Imagination running wild…

Jeremy has quite an imagination. Most of the time it’s interesting and often it’s hilarious. But sometimes his imagination leaves me wanting to bang my head against a wall. Repeatedly.

We were sitting on a fairly crowded bus last night after an evening spent with friends. Our seats were directly behind the exit doors which meant there was a good sized gap between us and the next row of seats.

“Mom,” Jeremy whispered urgently. I’d been staring blankly out the window, not really thinking about anything in particular. We were twenty minutes into a trip that was going to take another hour and I was already exhausted. I blinked then turned to look at him.

“That man’s taking pictures of the guy at the front of the bus.”

I looked up just in time to see the man in front of us raise his cell phone and snap a photo of a kid who looked just a few years older than Jeremy. The kid’s hair was buzz cut short and dyed fluorescent orange. It was so bright I wondered if it would glow in blacklight.

The man lowered his phone. It looked like he was emailing the photo.

“That is really creepy,” I agreed. “And rather pathetic. He needs to get a life.”

“We should tell someone,” Jeremy urged. “We need to tell that guy someone’s taking pictures of him.”

I took a closer look at the man. He looked to be in his late 20’s or early 30’s, so at least a decade older than the kid. He seemed soft but the kind of soft that was fat overlying muscle. And, judging from the way he’d hid the phone behind a pole and took a quick look around, he knew he was doing something wrong. If he was confronted, chances were he’d get defensive and angry. This could get ugly.

“No,” I said firmly. “If that man gets angry, he could cause a big scene on the bus. Maybe even a fight. Look, it’s wrong but there’s all sorts of idiots snapping pictures of total strangers with their cameras. I see them all the time online. It’s not right but it’s not really hurting that guy. Leave it.”

Jeremy looked ready to argue. Meanwhile the kid pulled the bus cord and got off. I relaxed and settled back to looking out the window.

“Mom,” Jeremy whispered urgently. “That man just texted ‘he’s off’. We need to warn the bus driver.”

“Jeremy relax,” I sighed. “Look. Dumbass probably has a friend who wanted more photos and he’s explaining that he can’t take any.”

Jeremy didn’t look convinced. “Mom, he’s sent two more emails and both say ‘practise’ with a picture of a professional hockey team. Practise even has a border around it.”

That was when he lost me.

“Okay,” I said slowly. “So he’s organizing a hockey practise. What does that have to do with anything? And why are you reading his emails? That’s just as creepy as him taking pictures of that kid.”

“Mom, you don’t get it,” Jeremy retorted. “There was a border around the word practise like he’d taken it off the internet and it was a professional team.”

“Yeah,” I replied. I stared at him blankly.

“Email isn’t private,” he pointed out. Talk about stating the obvious, although I doubted the man realized how public his email was on this particular bus. “Look, it’s a code. Downtown [town] is hockey and when we get into downtown [city] he’ll have a different code like a picture of puppies or something. It’s obvious. He told people that guy was off the bus then he used the code to say where he is. Now people are going to beat that guy up and you don’t care.”

Well, that was very creative and Jeremy was definitely upset. I took a deep breath.

“Jeremy, look. That man’s an idiot. He obviously doesn’t get out much if he’s so excited about seeing different coloured hair that he has to take photos and share them with friends. But that’s it. Did it ever occur to you that he’s emailing people about hockey because he plays hockey and they’re having a practise.”

“But he didn’t just type it in,” Jeremy protested. “It was downloaded from the internet…”

“And he could have downloaded it off the internet just as easily for an email about hockey,” I pointed out.

“He didn’t take any pictures of me.”

“We’re behind him. He can’t see us,” I replied. Jeremy didn’t look convinced.

The man pulled the cord then got up, slinging a sports bag over his shoulder. He looked like he played hockey. Not professionally for sure. He’d be on some team that practised once a week then went out for a few beers afterward.

Jeremy groaned. “We lost our chance Mom and it’s all your fault. Now that guy’s going to get beat up and we have no way to stop it.”

“Fine,” I snapped. “If we read the news tomorrow and find out some orange haired teenager got beat up downtown then I’ll apologize to you. But it’s not going to happen.”

Jeremy glared at me then pulled on his headphones, cranking his music. I settled back to enjoy some relative quiet.

An hour later we were home. I went into the living room to say goodnight to Jeremy.

“Don’t stay up late,” I warned him. “We have church tomorrow and you’ll need to talk to them about your role.”

The RE teacher texted him before the bus ride home about possibly changing his role. Jeremy’s already picked out his outfit and was underwhelmed at the thought of getting a new character.

