Cupcakes…

Yesterday was beyond busy. I got home from work and had twenty minutes to get ready before taking Jeremy out to see our family doctor. By the time we got home, I had exactly 25 minutes to eat dinner and get to bed. The day pretty much ganged up on me. We had to go to the doctor though; Jeremy’s getting zir wisdom teeth out tomorrow and has that huge needle phobia. The doctor prescribed the same drugs as zie took for the immunization back in February.

While we were there, I brought up the topic of gender. I wasn’t sure if it was necessary or not but figured it might be something worthwhile to mention. Jeremy agreed. The doctor looked confused when I said non binary transgender and admitted he didn’t know what that meant. Could I explain further? I looked over at Jeremy instead; zie was there and it’s zir body.

Jeremy thought for a second then said, “If gender was a cupcake, I’d be a blue cupcake with pink frosting.”

The doctor immediately perked up. “Oh, bigender,” he said and quickly typed this into Jeremy’s notes. The kid’s definitely got a way with words…and a huge sweet tooth.

Poor Jeremy. I don’t think zie’s got any real idea of what tomorrow’s going to be like. Zie’s talking about shopping at Dollarama later and has great plans of hanging out on the computer. I just bought zir a set of soft purple bed sheets and this little stuffie…

A unicorn cat with purple glitter... this pretty much just screamed Jeremy's name.

A unicorn cat with purple glitter… this pretty much just screamed Jeremy’s name.

Jeremy loves the stuffie and was pleased with the sheets, although a bit baffled when I suggested making the bed. Jeremy figures zie can just lie down on the couch tomorrow if zie gets tired of playing video games. Like I said, the poor kid has no idea.

And just because the title of this post is cupcakes…

5e8cdb92ce900af21485614f79871ceb

On pronouns and an autumn walk…

It’s been gorgeous here for the past few days… absolutely gorgeous. We’re finally getting blue skies, sunshine, and shorts weather after a cold and rainy summer. Jeremy would have been content to stay home and play Half-Life but I dragged zir out with me for a walk yesterday afternoon.

We have a small patch of woods beside us, covering less than a city block of land, but it’s very pretty…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s only one paved path through the woods but plenty of little dirt trails. Jeremy and I walked on the latter before emerging from the woods and heading over to a nearby bike trail. We were on our way back when I saw our local bus approach.

“I’ve got my bus pass,” I said cheerfully. “I can get on the bus and go home.”

Jeremy looked at me incredulously. Just then the bus slowed. We were right near a bus stop so obviously someone wanted off.

“Look, the driver saw me. He knows I want the bus,” I said then I looked closer. The sunlight had been reflecting off the window but as the bus moved, I could finally see the driver’s long blonde hair and delicate features. “Oh, I mean she,” I added.

“Mom,” Jeremy chided. “You don’t know if the driver’s a man or a woman.”

“No, I can see the driver now…” Maybe the glass was still covered in glare from zir angle; Jeremy’s quite a bit taller than me. I glanced beside me and realized zie could see the driver just fine.

“You can’t tell what someone’s gender is  just by looking at them,” zie continued.

I nodded. “You’re right, the driver might not identify as female. Although statistically speaking…”

Jeremy glared at me then muttered under zir breath. All I caught was, “I… don’t… female…”

I thought back to all the times my Mom argued with me. In some ways it helped me try and see things from a different perspective but sometimes I just wanted some support. I figured Jeremy was firmly in the latter category.

“I’m sorry,” I told zir earnestly. “You are right. I shouldn’t have assumed. I don’t refer to any of the customers by gender when I’m at work.”

“Wait,” Jeremy said, looking at me incredulously. “You don’t use binary pronouns at work? Instead you save them to use in front of your kid who uses zie for a pronoun.”

The kid had a point. “I’m sorry, ” I said again. “I’ll try harder.”

We walked a couple of steps then zie added, “Mom, you know I’m joking right?”

