My speech on gender diversity and raising a trans kid…

Wow that’s a long title.

Since I’m nowhere near talented enough to change Jeremy’s real name in a video, I’m just going to post the transcript here. Pretend I’m talking quietly at a podium while I shift nervously and fiddle with my hair. I was wearing turquoise if that helps 🙂

 *******************************

There’s so much I didn’t know when my kids were growing up, especially when it came to gender. I look back at Jeremy when zie was little. Jeremy was equally happy with dinky cars and Polly Pockets, which was fine with me. I grew up in a family which believed toys were for all kids. When Jeremy was four, zie got a little toy shaving kit for Christmas and the first thing zie did was hop into the bathtub to shave zir legs. I figured that was because zie didn’t have a Dad at home and explained that boys shave their faces, not their legs. Jeremy looked a bit surprised but followed my instructions. Actually, the first time Jeremy shaved once puberty hit, Jeremy shaved zir legs but by then zie wasn’t using a Bob the Builder kit. Zie borrowed my razor instead; I quickly got zir one of zir own. And there was dress up time, which always consisted of Jeremy getting dressed up in Emma’s clothes, never the reverse. Emma would refer to zir as Jemmy and would pick out the clothes she thought would suit zir the best. Both kids loved this game.

I think Jeremy was around eight or nine years old when zie saw some words written on the bus shelter wall and wanted to know what they meant. The words were:

I wish I was a girl.

I had no idea what to say let alone where to start. It was a big topic that I didn’t understand very well. And Jeremy was standing there watching me expectantly, positive I had the answer. I decided to start with empathy so I said, “You know how you look like boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside…” then stopped when I saw Jeremy’s confused expression. Zie shook zir head and said “no”.

I look back now and marvel at how blind I was but then I simply figured I’d screwed up my explanation. I went on to explain that most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside or look like a girl on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside but sometimes it’s the opposite. When people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside, or vice versa, it’s called transgender. Jeremy listened intently then was heartbroken that we couldn’t find the person who wrote the words so they’d know they weren’t alone.

Throughout this time, Jeremy would ask how I knew that zie would grow up to be a man. I knew zie’d been bullied at school with kids calling zir a he-she and I was well aware that grown adults were telling Jeremy zie needed to “be a man” so I chalked zir questions up to bullying. I assured Jeremy that zie didn’t need to do anything special in order to be a man, zie just needed to grow up. That zie could be a man and still love the colour pink and long hair and glitter. Each time Jeremy seemed reassured by my response.

A couple of years ago I became Facebook friends with Lenny. One of the first things Lenny told me is zie’s transgender and identifies between male and female, using the pronouns zie and zir. I’d had no idea people could be anything but male or female so this was a surprise. Lenny lives in England so zie’d never know if I was using the right pronouns or not but it didn’t seem fair to use the wrong ones. I insisted the kids use zir pronouns as well.

It wasn’t until last year that Jeremy began to show signs of discomfort with using male pronouns. Zie got sent home from school one day for arguing with zir teacher about the words boy and girl being opposites. Jeremy insisted they weren’t because you could feel like both a boy and a girl. The teacher argued she was talking about language and not gender then persisted in telling Jeremy zie was wrong. In the spring, Jeremy asked for the teacher to explain more pronouns than male and female and the teacher refused, claiming that she could only teach “invented” pronouns if there was a trans student in the class and then only the pronouns that student was using. Jeremy wasn’t out so I backed down. Zie didn’t come out until the end of summer.

Fifty-seven percent of unsupported trans youths attempt suicide. That statistic drops down to four percent when youths have a supportive family. I’ll do anything to make Jeremy feel supported, up to and including waving pom poms. Jeremy assures me that’s not necessary.

The hard part is how often and regularly Jeremy gets misgendered. When I talked to Jeremy’s school, their biggest concern was whether Jeremy’s gender identity and pronouns were going to be a distraction in the classroom. They use zir pronouns in official documents but call Jeremy he and him. And I can count on one hand the number of people in real life who consistently use zir pronouns. It’s so frustrating because people just don’t seem to understand how important this is to Jeremy. If they’d use the right pronouns in front of zir, even once, they’d see what a difference it makes. Give it a try, they’re not hard to use.

