Engage tact before opening mouth…

I was sitting in the break room with a new coworker a few days ago, doing the whole awkward introduction thing, when I realized it was time to call Jeremy.

I usually call zir at lunchtime so I can make sure zie’s awake and functioning. Plus the call allows me to remind zir to eat, something I’ve never forgotten to do but zie manages to forget regularly.

“I was talking to my teen,” I explained as I got off the phone a couple of minutes later.

“Oh, you have kids?” she replied curiously.

It seemed like an obvious answer to me but I nodded anyway. “I’ve got a 20 year old daughter and 18 year old teen. I was talking to the 18 year old.”

Most people change the conversation there. She didn’t.

“So, your 18 year old… is it a boy or a girl?”

It? Great.

“Zie’s bi-gender,” I replied. “Zie’s trans , identifies as both male and female, and uses the pronouns zie and zir.”

Her eyes grew wider. “Oh! Both genders! Does your doctor know?”

The doctor part made me suspicious about the direction her thoughts were going but I played innocent. “Yes, we talked to him already.”

“So, umm, your child is, umm, medically male and female?”

Yep, her thoughts wandered exactly where I suspected and right where I didn’t want to go.

“No, you’re thinking of intersex. My teen is transgender,” I replied as I glanced at my phone. Damn, I still had some break left.

“Oh.” She fidgeted for a moment. “So is he, umm, a boy or a girl.”

“I’m not discussing my child’s genitals with you,” I said bluntly. I’d already given her pronouns to use and a label so she wasn’t asking for those reasons. That left only one tabloidish interest… what was in zir pants.

She looked startled for a second then the realization of what she was asking kicked in.

“I’m cool with stuff like that,” she babbled. “I knew a transgender in high school.” Cue me wincing. “He was really shy at the beginning but after a while he started wearing make up and dresses and stuff.”

“I think you mean she,” I interjected, glancing at my phone again. Usually my break finishes way too quickly. Today wasn’t one of those days. Had my timer broken?

“Oh yeah,” she said sheepishly as my timer chimed cheerfully. Finally. I couldn’t leave quickly enough.

I told Jeremy about the conversation later and zie grinned when I got to the part about refusing to disclose zir birth gender.

“Way to go!” zie exclaimed before changing the conversation to Cool Dude. I’m not entirely sure who he is, other than someone on YouTube, but Jeremy’s very impressed with him.

“Cool Dude’s gay,” zie informed me for about the twentieth time. Jeremy paused then laughed. “I don’t know why he bothered to come out. Some people you just know are gay. I’m sure you’ve met people like that before,” zie said as zie gestured flamboyantly.

I looked at zir and laughed. “Really Captain Obvious?”

“Are you calling me gay?” zie asked.

“No, I’m calling the other Jeremy gay,” I retorted.

Zie smiled. Some days zie insists zie’s straight. Sometimes zie simply insists zie’s not gay. The rest of the time zie refers to the gay community as zir community. I just take a few metaphorical Gravol and go along for the ride.

Jeremy’s smile faded. “You know what I disliked about school,” zie said abruptly. Talk about a loaded question. Especially since zie could (and does) go on for hours about the subject.

“What?” I asked cautiously.

“Every Hallowe’en all the teachers dressed up in Duck Dynasty costumes, even after they came out as homophobic. It made me so uncomfortable.”

“All of the teachers?” It was a fairly big school.

“Well not all of them but Mrs. ________ and Mrs. ________ both did.” Jeremy named both of zir educational assistants. The same ones who told Jeremy that zir gender was a choice.

I’d had no idea about the costumes. Zie’d never said anything. Of course even if zie had said something there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It wasn’t illegal to dress up as a television character. But you’d think at least one of the teachers would look at what those people were saying and think about how their students would feel about their choice. You’d think they’d think. That’s what school’s for, isn’t it?

I’ve got a kid who’s struggling with anxiety daily. It’s not even 9pm and zie’s already in bed, saying zie’s upset and doesn’t know why. We live in a complex with two pools (complete with life guards), a park with paved trails just perfect for zir to drive zir remote control cars, and a gym. Jeremy spends every day indoors waiting for me to come home. Zie could go out on zir own but would rather wait for me. Zie doesn’t feel comfortable going out alone.

Jeremy’s teacher and EAs were loudly insistent they were allies, even while misgendering Jeremy, and I know my coworker felt like she was being quite supportive too. It would be nice however if they spent a bit less time patting themselves on the back and a bit more time listening to what they’re saying. It would be even nicer if tact came in a spray bottle, like air freshener, and could be applied liberally to people when needed. I’d buy it in bulk.

 

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