“I don’t want to go to church tomorrow but it’s not like you care, you never listen to me.”

“I listen to you,” I protested.

“Tell that to the guy with the orange hair,” Jeremy snapped. “He got off at their secret hockey location and now…”

I looked at the wall and figured banging my head against it was a viable option.

I’m going to need some help

Several weeks ago I had a talk with Emma. She wanted to know why I refer to my friend Lenny as zie and zir instead of s/he or him/her. I explained that Lenny is trans* and doesn’t identify as male or female then I was met with a baffled silence.

“But Mom, I thought trans* meant that someone was born in one body but felt like the opposite gender.”

I explained it was more of an umbrella term and she nodded.

“That makes sense,” she agreed and that was the end of that part of the conversation.

Emma received most of her sex ed from me and the OWL program through the UU church, with the rest gathered through talking to friends via the Gay-Straight Alliance at her school. The permission forms for overnight outings with our church ask what your child’s gender identity is, which pronouns they prefer, and if they would like to sleep in the male room, female room, or gender neutral room. That conversation was pretty much as short as I expected.

Then came last night. A friend of mine saw the post on Facebook and brought it up during a phone conversation.

“Michelle, what you wrote doesn’t make any sense. The prefix trans- means change so someone would have to be changing from something to something. They couldn’t stay in the middle and be neutral.”

I deal with anxiety to begin with and am not fond of the phone (where “not fond” translates to yelling “why is that damn thing ringing again?” even though it might only ring twice a month). Plus I had never looked up the definition of the prefix before. Embarrassingly enough, I’d never looked up the dictionary definition of transgender before either. The flip side was he’d never heard of the term cisgender before.

“That would be us,” I explained. “You were born in a male body and feel male while I was born in a female body and feel female.”

He didn’t read the link I already shared on Facebook about neutrois and thought my explanation of trans* being an umbrella term was silly then went on to say, “Besides, if someone doesn’t identify with either gender then they wouldn’t have a sex drive or a sexual orientation.”

And, whoops, I was right out of my depth.

“Gender and sexual orientation are two different things,” I said awkwardly. I dislodged my 20lb cat off my lap and walked over to my computer. “Just give me a minute,” I continued as I searched through Google. “I’m sending you a link to the genderbread person. Read that and if you have any more questions then you can ask them to me.” I frantically hoped he’d have no more questions.

Then the conversation simply got surreal. My friend has a coworker who’s identified as a gay male for years and is now coming out as a trans* female. Meanwhile my friend’s bisexual and has been with his husband for almost seventeen years (their anniversary is exactly a week after Jeremy’s birthday, which makes it extremely easy for me to remember). He was using the same comments against his coworker that I’m sure he’s heard countless times against himself. Why did she choose this? When did she choose this? It’s probably just a phase. To make it even more surreal, he agreed those were arguments he’d heard against himself and still did not see the irony.

That conversation’s over for now at least (we’re all heading out to see a movie this afternoon) but considering I’ve got a big mouth and use it regularly, chances are I’ll have similar conversations in the future and will need some better arguments and easier definitions. So, please, if anyone’s got links, feel free to share them. The easier and simpler the better.

On the plus side, Emma read the post to her boyfriend Mark, who became confused as to why she was referring to her Mom’s friend as a letter. Emma laughed and explained zie was a pronoun and not a letter. He nodded at the end of her explanation then told her that made sense.

That’s not supportive…

Jeremy had his parent teacher interview on Tuesday. He was at the tail end of another two day suspension so I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about going. But I went anyways because it’s important and because his teacher really does care about Jeremy. She’s genuinely trying to help.

One thing I haven’t mentioned before is that Jeremy’s autistic. I’m never sure how much to share; what information will be the tipping point for someone to say “hey, I know who that is”. Jeremy has what’s known as high functioning autism, which is very similar to Aspergers. There are two issues with autism that relate to school. One is he can get angry very easily and the other is he will perseverate on certain things. Which is why, when his teacher commented he got angry over a discussion on opposites, I groaned. I knew exactly what was coming.

The very first question the educational assistant asked him was, “What’s the opposite of boy?” and then she couldn’t understand why he got upset with this question. Instead of acknowledging that was not a good example, they tried to argue with him that boy and girl were opposites when it comes to words and they didn’t want to get into gender issues during a language class. Then they couldn’t understand why he kept coming back to that line on the page, insisting that boy and girl weren’t opposites; that you could feel like both a boy and a girl.

“Umm… that is something you’re better off just not discussing with Jeremy,” I commented tactfully. “I wouldn’t bring it up at all.”