Zie wasn’t angry and was in good spirits but I didn’t get the impression zie was joking at all. “It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “I’ll still try harder.” Jeremy smiled.

As for work. I posted back in February about a customer of mine who joked that Jeremy wouldn’t want to dye zir hair lime green in case zie was mistaken for a “fag”. I’d been absolutely furious but stayed polite and have been polite ever since. Today we had a completely different conversation.

I was outside sweeping the parking lot when she walked over to comment on the mess. There were cups and wrappers strewn over the whole parking space.

“That must have been a man,” she commented as she drew near.

“Or an entire car full of teenagers,” I agreed, sweeping a couple more wrappers into the dust pan.

“So, how are your kids?” she asked with obvious interest.

“They’re doing fine. Emma’s got a job interview tomorrow and my kidlet’s getting zir wisdom teeth extracted on Thursday, which will be interesting considering zir needle phobia.”

Now she looked confused. “She?”

I shook my head, “No, zie. I’m talking about Jeremy. Jeremy’s having zir wisdom teeth extracted… hopefully. That’s one serious phobia zie’s got.”

Her confusion deepened. “Don’t you have two kids? A boy and a girl?”

“I’ve got two kids. One girl and one kid. Jeremy doesn’t identify with a gender and uses gender neutral pronouns, zie and zir.”

“Well… that’s… different…” she sounded baffled. She paused for a moment, obviously trying to find something to say. “I was shopping recently at Penningtons (a Canadian clothing chain aimed at plus sized women) and there was a man shopping for himself. He was buying a dress and he had on women’s clothing and a hat and his hair was all styled and shaped.”

“That sounds like she was a woman,” I replied. “It was probably scary for her.”

I had no idea if it was scary or not, for all I knew she could have been having an amazing shopping trip. What I wanted was a moment of empathy. The customer went silent.

“I used to teach piano to a family years ago,” she said quietly. “The oldest boy was a teenager and he used to say all sorts of homophobic stuff. One day I was teaching theory and asked him to think about what it would be like if he suddenly started having crushes on other boys… knowing how he was going to get treated… knowing he was going to get beaten up. The boy was shocked. He’d never thought about it before…” Her voice trailed off. “They had so many kids in that family, two girls and four boys. I wonder if one of them ended up gay.”

I shrugged, unable to answer, then she smiled. “Jeremy doesn’t identify as a gender… good for you.”

And with that she turned and walked away.

Mixed feelings on family…

I woke up this morning to find Jeremy wiring speakers in the kitchen. Once again Jeremy couldn’t sleep but zie was in good spirits as I got ready for work and headed out.

Jeremy was still in good spirits when I called at lunch, happily chatting about the latest game on sale through Steam and how it’s a “must buy” because it’s only ten dollars and regularly priced at forty. As far as I can tell, this describes every Steam sale I’ve ever heard. I casually asked if anyone else had called today, only to get a cheerful “no just you”. I wasn’t nearly as cheerful. I’d opened Facebook a few minutes earlier, scrolling through posts on my phone. There were pictures of my nephews at the local airport, grinning for the camera as they sat inside a small plane.

Amazing, I thought to myself. I didn’t know you could rent a plane for a ride and idly wondered how much it would cost. Jeremy would love a trip like that.

Wait? Was that my Dad? I scrolled back up and, yes, it was. There was my Mom too. My whole family was at the airport while Jeremy sat alone in our apartment. They couldn’t have forgotten zir. We live four blocks away from the airport and our building is clearly visible. Hope rose, maybe they had called. I scrolled a bit further but couldn’t see Jeremy. Or maybe they’d called and zie wasn’t interested. That was wildly unlikely. Zie’d turned down family visits before but those had been trips to the greenspace to feed the ducks, not an offer to fly in an airplane. And, sure enough they hadn’t called.

