Pronouns and a letter to the teacher…

I was talking to a friend today about pronouns and was asked if I’d thought of trialing a pronoun for Jeremy, like she did with her daughter. So I talked to Jeremy this morning and explained that I was feeling uncomfortable using him and he these days, simply because neither seems to suit Jeremy anymore. I explained what happened regarding my friend and her daughter. It felt a bit like I was pushing Jeremy by saying I want to use they and them but at the same time Jeremy seemed genuinely happy with the pronoun they… for the most part…

Jeremy: Mom, the only problem with they is it makes me sound like I’ve got about fifty personalities.

Me: And all of them are fabulous.

Jeremy (grinning): Except for Jerry. He’s an ass.

They do have a point though. It’s going to be an interesting pronoun to use when I’m talking about a few people and Jeremy “… and then they’re going home. Not everyone though, just Jeremy”. I figure we’ll get used to it in time.

So Jeremy’s using they everywhere except school and with extended family; which means I’m using they everyone except for my main Facebook page, where I’ll refrain from using pronouns as best I can. I might need a list.

I’ve spent this morning writing a letter for Jeremy’s teacher as their first day of school is this Wednesday. And here it is:

Dear Mrs. Teacher,

I would like 2014/2015 to be a good year for you, Jeremy, and the rest of the class. Jeremy has spent the entire summer panicking about the upcoming year. I know he can be a handful and a half to deal with but he’s also feeling unwelcome and disliked; this in turn causes him to act up out of frustration. He’s already talking about leaving school as soon as he turns eighteen because he thinks no one wants him there.

A compromise needs to be reached regarding electronics. Jeremy never goes anywhere without a bag of electronic equipment, this is a comfort for him, a coping strategy, he feels safer with them. While I don’t think he should be spending the day playing with his electronic devices, he will be calmer and better behaved with something nearby, even if it’s just in a bag by his feet. I would like to buy him a stress ball, although these days they’re fairly hard to find, he concentrates better with something in his hand. He is also coming into school with my old netbook. I would prefer him to use a school issued one, especially since it wouldn’t require an external keyboard, but I’ve been told repeatedly that his language based learning disabilities and processing issues do not qualify him. This netbook will be used for writing, other than at lunch or during any other break when he’s allowed to play games. Also, Jeremy would like the opportunity to do his math assignments in paint as he finds operating a mouse easier than a pencil. If you have any math or science based websites he can work on, he’s welcome to use them as well.

Jeremy identifies as gender nonconforming. I’ve spoken to several people this summer and have read the information on the [local school board]’s website. His identity falls under the trans umbrella and, as such, means he gets the same rights as the other transgender students in the board. This means no comments on his hair length or how long he keeps his nails, no encouraging other students to tell him to cut his hair, and no criticizing his hair dye (his hair is not going to fall out). In short, anything that is acceptable for a female student is acceptable for him and is not to be commented on in any negative fashion. He was made very uncomfortable last year when he was being taught only binary pronouns in English. Despite what I was told by you, via the principal, it is recommended to let the students know that there are other genders and other pronouns. There is nothing on the website referring to “invented pronouns” or only discussing them if and when a student changes pronouns. The school board is well aware that not all trans students are out and recommends acting as if you have a trans student in the class at all times.

I have referred to Jeremy as he/him throughout this letter. I, however, will be referring to him as they from now on as Jeremy does not identify as 100% male. Jeremy does wish to be called he/him at school for now at least. They will let you know if this changes.

I am enclosing half a forest of information from both the school board’s website and the government of Canada’s page. I have highlighted the parts that I feel pertain the most to Jeremy but the whole documents are very helpful.

I would enjoy a chance to sit down and talk with you, [principal], and anyone else who wishes to attend in order to provide the best outcome for this upcoming school year. I can be reached at [my phone number].

Thank you,

Michelle

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27 thoughts on “Pronouns and a letter to the teacher…

  1. Well written, I hope that will reduce the amount of stress Jeremy was feeling last year, and help the school staff to behave better.

