Life with Jeremy

I got a call at work on Tuesday. It was Jeremy’s teacher letting me know he’d been suspended for several days. She started off by informing me that a student in the class had his ipod broken accidentally by another student and Jeremy just would not let go of the situation, even though it had nothing to do with him.

“The ipod belonged to P, didn’t it,” I interjected. Note, this wasn’t a question. P is Jeremy’s best friend. Criticize him and you’re liable to have Jeremy at your throat.

“Yes,” the teacher agreed. Then she moved on to explain that she and the EA were handling the situation when Jeremy jumped in and called them “victim blaming assholes”. So he got sent to the office so the principal could explain the situation to Jeremy. He promptly called him a “victim blaming asshole” too.

Jeremy’s good at defending but really lousy when it comes to tact.

“It’s too bad he picked now to pull this stunt,” the teacher continued. “I have an LGBT group coming in tomorrow for a discussion. I asked them to come in specifically for Jeremy.”

She repeated this five times during the phone call. I didn’t have the heart to tell her neither Jeremy or I cared. In fact I was glad he’d be missing it, especially if the discussion was going to get “controversial” like his sex ed class apparently did, with students arguing that being gay was “wrong”. He doesn’t need definitions and this wasn’t his only opportunity to be around someone from the LGBTQ+ community. He was going to be hanging out with about ten other LGBTQ+ teens in three more hours, when he went to his youth group, and that’s a lot more useful for him.

I told him about the LGBT class discussion almost as soon as I got home. He sighed.

“That’s important for everyone else in the class, not for me. They’re the ones who need to learn.” His comment echoed one my friend had just made.

Yesterday, I went online before dinner. Someone in a forum I frequent had just bought a genetic test and was sharing the results. The first one he shared was a shot of the results stating he’s male. I pointed this out to Jeremy. He leaned closer to the screen, obviously interested.

“Cool,” he replied. “I should get that test.”

“Jeremy,” I said slowly. “You know they’re going by genetics, right? Like if you have an x and y chromosome. They’re not testing to see if you’re trans*. That’s something you need to figure out on your own. There isn’t a test for it.”

He looked disappointed. “Well that stinks,” he replied. “I already know what chromosomes I have.”

“Do you know what gender you are?” I asked and he nodded.

“Mostly male with a bit of female,” he replied promptly.

Over dinner he brought up the group his teacher had invited in.

“It’s someone who’s a friend of the teacher,” he commented. “They’re going to discuss gays, lesbians, and hygiene.”

Well, that was an unusual mash up.

“Wait, they’re discussing gay and lesbian hygiene?” I asked, deliberately misunderstanding. It worked. Jeremy laughed.

“Does it differ from straight hygiene? And what about bisexuals. Do they do gay hygiene half the time and straight the rest or is theirs different?”

“Well,” he drawled, dragging out the word. “You see… bisexuals need aircraft in order to practice hygiene. The plane gets attached by a hose to the toothbrush or washcloth then it gets dragged across the face or teeth.”

“Interesting,” I replied. “Speaking of hygiene. I know you slept in today but you really need to brush your teeth before we go to your counseling appointment. When are you going to brush them?”

“I just need to get that Boeing…” Jeremy’s voice trailed off and he grinned.

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Better left unsaid…

“So? Did you dye Jeremy’s hair again this weekend?” my customer asked as a huge grin spread across her face.

I smiled back. This is the same customer who said the aqua hair dye looked awesome, or at least what she could see of it on my arm. I chat with her regularly, often about Jeremy.

“Not this weekend,” I replied. “The last dye job wasn’t that long ago and it still looks good.” I finished up her order and handed her back the change.

“I wonder what colour he’ll pick next,” she mused. “I know, lime green.”

That’s one colour I couldn’t picture Jeremy choosing and I told her that.

“It’s too close to yellow,” I explained. “Jeremy hates the colour yellow.”

The customer smiled and leaned in toward the cash register. I automatically did the same.

“Yeah,” she whispered conspiratorially. “He probably wouldn’t want to be considered one of those.”

I froze. “What?” I blurted, although I knew exactly what she was getting at.

“You know,” she continued, drooping one wrist. “A fag.”