This isn’t new. Up until two years ago, we lived a five minute walk from Karen and my parents. When people found out we were moving they were shocked. Weren’t we going to miss being so close to family? I smiled and reminded them we were only moving a town away. But the reality was more complicated. Time after time I’d find out about a family dinner after the fact. It was planned so quickly… they didn’t know if I was busy… Karen and the boys just happened by and before they knew it, it was dinner. And to be fair, I’m not the kind of person who just drops by. I don’t know if I’d be an inconvenience and would much rather call first and make plans. But it was a relief to move and have distance as an excuse rather than no one thought to call.

My Mom called me a couple of days ago to let me know she’d bought two of Jeremy’s Christmas presents. She’d discovered Doctor Who items online through Chapters (a Canadian bookstore) and went right to the brick and mortar shop to check them out. She hoped “he” would like them. I assured her zie would. Karen called as well, just to chat. Then emailed me a link to an autism seminar, which unfortunately was at the same time as Jeremy’s doctors appointment. So they do care about Jeremy and think about zir. And yet…

My biggest fear is they didn’t bother calling because they were worried the whole trans issue would get brought up and Karen doesn’t want her kids to know yet. There’s no way I could ask that, not and expect an honest answer. Emma said I should call and demand an answer but that isn’t going to change anything. It’s not like I can turn back time.

I got home from work too late to take Jeremy to the airport so we’re going for a fall walk instead, just the two of us. And it will be fabulous.

Protecting our children…

I’ve always told my children that we’re lucky to live in Canada, with our Charter of Rights and our focus on prevention of hate crimes instead of freedom of speech. I was even happier and more proud the spring Jeremy turned seven as our province became the first in Canada to legalize equal marriage. I looked at Jeremy and was glad that zie’d be able to marry whomever zie fell in love with. This was important as Jeremy had crushes on two boys and a girl that year and had told me mere weeks earlier that zie was going to marry zir male classmate when they grew up.

My kids were safe and protected.

A couple of days ago I discovered that there are only two doctors in all of Ontario that are able to approve sex reassignment surgery. Granted, this doesn’t affect Jeremy as zie seems fairly happy with zir body but it was still a surprise. Ontario’s a huge province, just over a million square kilometers, and has a population of 13.6 million people. It would take close to 30 hours to drive from one side of the province to the other. Then came the bombshell. The two doctors, Kenneth Zucker and Susan Bradley, both favour reparative therapy for trans kids. Zucker asks “parents to take away their child’s “feminine” toys and instruct the child not to play with or draw pictures of girls” (obviously focusing on MtF children *cough* homophobia *cough*) and goes on to claim that parents who fail to force their child into gender norms are offering “some type of emotional neglect.”

Jeremy during a short hair phase proudly showing off zir new earring and newest stuffed animal.

Jeremy during a short hair phase, proudly showing off zir new earring and newest stuffed animal while drinking zir favourite princess punch. Zucker would definitely disapprove.

Suddenly I was looking at Jeremy and feeling like zie wasn’t quite so safe.

Immediately after reading this, I discovered that only four provinces in Canada have gender identity down as a reason for protection against hate crimes (Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories) and only Ontario and Nova Scotia include gender expression. And then came the real shocker… House Speaker dismisses bid to vote again on transgender protections.

From what I understand by reading this article, NDP MP Randall Garrison created a bill called C-279. This bill requested protection, based on gender identity, to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Now here’s the kicker. Bill C-279 PASSED by twelve votes! Three months ago the Conservative government decided to re-vote on this issue but by committee instead. The committee held only nine members, five of which were conservative. At the time, one of the committee members was David Wilks, one of a mere handful of Conservatives who voted yes for protection. He got swapped out of the committee. It doesn’t say who voted for which side but with five Conservatives and five no votes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess. Conservative Senator Don Plett is the one who moved to have the bill sent to committee, saying that he was concerned that the bill would allow abuse of laws and let “pedophiles take advantage of legislation that we have in place”. He went on to claim he was trying to protect “the rights of five- and six-year-old children”. How the fuck is saying that someone can’t beat the shit out of a person because they look male but are wearing a skirt going to protect a five year old child?