  2. Singular “they” is an accepted standard within English if the teachers are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with all the Internet neologisms going on. Proof? Shakespeare used it throughout his writings. Ænglisc (Old English) also had three genders, and had three well into Middle English. We used singular “he” as gender-neutral through the 70s when feminists persuaded the big English writers to use “they” instead. And if we can use “you” in a singular context these days (because it used to be second-person plural), why not do the same with “they”?

      • Different writing guides will disagree on the usage of “singular ‘they'”, but younger writers are often in agreement. Because their school is a public and government entity, however, and where you live prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression, no one at that school can publicly deny Jeremy their right to that. (Gender neutral linguistics is a VERY grey area under that, but gender variance is covered at least.)

        This will be something you will have to redo each year, too, and it’s something I will be doing when I return to university in the spring semester. Because of my trans status, however, the Dean is putting a field in for trans and other students for a “preferred” name so teachers know how to identify students.

        And at the end of the day, you have Title IX. Use that to Jeremy’s advantage. What was meant to protect women back in the 70s as more of them entered higher education, trans people are now using for themselves, too, and to great success 🙂

  3. You are being a great advocate for your child.
    The thing to let your school know is this. Anything that they do to help Jeremy to fit in helps everyone else in the classroom. Each and every kid in that classroom is atypical in some manner. They may have different learning styles, different talents, different attention spans, different ethnic backgrounds, different family structures, different home languages, different styles, habits, customs. Different genders, different gender presentations, different sexual orientations.
    This diversity is great. It is the power of America {whoops} Canada.
    What is a school to do? Treat them all with respect. For every child like Jeremy who is visibly struggling with the system, there are ten more who are suffering scholastically, or socially, because of some way in which they don’t mesh with the system that pretends as if there is a homogenous group of kids out there.
    Educators have the word “inclusion” which is used to describe a classroom that suits a diverse group of learners. This inclusion principal is just as easily applied to aspects other than learning styles.
    Kids put into these classrooms can fly.

    The quote I liked best in this post is “The school board is well aware that not all trans students are out and recommends acting as if you have a trans student in the class at all times.” This is the most obvious statement in the world. That same teacher should also assume that there is a student who is female in the classroom, a student who is of any specific nationality in the classroom, a student who is physically disabled in the classroom, a student who is gay in the classroom. It is called treating people with respect. It is not acceptable for a teacher to be mocking or demeaning any group of people.

    Great letter to the teacher, by the way.

  4. Your letter is very thorough and I think it will be a big help for the teacher with Jeremy.

    However will you keep the pronouns straight? (And the 50 personalities?)

    Good luck! I hope Jeremy’s teacher is on board so the year starts out right.

    • Flipping pronouns is going to be interesting. I’m going with they in private groups and just not mentioning pronouns at all on my main Facebook. Jeremy’s Facebook is set to other for gender and they for pronoun but they only have Emma and I for friends. I will need a list for the 50 personalities. Except for Jerry, I can ignore Jerry.

      I’m hoping the teacher is on board, that would make this year so much easier.

      Otherwise I’ll just keep trying and hope I won’t slip up too much.

      • I think slipping up is only to be expected. And if it goes anything like me trying to switch from she/her to he/his, you will get to the point where you hesitate over every pronoun. 3 years later and I still find myself hesitating before proceeding. Sometimes it gets really bad and I forget who I was talking about. Not fun. But that doesn’t happen often. Now, as far as using they/them. I’m not sure if that would be easier or harder than going from he to she.

        And Jerry sure sounds like a fun guy to have around!

        Like everything else, pronouns will take time. 🙂

      • Thanks 🙂 Well, I second guess myself continually anyway so I should be used to it. And yes, they’re a great kid. They’re ranting right now about Russia and the Ukraine… “Russia’s like the size of the moon and they want the Ukraine. Jeesh, that’s not greedy at all.”

  5. My favourite gender-neutral pronoun is “thon,” which is supposed to be a contraction of “that one” and dates back to the 1880s. Unlike all the other invented pronouns, it actually looks and feels to me like an English word. Doesn’t seem like its going to catch on though— I’d say the best bets are “ze” or “they.”

  6. Pingback: Gearing up for the meeting… | Because I'm Fabulous

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