Thank you.

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26 thoughts on “My speech on gender diversity and raising a trans kid…

      • I find the “concern” about “distraction in the classroom” very interesting – there’s been a lot of talk about that in regards to female students’ attire lately. The prevailing counterargument basically comes down to “look at what you’re doing to these kids to ‘prevent’ them from ‘being a distraction!'” What are all the students learning in these situations?

        I know from way too much experience that constantly being misgendered is a *huge* distraction. The feelings it brings up… and I don’t know about Jeremy, but I then tend to get into questioning my gender identity instead of focusing on whatever’s going on. Teachers shouldn’t ignore the reality in their classrooms, they should be teaching it. I wonder how a discussion about language and gender might have developed in Jeremy’s class if the teacher had allowed it?

      • It would be interesting to find out. The teacher actually let Jeremy do a small talk on being transgender and zie brought copies of a chart where you could mark your own place for gender and expression. The teacher quickly gathered them up and threw them out instead of letting zir classmates bring them home. Despite the fact most of the kids had coloured and worked on them.

        Lately Jeremy’s been spending the majority of zir time in a quiet room away from the class with no assignments. Just under two more weeks until our next school meeting :/

      • Sounds like someone is afraid of trans* issues and might have some of their own insecurity around gender. Or a very problematic school policy? I wouldn’t wait until the next school meeting. They’re violating zir right to an education.

      • More the former than the latter. The school board has amazing policies. I’ve been going around in circles with this school and have been trying to get zir into a different school with no luck. Zie just got home from an evening with Emma and Mark and informed me that zir latest work placement has been cancelled. And the photography class zie’s been waiting for has been cancelled as well; they’re using Microsoft Paint instead. I’m figuring I’ll be pulling zir out at the end of the year.

  1. Pls see if i am getting this. Jeremy’s original birth sex designation was boy/male. Out of respect for where your child is in their own heart, you use a pronoun zie to indicate her preference. I imagine this could be pronounced zz + she = zie. When referring to her, you use a pronoun that is likewiise a combination of the zz + her. Is that correct?

    Another question, is this your family specific way to show respect to your child or would another transgender teen understand? It is not my attempt to mock but to give All people the respect they deserve. Thank you for your help.

  2. This is such a beautiful speech, really moving. Zie is so lucky to have zir mum onside in what must be unimaginably tough going (I am cis-gendered and straight so I cannot ever understand).

  3. This is great and really very supportive of Jeremy.
    I read the “Hidden in Plain Sight” post a few years ago. I think that I understand where Jeremy’s motivation to blend in comes from. Does Zie get counseling?

      • Hey, I have a “take it apart and figure out how it works” project for Jeremy. Do you know those little wiggly plastic flowers that wiggle in the sunshine, on the window sill? I really want to know how they work, and how they can be hacked.
        You can find them at the dollar store (for a dollar 😉 ) So, you can get a few of them for Jeremy to provide zir with hours of mental stimulation.
        Tell zir that it is a special request from a WordPress follower, who will attempt to invent some million dollar invention with the result. Unless Jeremy comes up with some million dollar invention first. 🙂

      • That is kind of disappointing. I was expecting something much more unexpected.
        Gears are good though. That makes the top wiggly thingy like a pendulum, so that some sort of an “only measures time when it is sunny out” clock could be constructed. There is probably a little spare power left in the gears to make the whole thing move a tiny bit with each wiggle.
        Probably, if I google up “hack my window sill flower” someone has already made a juicer and a scooter and a bunk bed and a social network out of them, so maybe I should just give up now …

  4. Jeremy is very lucky to have a mom like you. I have read articles about neglect and disconcern, this is quite an inspiration of how a mother could be the epitome of all things positive for her kids. Really look upto you!

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