And yet his teacher is trying. During a class discussion on personal hygiene, Jeremy told everyone that he likes to shave his legs. The teacher promptly informed the class that one of the male teachers in the school does body building and he shaves his arms and legs to show off his muscles. And Jeremy felt comfortable enough in the class to have one of the educational assistants paint his nails and to ask for “gay stuff” during sex ed. Obviously in some ways she is being supportive.

Then came a discussion on Facebook.

Yesterday I posted the same link on Facebook about Vancouver as I did here. I got several positive comments then a relative of mine (Amy) jumped into the thread early this afternoon. One of the first things she posted, right in the middle of a ‘rah-rah if you’re transgender go proudly into the washroom of the gender you identify with’ speech, was that “a person who is transgendered isn’t seeking to be gender-neutral or gender-free – they are seeking to become the opposite gender from which they were born”.

I politely disagreed with her, explaining trans* includes people who don’t identify as either gender. I even included a link explaining neutrois to her. This was fairly pointless as I don’t think she even read it. She simply posted a chiding message that anyone can put anything online and not to believe everything I read.

Then Lenny posted, explaining zie is transgender and doesn’t identify with either binary gender. Amy proceeded to thank zir for sharing “personal stories” then explained that she was confident in her knowledge and profession. In essence, she told Lenny that zie was wrong and didn’t know what being transgender was. My jaw dropped.

Amy also considered changing the signs on washrooms to be no more than a bandaid solution, ignoring the other steps they were suggesting in the article. All the while arguing that she didn’t want to use the same washroom as a man, which wasn’t in any of the steps I read.

Then it got worse. A friend of mine didn’t feel comfortable posting in the thread and messaged me instead, asking me to share this. “Can you tell her that as an actual trans person, I don’t see this as a band-aid. I see this as a step toward being regarded as a human being.”

Amy, while claiming to be supportive, went on to say my friend was part of the problem. That the thread was non-threatening and, even though the thread is visible to everyone on my friends list (which is just over 200 people), if “he or she” didn’t feel comfortable posting as trans* to all those people, that made her “question the legitimacy of that person’s fear to pee in a public bathroom”. My jaw dropped even further. The “he or she” comments made it obvious my sister was ignoring everything Lenny and I said. And the friend doesn’t identify with either gender.

A couple of other people tried to point out to her the irony of telling actual trans* people that they don’t know what transgender is. She claimed we were all bullying her then stormed off the thread while dropping expletives and proclaiming that she’s a professional.

The sad part is, she is a professional. She works with vulnerable, mentally ill teenagers and some of them do identify as transgender. And I’m sure she is supportive… to a point. If she has a teenager there who is biologically male and identifies as female, she’ll be supportive. Or vice versa. The thing is, real life isn’t that neat and tidy.

While she was posting her goodbye rant, I was brushing Jeremy’s hair (which is almost long enough for a pony tail) and making sure he had everything he needed for a trip to the movies with his LGBTQ group. And I was talking with another friend of mine who was in the process of coming out to me as being closer to gender neutral than cisgender.

And she’s right. She has actual university education and is a professional. My only information comes from talking and listening to trans* people. And there is a lot for me to learn. The difference is I’m willing to learn.

Way to go Vancouver!

TransWelcomeThe picture links to an article titled Gendered symbols should be removed from Vancouver community centres, report says. This list is included in the article:

  • All community centres should have at least one universal and accessible single-stall washroom for each activity area.
  • The number of private stalls in men’s washrooms should be increased.
  • Multiple single-stall universal washrooms should be created “when possible”.
  • When new change rooms are developed at swimming pools, there should be separate men’s, women’s, and universal facilities.
  • “Gendered symbols of bodies” should be removed “as much as possible” from signage.
  • Men’s and women’s washrooms should indicate that trans and gender-variant users are welcome.
  • Trans-inclusive stickers should be placed at entrances to facilities.
  • A public education campaign, which would explain the use of the term “universal”, should be carried out before signage changes.
  • There should be mandatory training on trans and gender-variant awareness and sensitivity for staff.
  • Staff should be trained to have an increased ability to resolve conflicts relating to gendered spaces and to do so in manner that respects trans and gender-variant people and upholds their rights.
  • Job postings should explicitly state that trans and gender-variant people are encouraged to apply.
  • New drop-in programming times should be introduced for trans and gender-variant people and allies, with windows and viewing areas covered for attendees’ safety.
  • Instructors should avoid using gendered language (“ladies and gentlemen”) as well as dividing people into groups based on perceived gender in class.

So far it’s just a report, it hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully they’ll use these recommendations soon. And even more hopefully, the rest of Canada will take note.

