One whole year…

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I wrote my first post. I’d spent the previous month pondering whether I should start a new blog. I already had one, which was well known to family and friends, but I found myself with lots to say and, since I didn’t want to ‘out’ my kid, nowhere to write it. Plus the few blogs I read were about younger kids, which meant we were dealing with completely different situations. I figured if I couldn’t find blogs about what I was dealing with, there was a space my blog needed to fill. I picked WordPress because my original blog was on Blogspot (I worried my new blog might inadvertently get linked to the old one if they were through the same site) and carefully wrote out an introduction. The rest, as they say, is history.

So much has changed this year. When I started writing, Jeremy was an effeminate young man who thought “he” might be bisexual. Today zie identifies as bigender trans and says zie’s interested solely in women. Zie doesn’t identify as straight though, which makes sense considering zie identifies as partly female. Jeremy’s been struggling with anxiety for a while, becoming increasingly house-bound. Jeremy missed our Solstice Service last night plus the last PFLAG meeting due to anxiety. Zie started on EffexorXR two days ago and I’m hoping it will make a difference.

Writing this blog has made a huge difference for me. I’ve made several friends through here and have found two groups for parents of transgender children (one of which is linked on my resources page; the other is a secret group). The friendships and groups also gave me the confidence to start attending our local chapter of PFLAG, which in turn has a teen group for Jeremy.

In real life I’m quite shy. The support and encouragement I’ve received here has helped me stand up more in real life. I’ve become more vocal and huggy at work and, well, more vocal everywhere. I had my Christmas party on Saturday and a friend of mine started talking about one of my former neighbours, someone I didn’t know (we’re talking about a 20 storey high rise… there are a LOT of neighbours I didn’t know). The neighbour is FtM trans.

“She was a really ugly female but now she’s really hot,” my friend continued.

I’d said “he” several times as she’d talked but my friend remained oblivious. This time I marched over and stood in front of her, my hands on my hips.

“He,” I said firmly. “He’s really hot. He was never female and you need to stop referring to him as she.”

“Oh, sorry,” my friend said and switched to using he. I then gave a mini talk on hormones and how sex organs develop before brains while my friends listened with obvious interest. This isn’t something I would have done a year ago. This isn’t something I really knew about a year ago.

And now we’re moving on to Christmas and 2015. I can’t wait to see what the following year brings 🙂

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Friends and family…

I wrote a letter two days ago and, after reading it to Jeremy and getting zir approval, I posted it on Facebook. This is the letter…

Seventeen and a half years ago the doctor told me I had a baby boy. The doctor was wrong. Jeremy is transgender, identifying as non-binary trans or bi-gender. Zie explained this to our family doctor as “if gender was a cupcake, I’d be a blue cupcake with pink frosting”, which has got to be the sweetest analogy ever.

Since Jeremy isn’t male, zie is no longer using the pronouns he and him. Instead zie’s using the pronouns zie and zir. These are not hard to use. Zie is used exactly the same as he/she and zir is used like her/him. You can read an excerpt of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland here to see them in action: http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/about/alice/zie-zir/

If you care about and respect Jeremy, you will use these pronouns. It is that simple. You will slip up and make mistakes. I do and so does Emma. Heck, so does Jeremy for that matter. The important part is simply trying. What I find helps is using the pronouns when you’re thinking about Jeremy, that way it becomes a habit.

There is a 41% attempted suicide rate for trans people (compared with a 1.6% rate for cisgender people) mostly due to a lack of acceptance. Jeremy has already expressed thoughts of suicide. That 41% is not an abstract number, it is real and terrifying. Using zie and zir for pronouns makes Jeremy feel safe and accepted. Please use them, especially if you see zir in real life. It will make a huge difference.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thank you 🙂

The response was overwhelmingly positive. So far 60 people have liked the post and I got a wide assortment of comments like…

I’m sure you took a deep breath before sitting down to make this post. It had to be a hard one to type up… I hope you and Jeremy are met with loving and accepting responses to this post. I know meeting you and hearing so much about Jeremy has been an eye opener for me. I try my best to be open-minded and accepting of others, and you all have helped to open my mind in areas that I didn’t realized it was closed. Thank you, Michelle and thank you, Jeremy.

Zie is a sweetie, always has been 🙂

Zie is adorable. Every time you post zir pictures, I just want to go all cheek pinching Auntie on zir.

Followed by…

BUT YOU’RE SO FLIPPIN ADORABLE, JEREMY! COME LET AUNTIE SQUISH YOUR CHEEKS!!!

Huge hugs to both of you and the rest of your family! My oldest is also trans and having a family that supports them is so super important! I just want to give zie a big ol’ hug!!!! If you also need any support info, I have tons of stuff!

What a brave zie! So proud of you both for sharing this. This zie and zir is not something I had heard of before. Thank you!

Great pronoun explanation! I’m so happy Jeremy is so strong and free to be true to zirself, and has a great family and friends that has zir back! (How did I do? lol)

Zie is so adorable. Please give zir a hug from me (I will refrain from cheek-pinching!)