I blinked, not knowing what on earth to say and she repeated herself, presumably thinking I hadn’t heard her.

“Considering he dyed his hair pink before, I don’t think that’s a big concern of his,” I replied. I was aiming for dry although I admit my voice was probably closer to cold.

Jeremy hadn’t meant to dye his hair pink, he’d been trying for purple, but it ended up cotton candy pink and he kept it for a month, so I figured that was close enough. There was no way I was explaining this to her, not after that comment.

“Oh,” she sounded startled. “I guess not then.”

She  went and sat down, then came back about ten minutes later.

“About earlier,” she said awkwardly. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

I nodded. “Thanks,” I replied, feeling pretty awkward myself. “I find that word offensive.”

With that, she went back to her seat. One of my coworkers wandered over.

“What was that all about?” she asked in confusion. “You look mad at her.” I shrugged.

“She told me earlier that Jeremy wouldn’t want to dye his hair lime green in case people thought he was a fag.”

My coworker glared over the counter. “You know, I don’t think I like her either,” she mused.

I thought back to Jeremy’s comment a few weeks ago, when he told me he’s never coming out of the closet ~ that he’d taken away the door, welded it shut, then hid it behind a wide screen TV ~ and I wondered if he’d had any similar conversations with people he thought were more trustworthy and less judgmental. And I felt a lot more empathy.

A video recommended by Jeremy…

Emma came over for dinner last night and Jeremy made a point of showing both of us this video. We all sat and watched it together. Well, Emma and I watched it at least. I wasn’t able to tell if Jeremy was watching the video or our reactions to the video. He was probably doing both.

Here’s a direct quote from Buckley…

“We are generally “tolerant” and “accepting” of things that are shitty or annoying, but that we have no control over… like assholes texting during a movie or taking up two spots in a parking lot, or morons who bring 13 items into the 12 item or less checkout…

We shouldn’t be “tolerant” or “accepting” of homosexuals as though they’ve done something wrong but we’re forgiving them for it or ignoring them in spite of their shitty behaviour. Gay people exist and it’s neither right nor wrong. It simply is. It’s not something you need to “accept”, it’s done. Homosexuals have existed long before you did.”

While Buckley’s often rude and even more often abrasive, he does have a good point. People don’t tolerate or accept me as straight, they just automatically assume I am, like it’s a default setting. Jeremy got asked this morning, by a total stranger, if his girlfriend picked out his hair colour. Like I said… automatic assumption.

I’m warning in advance that Buckley lost me at around the 5 minute mark, although Jeremy seemed interested right until the end.

I remember when tolerance was the key word then people started saying that wasn’t good enough and that acceptance was needed. I agree that we need a new word but have my doubts¬† that “apathy” will be it. It does almost fit though. If Sarah and Bob move in next door, the focus is on whether they’ll be good neighbours. Do they have kids? Are those kids loud or quiet? Any pets? Are they carting in several thousand dollars worth of stereo equipment? The focus should be the same if it’s Sarah and Barb moving in or Scott and Bob.

I’m going out on an empathetic limb now. I’m a vegan, which gets brought up a lot because people bring up food a lot and/or eventually notice when I don’t eat meat. I don’t mind answering honest questions. No, I’m not worried about dying from kwashiorkor, my protein levels are fine. I get my protein from plants, the same way cows do (but without the regurgitation). But sometimes I’d like to just sit down and eat my lunch without having someone investigate my meal and deciding whether my vegetable soup and salad are weird or normal. And for the love of all you hold holy, don’t wave meat in front of me to see if I’ll start craving it. I’ve been a vegetarian for 23 years now, meat simply makes me queasy.

One lunch break, I had a coworker look over at my salad.

“What’s on top of your salad?” he asked.

I looked at my meal and gave an inward cringe. “It’s tofu bacon,” I replied. “I made it last night.”

“Cool. Can I try a piece?”

That wasn’t the reply I’d expected. “Sure, okay,” I stammered.

He took a piece. “That’s good,” he replied, then he went back to his own meal and paid no more attention to mine.

No questions about why I’d make fake bacon instead of eating the real stuff. No comments about how much tastier bacon would be. No comments on how weird it looked. And that felt really good.