A position of privilege…

“Mom? Do you think someone wearing whiteface is prejudiced?”

I’d called Jeremy from work to say goodbye before he left for school. It was an interesting question but unfortunately I didn’t have the time to answer it. Although, to be fair, neither did he.

When I got home I found out where the question was coming from. Jeremy had been listening to the radio before school and discovered the musician Nick Cannon had released a new album titled “White People Party Music”. The artist also posted a picture of himself in whiteface via Instagram.

This necessitated an explanation of blackface. Jeremy needed to know it was more than comedians simply painting their faces. I explained blackface was popular comedy at a time when black people were considered second class citizens. How joking about white people, who already are in a position of privilege, is completely different than mocking black people who most certainly weren’t.

I went on to tell him that people who are not in a position of privilege end up getting options like Black History Month and Pride Parades in an attempt to even things out. At one point on Facebook, I saw a meme that explained privilege in video game terms and I shared that with Jeremy.

“Hon, you know how when you’re playing Mario Kart and you’re in first place, you don’t get stars or rockets? That’s privilege. You don’t need something to get you ahead if you’re already in front of everyone else. That’s why there’s a Black History Month. White history is pretty much the rest of the history class.”

“Whoa, wait. You mean black history’s only for February and we get the rest of the year? That’s not right.” Jeremy stared at me indignantly while I repressed the urge to remind him I don’t set school curriculum anywhere.

“You’re right,” I agreed. “It should be equal…”

“Along with Asian history,” Jeremy interrupted.

“And Native history,” I finished. “It also bugs me when people complain there’s no straight pride parades. I’m straight but I wouldn’t want to go to one.”

Jeremy snickered. “What would that look like anyways? Men in business suits? It would be boring.”

“It would look like Tuesday,” I said dryly, surprising a giggle out of him. “Our society is pretty much straight pride.”

Two days ago I was reminded again of my own position of privilege.

I am a white middle age female. I look female and I identify as female. On top of that I look innocent and trustworthy. One memorable time I stepped into a convenience store and got asked to watch the till while the person ran to use the washroom. I’d never been in that store before yet he trusted me, on first sight, to keep an eye on his unlocked cash register.

I get called honey, dear, and sweetie all the time. By everyone. I also apparently wear two signs; one says “tell me your life story” and the other says “I offer free hugs”. Both are regular occurrences. Yes, I have had random strangers tell me they’ve had a bad day and ask for a hug. Yes, I did hug them. I actually don’t mind the conversations or the hugs.

All of this means that going by my past experiences, I can confidently step into an elevator or a bus shelter with anyone and know their reaction is going to be a smile at the very least and, at the worst, an overly detailed life story (yes, I am truly sorry about your incontinence issues). I never feel at risk for my personal safety.

I am fairly innocent but I’m not naive enough to think this is what happens with everyone. I’ve been with Emma before and heard what young men yell out their windows when she’s standing at bus stops. And I’ve walked with Jeremy before and heard what young men yell out their windows at him. And yet…

Two months ago, we had a new worker who left after a few days. That isn’t unusual, most new workers disappear after a few days as my job has a high turnover rate. What was unusual was I had absolutely no idea what gender this coworker might be. That realization was immediately followed by the reality that we have gender specific uniforms. I have no idea why but we do just the same. I introduced myself and was given a name that could be male or female, depending on spelling. I didn’t ask, I just commented on the crappy work videos and moved onto other small talk.

The following day the coworker showed up in a female uniform and with a feminine spelling on the name tag, trailing whispered comments about “the girl that looks like a boy”. I skipped any mention of gender whatsoever. Two days later the coworker walked over to me, smiling, then said with some relief, “I’ve been assigned to work with you today.” Coworker was sent to work in another section a short time later then never returned after that shift. I wondered what would have happened if someone came in, wanting to get hired, and their gender didn’t match some of their ID. I figured, knowing my managers, it probably wouldn’t go well. Their resume would end up in the garbage.

Two months ago Jeremy commented, entirely unprompted, that washrooms should be genderless. That we should have single stall washrooms in a hallway with solid doors. People would just use the first empty stall then wash their hands in public. I told him that sounded like a great idea.

Then two days ago I read the article 5 Shocking Realities of Being Transgender the Media Ignores by Amy P and was both shocked and horrified. I knew transphobia exists but had no idea how much of it was built into the legal system. The article is American but I doubt Canada’s much better. And I had no idea how bad the risk of violence was.

This is the point where I find myself pretty much speechless. I know I’m in a position of privilege and have no real idea how to make things better.