Yay!! Coming out is hard but so worth it. Good for zir and good for you!!!  Also… I guess you’re no longer obligated to write “kidlet” several times a sentence, eh? lol 🙂

Everyone deserves to be happy in his/her/zie/zir body. So glad Jeremy has a family who supports zir.
Now if we could just get the rest of society on board….

I’ll be honest. Posting this on Facebook was more for me than Jeremy. Zie has a Facebook account but never uses it, meanwhile I’m on Facebook multiple times a day and I was growing increasingly tired of avoiding pronouns. Besides, as one friend commented via message (and as my Mom said when I told her originally), it wasn’t really much of a surprise. Now we can move on and I can use pronouns again. I was using kidlet a lot.

While I posted my letter, Emma wrote a poem for zir sibling.

Jeremy

To call Emma supportive might be a bit of an understatement 🙂

Then came the disappointing part. I have 22 relatives on Facebook (not counting Emma and Jeremy). Not a single one of them commented or liked the post. Karen posted pictures within minutes of my letter and an aunt popped up to comment on the pictures. But silence on my page. With 60 likes and 85 comments, there’s no way my post was missed. Facebook loves posts like that; I’m sure it’s still showing up at the top of people’s pages.

I have no idea if we’re being gossiped about. If we are, we aren’t hearing about it. And, if they aren’t being supportive, I don’t want to hear about it.

The best part about my letter is my friends. Every single reply since I’ve posted has used Jeremy’s proper pronouns. Maybe, with some luck, my family will see it’s not odd to be supportive and they’ll follow suit.

The letter…

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.

Love, Michelle

* zie and zir are the pronouns Jeremy prefers. They are fully explained in the letter.

I hate writing titles…

There… got that one out of the way. I’ve been staring at the screen for five minutes trying to think of a title that I haven’t used yet but  came up with nothing. I hate writing them.

The last time I wrote was on Monday after getting a call from the school official and had been quite hopeful. Then I got the call from the VP and suddenly became less optimistic. She referred to Jeremy as he and him again through the whole short phone call and had a meeting set for Wednesday afternoon… as in that very next day. I work and can’t just call my manager and say, “Whoops, I won’t be there tomorrow. Sorry about that.” They’re already fairly lenient about me taking 10 and 15 minute long phone calls from the school as it is. Luckily the VP was able to make a second meeting for today. I have no idea what they discussed on Wednesday but as far as I know they didn’t cancel it since I was informed Jeremy could go back to school on Thursday after their meeting. I felt better waiting until after mine.

I was going to write a blog post on Wednesday. Jeremy wants me to be the one to tell family about zir being transgender as zie doesn’t want to face their first reactions. I’d hoped to get some letter writing ideas and resources. But Jeremy slept a grand total of seven hours over two days and zie’s not a quiet child. I got woken up by Jeremy tripping over one of the cats as zie stumbled down the hallway. Then zie decided to get a bite to eat. Then checked every single cupboard twice to see what we have and checked a third time just in case anything magically appeared. Then hovered in front of the fridge before finally microwaving the leftover pizza. I know all this because I could hear the doors opening and closing from the other side of the apartment, with my bedroom door nearly completely closed and a fan on. I didn’t sleep much more than seven hours over two nights either. All this meant I was much too tired to write. I ended up pestering Lenny instead.

I decided to tell my Mom about Jeremy during our planned Friday shopping trip, figuring in person would be better than on the phone. I kept that plan right until this morning. That was when I realized our only talking time would be either while my Mom was driving down a busy road or while we were walking through stores. Neither seemed a viable option. Jeremy went off to have a shower and I made my call.

My Mom’s voice got colder when I broached the subject. She figured something was up with all the transgender stuff I’ve been posting lately. I actually haven’t posting anything. A friend of mine, who knows about Jeremy posted this on my page…

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I really liked it and in fact shared it with Jeremy but it very clearly says that it was posted by someone else, although my Mom might not have noticed that. The only other things I can come up with is that I’ve joined two groups for parents of transgender children recently; one’s secret but the other is simply closed. My first thought was it might have shown up on my page, something like “Michelle I’m-Not-Coming-Up-With-A-Fake-Last-Name just joined [insert fabulous group name here]” but I checked my page and nothing showed up. Actually I viewed my page as it would look to my Mom and none of my closed groups are even visible. I was, however, warned that it might show up as a suggestion to friends so maybe that’s what happened.

The flip side is that while I’m sure there are kids who totally blindside people, Jeremy’s not one of them. I showed zir picture to a coworker a couple of days ago, announcing that “this is my child Jeremy”. The coworker gave the phone a good long look then peered at me intently.

“Did you know your son also looks like a girl?”

I couldn’t come up with anything sarcastic on the fly so simply assured her that, yes, I knew my child looked like both a boy and a girl. I’m sure my Mom hasn’t missed this either.

