Remember Amy? My relative who I had a huge Facebook argument with back in March? The one who told my friend Lenny that zie doesn’t know what transgender really is but Amy does because she learned about it at school? She’s coming for a visit in one more month.
My Mom called me on my bus ride to work to share the good news. A week and a half long visit, right over Emma’s 19th birthday.
I got off the phone and immediately texted Lenny, telling zir that Amy was coming down for a visit. Zie knew this wasn’t good news. In fact I think the only one less excited than me about the upcoming visit was Jeremy.
His jaw dropped when I shared the news and he groaned. I assured him we’d have one small family visit then avoid her for the rest of her trip. Then he wanted to know if we could invite Lenny down to yell at her and tell her she’s wrong. Surprisingly enough Lenny turned this down. I mean who doesn’t want to fly halfway across the world (on their own dime) to yell at a total stranger?
Then there was today at work. As I’ve mentioned before, I am very socially awkward. I try but I usually feel like everyone else got a book of social guidelines and conversation tips while I got a junk mail flyer. Everyone else is having a conversation while I blurt out things like “Hey, pizza’s on two for $12”. Which means that even when I’m trying my hardest to fit in, my usual description is “weird”. So I find conversations hard at the best of times and hate conflict.
I was working with two coworkers. One is young, maybe a year older than Emma, and a constant joker. She finds everything funny and is constantly pulling pranks. The other is in her thirties and just started this week. She’s uncertain, needs a lot of reassurance and regularly asks if there’s anything she can do to help. The three of us were standing at the cash register when a customer walked past.
“I know her,” my young coworker commented. “She used to go to my school.” She paused, looking confused. “Or he,” she continued. “Or he/she… whatever.”
The kid in question couldn’t hear us. This conversation wasn’t going to affect them in the slightest. I took a deep breath.
“If you don’t know whether someone’s male or female, you can use they instead of he or she.”
She looked at me in astonishment. “Really?”
I nodded. “It’s a pronoun too.”
She laughed and said, “Michelle, you’re so funny.”
Which was pretty much what I expected to hear from her. I have the feeling she considers life in general to be one huge joke. She’s fasting right now and was laughing at one o’clock this afternoon because she was so thirsty and wouldn’t be able to drink anything for eight more hours. I don’t think I could find the humour in that but she did.
Why I spoke up is because maybe my young coworker will learn something from what I said and because I know nothing about my new coworker other than she’s anxious, eager to please, and desperately trying to fit in. Maybe she’s just anxious, I’ve got plenty of coworkers with anxiety issues (myself included), but maybe she needs the reassurance that someone in the store isn’t afraid to speak up. I have no idea if I made a difference; judging by previous experiences, chances are I never will know.
And then came tonight. Jeremy and I are going to a barbecue tomorrow and I was looking through my closet for something to wear. It’s hard because I donated most of my nice clothes when they became forty pounds too big. The remainder of my clothes are better described as casual (although some are leaning a lot closer to threadbare). I pulled out a shirt I love. It’s lime green and, I don’t know… shirred? That’s the closest word I can come up with although it’s not quite that. It’s puckered and ripply… and I spilled grease on the front. It’s not that noticeable when it’s just being held up. Jeremy looked at me in surprise when I said I couldn’t wear it because of the stain.
“You can’t really see it just by holding it up,” I explained. “Here…”
Jeremy wasn’t wearing a shirt so I stuck it over his head. He obediently held up his arms.
“Look in the mirror now. See…”
While the stains don’t show up much when the shirt’s being held, they’re very obvious when it’s worn.
“Oh yeah,” he said as his eyes focused on the biggest stain. Then he looked a bit further down. On me the shirt is almost hip length. It was a crop top on him. He grabbed the edges and stretched it down before giggling and pushing his stomach out as far as he could.
I laughed and tickled his stomach. “Don’t be a goof and don’t stretch my shirt.”
