gender binary isn’t real. Sure, some people are men, and some are women, but that doesn’t mean that there are only two genders. Gender is vast. It’s varied. Some people don’t fit into these categories. They’re called “nonbinary.” Now, as a term, “nonbinary” actively negates the violent division of humanity into two socially constructed bio-political categories that uphold the West’s white-hetero-patriarchal-colonial-capitalist project and, in doing so, carves out a liberatory space for heretofore unnamed and perhaps unimagined genders. And that, buddy, is me.

In the end, I decided I needed something a little more child-friendly than queer theory. I went with sherbet.

I intended to serve my son blueberry, raspberry, and rainbow sherbet to represent different genders: male, female, and all the fruity rest of us. Then he and I would eat our way beyond the binary. I thought this explanation would be playful and sweet, while also saving my son from a theoretical brain-freeze. Plus, rainbow sherbet has the pride flag swirled right into it.

However, when I started poking around the giant freezers at Kroger, I couldn’t find any blueberry, and the store was inexplicably out of rainbow sherbet. I ended up getting mango for male and for nonbinary I had to settle on a frighteningly vibrant flavor called “Tie-Dye Burst.”

Nonetheless, I pressed on and brought home my metaphors.

“You know how some people are female, like mama?” I ask.

We’re at the trunk. Mama is with us. We each have a spoon.

“Yes,” my son says.

“They’re sort of like this raspberry.” I peel back the top on the first tub and expose the ruby rich sherbet. “Let’s take a bite.”

We do, and my son gives it a thumbs up. That’s his rating system.

“And you know how some people are male,” I go on, “like Gpaw?” Gpaw is my son’s grandfather.

“Yes,” he says.

“They’re sort of like this mango.”

Again, I peel off the lid, and we each take a spoonful. Again, the thumbs up.

“And then there are some people who aren’t raspberry or mango, like Taz.” Taz is a gender-expansive kid at my son’s school. I feel a rush of gratitude for this child who knows themself and whose parents know them, love them, and support them. What, I wonder, might my life have been like if, at six, I’d known who I was. What if I’d had parents who would have loved me for who I was? Like so many of us, I did not.

“Yes,” says my son.

“Well, they’re sort of like this.” With a flourish, I pop the final top and let all of those lavishly abundant tie-dye colors burst.

My son ahs.

Another spoonful, another thumb.

“So,” I say, “I’m like this sherbet. I’m not mango. I’m not a man.”

My son pauses. For a long, long beat, he stares into his empty spoon.

At last, he looks up at me and says, “That’s a big thought.”

And it is, one I suddenly feel grateful he’s willing to think with me. I feel it as a rush, as a mix of sugar and relief, him seeing me, me seeing him, as we begin this bigger us.

Eric LeMay’s recent essay “On Being a Parent Amid This Latest Anti-Tran Violence” appeared in nymph(o) magazine.