A letter for Jeremy…

My friend Lenny wrote an open letter for Jeremy and I have zir permission to share it here:

Hi Jeremy,

I wanted to write you a letter about my experiences of being non binary gendered, queer, and coming out, but I’m finding it tough. I might have to make it more than one letter, and you or your Ma can email me.

The reality is that I was more torn up about who I am before I came out. Once I’d come out, I really felt relieved. I’ll just start writing and see where I get to.

As a kid, I was the messy outdoor sort. Trees and animals were fascinating. I nearly ended up at agricultural college. Bugs, birdwatching, rock pooling, going outside. Swimming, or my favourite thing, climbing trees. Loved my Fisher Price garage. Both parents and I have lamented the lack of a train set in their lives, yet we still don’t have one.

I have a probably apocryphal memory of having been in a ‘special group for girls only’ talk from the school nurse from middle school where I cried and they thought I was sad because I hadn’t had a period yet when actually I was crying because I didn’t want to have one ever.

I started writing letters to a girl a year or two older than me who I really liked, respected, and thought I could trust yet I never sent them. It was a kind of one sided romance. Not stalker-y but shy.

Cross country running. Camping. I spent most of my time around guys, watching them roleplay and beat each other at MTG card games. Then came puberty.

Puberty was no laughing matter. The cramping pain, unpredictability and the frequency of floods and leaks . I think that was actually still not as bad as the boobs part, they hurt, always felt sore, and were prone to being targeted by boys elbows. They probably wouldn’t have appreciated it if the same movements were applied to their scrotum.

I didn’t really need an AA bra, but if there was any slight dulling from sensation, it was worth the stress we experienced trying to find one.

The changing rooms at school were an issue, small and open plan, no corners to hide in. I just felt so embarrassed. Who cared if I didn’t have a shower? Not I. I did not want to be naked around these people who I barely knew. I remember thinking I might have felt better next door with the boys. I don’t think they showered either.

There was just always something wrong. Like I was just looking at desire from a really weird angle. Like maybe my body doesn’t do that or fit or work properly.

I came out at college thanks to a poor choice of location and a lot of Jack Daniels. Went back in the closet within a very short space of time though. I really hope in retrospect that I didn’t hurt her badly, make her feel bad about herself, last time I heard of her she was involved in the students union and doing well. I really do not recommend doing that to someone.

I wore men’s clothing exclusively for a time and felt better in it. It was expected of me, almost. I’ve restarted that in the last couple of years, and feel an awful lot more comfortable.

I came out as bi to my family at 22. It was eventful, but I chose a moment, because I didn’t want my first girlfriend to be the one who’d ‘turned’ me. I decided I could make the statement that I was bi without any practical tests. I didn’t want to ‘try’ because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. I didn’t need to.

I was truly prepared for it to be the worst possible moment of my life, but it wasn’t.

Mum got me to call up my dad whilst he was asleep on another continent to tell him, and she wanted me to promise not to tell my sister. It made things significantly uncomfortable and painful in places, it felt a bit ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (though I now recognise that it was probably imposed by myself rather than my family) . Yes I had to face up to who I am. Sometimes people want to know the person they thought you were.

It’s taken me years to realise that my parents love me regardless of my sexuality and gender (even though they don’t think they are what god wants) and it took a really big extreme period of mental illness to show me that they have my back.

It took me til 2010 to come out as transgender. I’d been staying with my then boyfriend and had come across the term neutrois. I looked it up and found that the term genderqueer was for people who felt like I do about myself. I cried.

I told him about it and he said he couldn’t love me if I was a boy, he cried and told me that if I wanted to be one of his loved ones, I had to be a girl. I’m not a girl (but I’m not a boy either) and soon enough after that he pushed me away.

I started to be more of who I am, not trying to fit into someone else’s ideal-me.

I recognise and accept that neither my sexuality nor my gender are binary – in the case of sexuality, there are people of all genders, not just male or female identified that I’m attracted to. I don’t much like the word pansexual. It makes me think of horned goat god Pan who liked to induce panic (named after him) in people, and it’s not about shocking people, it’s about being myself, loving people for who they are. I tend to use queer instead.

In 2011 I changed my title to Mx and my name to Lenny Grey. My family were not best pleased. When I told Pops though, he said “you always have been a tomboy” and another dear friend said “you always did hate your boobs”.

This is a really basic account of how things have been for me regarding gender and sexuality. There are doubtless many happy and sad stories still untold. I want to say that I am still here, I am supported by people who care about me, and that coming out takes however long it takes.

Your mum will still be there for you whatever label fits you best. Be who you are, however long it takes to work that out.

Nobody else can be you.

Keep being fabulous.

Lenny