I was reading a post on the blog Raising my Rainbow last fall. The post talked about how Lori’s six year old son, CJ, was scared to use the bathroom because the other boys kept trying to check his genitals to make sure he was a boy and not a girl. He was so scared, he ended up wetting his pants while waiting for the dismissal bell. He hadn’t used the toilet in over six hours. I read this post to Jeremy and was surprised by zir answer.

“Mom, you have to write to her. How old is CJ again?” I said six and Jeremy thought a bit more. “Okay, tell her he’s probably still young enough to use the kindergarten washroom. That might be an option. But if it’s not, tell her he shouldn’t use the stall. It’s not safe. What he needs to do is get right close to the urinal so the little walls on each side will offer some protection. Maybe his Dad could show him how, if he’s got a Dad.”

Zie watched as I dutifully typed the information down. Meanwhile I tried to hide my surprise. Jeremy hadn’t given that information as someone trying to think of something that might help. Zie’d given that information as someone who’d been through the exact same situation and had come up with something that helped zir. And I’d never known. Apparently Jeremy found it so commonplace to have fellow classmates checking to see if zie had a penis that zie didn’t even mention it to me; at least not until Jeremy had discovered someone zie might be able to help.

The sad thing is these aren’t isolated incidents. But apparently the Conservatives are only interested in protecting the rights of most five or six year olds. And that makes me furious. Both my kids deserve to be protected.

The sound of silence…

Okay… partial silence. I sent the letter out yesterday at 3:30pm, after spending most of the day working on it. It was seen almost immediately by Karen and then Amy, something I could tell because I sent it through Facebook. I got this response from Karen just over an hour later:

This is all very interesting Michelle. Thank you for providing me with all the info that you feel relevant. Jeremy can rest assure that my opinion is completely unchanged. Jeremy is my nephew and will always be welcome in my life and home. I am glad that both of you have found peace with this decision. My only request at this point is that Jeremy understands that this info is over the heads of [cousins] right now and I won’t be explaining it to them. Not that they see each other that often anyways! If they call Jeremy he or him, for the time being, we all need to tolerate that. I don’t think it would occur that often anyways. Glad Jeremy is happy with this and we’ll talk to you soon:) Karen

Very interesting? All the info that I feel relevant? Completely unchanged? Jeremy needs to tolerate being called he and him because zir eleven and eight year old cousins can’t handle learning zir gender? I’m sure Karen felt like she’d crafted a completely supportive reply but no.

Amy popped back in for another view then Karen asked:

I have just been going through the links you sent in your message and just wondering….. Who wrote the first one about the pronouns. It looks to me like it is just someone’s blog post. It sounds like that is mostly what the suggested pronouns are though, just made up words that people are trying out. Are people voting to get them added to English language?

I could be overly suspicious but this is what Amy wrote on my Facebook page this spring when she wrote a huge rant on how non binary people aren’t trans… “My first post was simply my opinion of support for transgendered people – not “mis”information based. Remember you need no credentials to publish something online but university texts and training sessions through [university] are typically fact based in my experience.”

The “mis”information? A link to Neutrois.com. I couldn’t help but wonder if Amy was feeding Karen questions to ask via a phone conversation. Worrying that a list of pronouns was on a blog post seemed more like Amy’s concern than Karen’s.

It’s been just over 27 hours now and Amy has yet to reply. I don’t know if she’s busy being insulted because I explained my child’s gender and it doesn’t match her notions of what’s acceptable as trans or if she’s  trying to figure out how to craft a passive-aggressive letter that will still manage look supportive to Mom (I sent this as a group message) or if she’s coming up with a list of questions designed to prove both me and my child’s gender wrong. Quite frankly I’m tired and simply don’t care.