I don’t want the shirt stretched too much because someday I might figure out how to get those stains out. Hopefully. He let go of the edges and relaxed.
“The shirt looks good on you,” I commented, because it did. He eyed himself more closely then nodded.
“It shows off my breasts, even though they’re small,” he agreed before pulling the shirt off. Then he flopped down on my bed.
“My teacher doesn’t like that I’ve got long hair,” he complained. “She doesn’t like me growing my nails long either. She says only girls can have long nails.”
“Speaking of nails, you need to get yours cut,” I interrupted. “Not short, just because they’re ragged.” I hurried out of the room and came back in with clippers. “You need to cut them like this…” I showed him how to cut from each side to a point in the middle then round the tip so it’s smooth.
“You use a nail file to make the edges really smooth. I’ve got a package of them somewhere around here that I haven’t opened, you can have them if you want.”
He nodded and I went rummaging through my dresser while he continued cutting his nails. I started off in my makeup drawer. Blusher (sans lid), eyeshadow, a couple of brushes, tiny bottle of nearly nude nail polish. I pulled that out while trying to figure out where it had come from in the first place. Jeremy’s eyes lit when he saw it.
“What colour is that?” he asked.
“Beige,” I replied. “It’s just supposed to make your nails look shiny. Do you want it?”
His expression said he very much wanted it so I handed over the bottle. He stopped cutting his nails to try it on, wiping them off in frustration because the polish smudged. He cut his nails then, after I showed him how to file, tried the polish again… and again… and again.
“Mom, I’m really not good at this,” he said in frustration.
“It takes practise,” I reassured him. “Look, this is how you put the polish on. See. Even strokes from the bottom to the top and you try to only paint once. If you need another coat, you wait until it dries completely then put on another layer. Otherwise it gets gummy.”
He nodded, looking intently at his nails, and flopped back down on my bed. Then he started a monologue on how if all bathrooms and change rooms were gender neutral, it would make our world a utopia. I’m not exaggerating, he seems to feel this would bring about world peace. Then he wanted my opinion.
“Hon, I’m going to share my thoughts on the conversation and that includes how I think you’re feeling,’ I began. “If I’m wrong then let me know.”
He nodded again.
“I think right now you’re struggling with trying to sort out your gender and things that are very gender specific are making you uncomfortable.” Another nod. “But hon, not everyone’s struggling with their gender and some people, myself included, like male and female washrooms. I feel comfortable in a female washroom.”
“Then what do you suggest?” he asked angrily. “A male and female washroom for the closed minded people and a washroom for everyone else?”
“You don’t identify as either gender,” I blurted very thoughtlessly. Jeremy didn’t disagree, which means he either agreed with me or simply didn’t feel like disagreeing at that time. Either way I moved on. “But you’re not everyone. I identify as female and like using a female washroom. Not out of being closed minded, simply because it feels comfortable for me. I like the idea of having a male washroom, a female washroom, and a neutral washroom. Or when there’s single stall washrooms, having them simply be neutral washrooms. You know, like when we were at Rawlicious or that Asian fusion restaurant, the one that said their only vegan option was a bowl of miso soup. Or using your suggestion of having individual stalls with floor to ceiling doors along one side of a hallway and sinks along the other.”
He looked slightly mollified by me mentioning his idea. “Mom? Lenny uses zir for a pronoun. Are there any others?”
“Umm… there’s they,” I replied. “I can find a list of others if you want.”
He shrugged. “I don’t need to know them right now,” he assured me. “I can find out closer to when school starts.”
Which makes me worry he’s planning a continuation of the great English class pronoun war of 2014. I’ve already told him I’ll back him 110% when it comes to gender expression and gender identity but won’t back him at all if he’s being an ass. Bringing a list of pronouns into school for the sole reason of bugging his teacher would definitely fall into the latter category. But there’s almost two months of summer vacation left and we can sort that one out closer to September.