I figure most people are like this. Most people want to simply live their lives without a bunch of questions or anyone trying to figure out if what they’re doing is close enough to normal.

Someplace to fit…

We were chatting at the dinner table last night when I asked, “So, Jeremy, what did the people at youth group think of your new hair colour?”

He held his fork halfway to his mouth and paused. “Fine, I guess,” he replied then he thought some more. “No one actually mentioned it. I don’t think it stands out there. The group’s weird.”

Weird encompasses a lot. “Do most of the people there dye their hair?” I guessed.

He shook his head. “No, they’re just weird.”

“So you fit right in.”

“Exactly.” His grin was enormous.

I’m so glad I found this group and I’m so glad he agreed to go. Everyone needs someplace to fit in.

Why? Why?

I headed off to bed last night and told Jeremy to go to bed too because he needed to be up at 6am.

“I just have one video to watch Mom, then I’m going right to bed.”

At midnight he was in my room complaining he just couldn’t fall asleep. At 3am he was in my room, tearfully explaining that every time he started dozing off, he woke up thinking there was something (someone?) under his bed who was going to pull him out then kill him. At 5am he was making herbal tea.

I walked into the living room at 6am to find Jeremy peacefully asleep on the couch with a video open on the computer. What was he watching last night? A video on Uganda’s anti-gay laws.

*head desk*

Why he thought that would be something to watch directly before bed, I’ll never know. As it is, it looks like someone’s staying home from school today.

Jeremy and laundry…

“Mom? Is it freezing out?”

I looked down at the icon on my computer. “Yes, it’s -8C, and that’s freezing. Why?”

“Sometime soon I’m going to put my clothes in a tub of water and stick them outside. You know, so they’ll go into cryostasis.”

And with that he wandered off.

Anyone want to explain to Jeremy that a) minus eight is nowhere near cold enough to cryogenically preserve anything and b) his clothes are not alive.

Thankfully, this time around he did his laundry the traditional way, in the washer and dryer.

I wish I was a girl

“Mom? What does that mean?” Jeremy asked. He pointed to a small sentence written on the side of the bus shelter.

I can’t remember how old he was then. Younger than twelve that’s for sure, probably somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. I expected something explicit or vulgar. Instead I read six small words… “I wish I was a girl”.

I looked at Jeremy and had no idea what to say at all. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lead a fairly sheltered life. Ironically, being bullied all through school meant I was out of the loop when it came to school yard gossip, so I was more naive than the average kid. And I grew up in a bland middle-class neighbourhood in the 1980’s. My only exposure to anyone who wasn’t straight or cisgender was someone who was collectively known as “Terry the fairy”. Note, I said my neighbourhood was bland, not classy. He was known for pairing fancy dresses and a matching purse with hairy legs and five o’clock shadow. Other than Klinger, off of M.A.S.H., that was it.

I took a deep breath and tried to think of what to say.

“Well, you know how you look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside…”

My voice trailed off as Jeremy stared at me blankly then shook his head. Great, two seconds into my explanation and I’d already screwed it up. Another deep breath.

“Okay, most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside. Or look like a girl on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside but sometimes people don’t. Sometimes people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside or look like a girl on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside.”

I could have stopped there. In fact I should have stopped there. But I didn’t.

“This is something I don’t understand,” I admitted. “I want you to be happy in your body and to be happy with who you are. If you’re not happy with your body then you’re not happy with a big part of yourself…”

My voice trailed off as I had an epiphany. This actually didn’t have anything to do with me or what I felt. I looked from Jeremy to the writing on the shelter and sighed.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter if I understand or not. No one chooses their body and it must be hard living in one that just does not feel right.”

Jeremy nodded. “Why did he write that?”

“Maybe there wasn’t anyone to talk to,” I pointed out. Jeremy looked stricken.

“He could talk to me,” he replied, looking around as if he expected whoever wrote this message to walk right over.

“Hon, the person who wrote this note could be anyone,” I said and gestured around the neighbourhood. “Think of how many people live in our building alone and there’s three more buildings the same size and all these houses.”

Jeremy nodded sadly then our bus came and we headed off. As far as I know, the message is still written on the side of that shelter. We never did find out who wrote it and I doubt we ever will.