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.

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One thought on “I’m going to need some help

  1. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate having allies like you who take the time to inform others and even argue about this stuff. Thanks! 🙂

    Also, as a bit of a word geek I can point out that the trans- prefix doesn’t mean “change”; it means “on the other side of.” Likewise “cis-” means “on this side of.” But more importantly, the word transgender had a long, convoluted history before it came to mean what it does today, so the exact definition of the original root words isn’t important.

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