A friend of mine sent me a Facebook message a couple of years ago saying that her child had just come out as trans; this was long before I had any inkling about Jeremy. My answer was something along the lines of “thank you for sharing this with me.” It’s not that hard to be supportive, all you need to do is care more about the person you’re talking to than about your point.

I wish I could say my family had surprised and amazed me with their reactions but I can’t. They’re behaving just as I expected.

 

The letter…

This is the letter I wrote for my Mom, Amy, and Karen. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions!

*************************************************************************

I think Jeremy was about eight years old when zie* found a scrawled message on a nearby bus shelter and wanted to know what it meant.

“I wish I was a girl”

I looked at the words and didn’t know what to say. Obviously I’d have to give some sort of basic explanation of transgender but I had no idea how to broach the subject. I decided to try for the empathetic route.

“You know how you look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside?”

Jeremy stared at me blankly and shook zir head. Now I wish I could go back and get zir to elaborate but back then I simply went on by clarifying that most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside (or vice versa with girls). Jeremy seemed satisfied with my explanation and the conversation moved on from there. Zie doesn’t even remember it but it obviously stuck in my mind.

And on we went, with people sometimes thinking Jeremy was a boy… and sometimes a girl. With kids (and adults) calling zir names ranging from he-she to faggot. One neighbour, a grown man at that, used to throw garbage off his balcony at Jeremy every time zie walked through the back door of our building. Thankfully they moved shortly after he started. I posted pictures of their moving truck on Facebook and baked a cake to celebrate.

It wasn’t until this year that Jeremy became more obviously uncomfortable with binary gender names, begging me to ask the teacher to explain other pronouns and arguing with the EA that male and female aren’t opposites and that you can feel like both. The teachers decided zie was simply being contrary. I decided to do some research and had several in depth conversations with Jeremy.

Jeremy identifies as non binary transgender. To break it down, gender is a spectrum and, just like a rainbow where the colours red and purple connect instead of staying on different sides of a line, male and female are not opposites. The vast majority of people are born with the sex characteristics of a man and identify as male… or the sex characteristics of a woman and identify as female. These people, aka us, are called cisgender (with a soft c). Everyone else (unless they choose to be called otherwise) falls under the trans umbrella.

Non binary simply means zie doesn’t identify as male or female. Some people identify as neither gender (agender) and some flow between the two. Jeremy consistently identifies as both. This is hard in our culture. The Bugis society in Indonesia has five genders; Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have the hijra, MtF trans people who have a long history of being considered good luck; and some Native Canadian tribes have a tradition of two-spirited people, who were valued as teachers and spiritual leaders. Our culture ignores the reality that not everyone fits into standard binary roles. This is slowly changing.

Something our society currently lacks is non-binary pronouns. Jeremy tried going with the pronoun “they” for a short time but ultimately found it awkward and confusing. Zie claimed it felt like zie had 50 personalities. We found a list of pronouns and went through it. Jeremy decided on zie/zir, the same pronouns that my friend Lenny uses. Zie is used the same as he and she, while zir is used the same as him and her. Both are pronounced phonetically with zie sounding like “zee” and zir sounding like “sir” (but with a zed sound). I’ve found a link that shows the pronouns used in a portion of “Alice in Wonderland” to give you an idea of how to use them.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use these pronouns. I know they seem awkward and unwieldy, and you will make mistakes, but I can assure you it will mean the world to Jeremy. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone started calling you he, him, and sir. It might simply be weird at first but then picture it stretching on for days… months… years. The attempted suicide rate for trans people is currently at 41% and that’s from a lack of acceptance. I don’t want Jeremy to be a statistic and I will do everything I can to make zir feel safe and welcome. I’m sure you will as well.

I’ve found a video by a group of teenagers explaining the importance of pronouns and hope it will help.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

Love, Michelle

* zie and zir are the pronouns Jeremy prefers. They are fully explained in the letter.