On pronouns and an autumn walk…

It’s been gorgeous here for the past few days… absolutely gorgeous. We’re finally getting blue skies, sunshine, and shorts weather after a cold and rainy summer. Jeremy would have been content to stay home and play Half-Life but I dragged zir out with me for a walk yesterday afternoon.

We have a small patch of woods beside us, covering less than a city block of land, but it’s very pretty…

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There’s only one paved path through the woods but plenty of little dirt trails. Jeremy and I walked on the latter before emerging from the woods and heading over to a nearby bike trail. We were on our way back when I saw our local bus approach.

“I’ve got my bus pass,” I said cheerfully. “I can get on the bus and go home.”

Jeremy looked at me incredulously. Just then the bus slowed. We were right near a bus stop so obviously someone wanted off.

“Look, the driver saw me. He knows I want the bus,” I said then I looked closer. The sunlight had been reflecting off the window but as the bus moved, I could finally see the driver’s long blonde hair and delicate features. “Oh, I mean she,” I added.

“Mom,” Jeremy chided. “You don’t know if the driver’s a man or a woman.”

“No, I can see the driver now…” Maybe the glass was still covered in glare from zir angle; Jeremy’s quite a bit taller than me. I glanced beside me and realized zie could see the driver just fine.

“You can’t tell what someone’s gender is  just by looking at them,” zie continued.

I nodded. “You’re right, the driver might not identify as female. Although statistically speaking…”

Jeremy glared at me then muttered under zir breath. All I caught was, “I… don’t… female…”

I thought back to all the times my Mom argued with me. In some ways it helped me try and see things from a different perspective but sometimes I just wanted some support. I figured Jeremy was firmly in the latter category.

“I’m sorry,” I told zir earnestly. “You are right. I shouldn’t have assumed. I don’t refer to any of the customers by gender when I’m at work.”

“Wait,” Jeremy said, looking at me incredulously. “You don’t use binary pronouns at work? Instead you save them to use in front of your kid who uses zie for a pronoun.”

The kid had a point. “I’m sorry, ” I said again. “I’ll try harder.”

We walked a couple of steps then zie added, “Mom, you know I’m joking right?”

Zie wasn’t angry and was in good spirits but I didn’t get the impression zie was joking at all. “It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “I’ll still try harder.” Jeremy smiled.

As for work. I posted back in February about a customer of mine who joked that Jeremy wouldn’t want to dye zir hair lime green in case zie was mistaken for a “fag”. I’d been absolutely furious but stayed polite and have been polite ever since. Today we had a completely different conversation.

I was outside sweeping the parking lot when she walked over to comment on the mess. There were cups and wrappers strewn over the whole parking space.

“That must have been a man,” she commented as she drew near.

“Or an entire car full of teenagers,” I agreed, sweeping a couple more wrappers into the dust pan.

“So, how are your kids?” she asked with obvious interest.

“They’re doing fine. Emma’s got a job interview tomorrow and my kidlet’s getting zir wisdom teeth extracted on Thursday, which will be interesting considering zir needle phobia.”

Now she looked confused. “She?”

I shook my head, “No, zie. I’m talking about Jeremy. Jeremy’s having zir wisdom teeth extracted… hopefully. That’s one serious phobia zie’s got.”

Her confusion deepened. “Don’t you have two kids? A boy and a girl?”

“I’ve got two kids. One girl and one kid. Jeremy doesn’t identify with a gender and uses gender neutral pronouns, zie and zir.”

“Well… that’s… different…” she sounded baffled. She paused for a moment, obviously trying to find something to say. “I was shopping recently at Penningtons (a Canadian clothing chain aimed at plus sized women) and there was a man shopping for himself. He was buying a dress and he had on women’s clothing and a hat and his hair was all styled and shaped.”

“That sounds like she was a woman,” I replied. “It was probably scary for her.”

I had no idea if it was scary or not, for all I knew she could have been having an amazing shopping trip. What I wanted was a moment of empathy. The customer went silent.

“I used to teach piano to a family years ago,” she said quietly. “The oldest boy was a teenager and he used to say all sorts of homophobic stuff. One day I was teaching theory and asked him to think about what it would be like if he suddenly started having crushes on other boys… knowing how he was going to get treated… knowing he was going to get beaten up. The boy was shocked. He’d never thought about it before…” Her voice trailed off. “They had so many kids in that family, two girls and four boys. I wonder if one of them ended up gay.”

I shrugged, unable to answer, then she smiled. “Jeremy doesn’t identify as a gender… good for you.”

And with that she turned and walked away.

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11 thoughts on “On pronouns and an autumn walk…

  1. Of course, you can’t know if the person who was shopping at Pennington’s was a woman, a man, or some other alignment of gender/not gender entirely! But I am so glad that that conversation happened. It gives me hope for people who say awful stuff–for them to be gentle and to change sometimes. 🙂

  2. For some inexplicable reason, when I’m driving I tend to default to male pronouns to describe other drivers around me that I can’t see. Countless times I’ve thought something to myself like, “Does he know I’m merging?” and then quickly appended, “…or she or ze.”
    I really need to get into the habit of defaulting to neutral pronouns.

    Sounds like a productive conversation you had with that customer! “I’ve got two kids: one girl and one kid” really made me smile for some reason. I guess it’s encouraging, knowing that there are trans kids who are growing up with supportive parents. Perhaps the world is becoming a better place. 🙂

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