This is the letter I wrote for my Mom, Amy, and Karen. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions!
I think Jeremy was about eight years old when zie* found a scrawled message on a nearby bus shelter and wanted to know what it meant.
“I wish I was a girl”
I looked at the words and didn’t know what to say. Obviously I’d have to give some sort of basic explanation of transgender but I had no idea how to broach the subject. I decided to try for the empathetic route.
“You know how you look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside?”
Jeremy stared at me blankly and shook zir head. Now I wish I could go back and get zir to elaborate but back then I simply went on by clarifying that most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside (or vice versa with girls). Jeremy seemed satisfied with my explanation and the conversation moved on from there. Zie doesn’t even remember it but it obviously stuck in my mind.
And on we went, with people sometimes thinking Jeremy was a boy… and sometimes a girl. With kids (and adults) calling zir names ranging from he-she to faggot. One neighbour, a grown man at that, used to throw garbage off his balcony at Jeremy every time zie walked through the back door of our building. Thankfully they moved shortly after he started. I posted pictures of their moving truck on Facebook and baked a cake to celebrate.
It wasn’t until this year that Jeremy became more obviously uncomfortable with binary gender names, begging me to ask the teacher to explain other pronouns and arguing with the EA that male and female aren’t opposites and that you can feel like both. The teachers decided zie was simply being contrary. I decided to do some research and had several in depth conversations with Jeremy.
Jeremy identifies as non binary transgender. To break it down, gender is a spectrum and, just like a rainbow where the colours red and purple connect instead of staying on different sides of a line, male and female are not opposites. The vast majority of people are born with the sex characteristics of a man and identify as male… or the sex characteristics of a woman and identify as female. These people, aka us, are called cisgender (with a soft c). Everyone else (unless they choose to be called otherwise) falls under the trans umbrella.
Non binary simply means zie doesn’t identify as male or female. Some people identify as neither gender (agender) and some flow between the two. Jeremy consistently identifies as both. This is hard in our culture. The Bugis society in Indonesia has five genders; Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have the hijra, MtF trans people who have a long history of being considered good luck; and some Native Canadian tribes have a tradition of two-spirited people, who were valued as teachers and spiritual leaders. Our culture ignores the reality that not everyone fits into standard binary roles. This is slowly changing.
Something our society currently lacks is non-binary pronouns. Jeremy tried going with the pronoun “they” for a short time but ultimately found it awkward and confusing. Zie claimed it felt like zie had 50 personalities. We found a list of pronouns and went through it. Jeremy decided on zie/zir, the same pronouns that my friend Lenny uses. Zie is used the same as he and she, while zir is used the same as him and her. Both are pronounced phonetically with zie sounding like “zee” and zir sounding like “sir” (but with a zed sound). I’ve found a link that shows the pronouns used in a portion of “Alice in Wonderland” to give you an idea of how to use them.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to use these pronouns. I know they seem awkward and unwieldy, and you will make mistakes, but I can assure you it will mean the world to Jeremy. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone started calling you he, him, and sir. It might simply be weird at first but then picture it stretching on for days… months… years. The attempted suicide rate for trans people is currently at 41% and that’s from a lack of acceptance. I don’t want Jeremy to be a statistic and I will do everything I can to make zir feel safe and welcome. I’m sure you will as well.
I’ve found a video by a group of teenagers explaining the importance of pronouns and hope it will help.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.
* zie and zir are the pronouns Jeremy prefers. They are fully explained in the letter.