The phone call did not go well. She didn’t want to know anything about it. At all. She loves Jeremy but these things needed to be kept private. I just needed to explain to Jeremy that all sorts of men really do like feminine things too; like my Dad enjoys rug hooking. You know, just in case that information had slipped my mind. And then she told me how confrontational I was and how I go out of my way to make things difficult and throw things in people’s faces. Like being vegan and that whole agnostic thing. Agnostic translating to being an atheist for the past 30 years… which is obviously something I’ve done to be super edgy.

I retaliated that I didn’t want to be confrontational or difficult, I simply wanted to be myself and didn’t feel I had to be exactly the same as everyone else in the family. And that Jeremy was the same; that zie had the right to be zirself without being accused of being confrontational or trying to be different. Or trendy, because my Mom tried to claim that too.

I got off the phone with my Mom, cried a little and messaged Lenny. Then Jeremy got out off the shower and we headed off for the meeting. We walked into the school and I sarcastically quipped that we were going to go inside, they’d use all the proper pronouns, everything would be sorted out, and then we’d ride home on our unicorns. I was partly right.

I got Jeremy’s safety plan when we got inside and immediately noticed they’d written ze and zir down for pronouns. Not exactly right but a decent attempt, and a slight misspelling was definitely not the hill I was willing to die on. The poor principal looked panicked every time he was reminded about pronouns. He’d frantically use Jeremy’s name and struggle to loop sentences to avoid any pronouns whatsoever… then he’d lapse back into he and him a minute or so later. Everyone did make an effort though and Jeremy seemed happy with it.

We got everything reasonably sorted out and I went home only to get a phone call. Jeremy was refusing to read a list of words aloud. Granted, zie has language based issues and reads silently a lot better than reading out loud but this was a reading assessment and needed to be done. They offered to do the reading one on one. The VP even offered to write the whole list out on index cards in case zie was finding the list hard to read but Jeremy refused saying the list was pointless. So zie did zir spelling in the office.

My shopping trip with my Mom went well. We browsed around the first couple of stores then Mom broached the subject of transgender in the car on the way to the third store. She wanted me to tell Jeremy that she loves “him” but that zie’ll always be a “he” because of genitals. I told her that I’d tell Jeremy that she loves zir but there was no way I was saying the rest. She continued to argue about genitals and how society’s changed and now people are way too interested in labeling everything instead of simply letting people be humans. I retaliated with commenting that some societies have up to five genders (thanks for that information Charlie) and that Native Canadians traditionally had two spirited people who didn’t identify as male or female and were considered quite highly. Then I brought up studies showing actual differences in the brain where FtM trans people resembled biological men and MtF trans people resembled biological females. She seemed to listen and assured me she considers Jeremy to be honest, intelligent, thoughtful, friendly, and fun to be around… that “he’s” a good kid.

Jeremy’s off at zir youth group meeting and hopefully having a good time. I just got off the phone with Emma but I’ll need to save what’s going on with her for a different post because I’ve rambled way too much now.

So I outed my kid today…

I talked to Jeremy yesterday afternoon, reminding zir that our church prides itself on being a welcoming congregation and as such are likely to make an effort to refer to Jeremy by the right pronouns. Jeremy agreed and thought they should know… some day. So I offered to be the one to tell them during pebbles of joy and concern, explaining that I would say what non-binary trans is and explain zir pronouns and how to use them in a sentence.

Jeremy swivelled a bit on zir bus seat. Like usual, we had our conversation in the middle of public transit. “Mom? When’s the next youth group meeting?” zie asked.

I thought back to the newsletter. “This coming Friday,” I replied after a moment’s thought.

“Can you tell them before the next meeting?”

That pretty much left today.

One thing to realize is claiming I’m not a social person is akin to saying a tornado is a type of wind storm; it’s technically true but doesn’t come anywhere near describing the magnitude of the situation. The only other announcement I’ve ever done was about a year ago, explaining why my kids and I were boycotting Jelly Belly jelly beans. We’ve been attending this congregation for thirteen years now and today brings my total number of announcements up to two.

My bus was a bit late. I’d hoped to slip inside to quickly use the washroom and get a drink of water before the service began, instead I discovered the announcements had already started. I quickly grabbed a seat.

I should explain “pebbles of joy and concern” as I’m pretty sure it’s a distinctly Unitarian Universalist tradition. It’s often referred to as candles of joy and concern but some congregations, like ours, switched to placing pebbles in water instead of lighting candles due to waste issues and insurance policies. Basically it’s a time for every member of the congregation, from toddler age on up, to go to the front and express something of “special significance” in their life. I figured Jeremy coming out as trans would count.

Jeremy's pebble is blue and Lenny's is clear... I'm not sure which ones beyond that.

Jeremy’s pebble is blue and Lenny’s is clear… I’m not sure which ones beyond that.

I was reasonably sure I wasn’t having a heart attack as I already had heart issues ruled out with an EKG. Which is good because nothing makes panic suck more than wondering if you’re really going into cardiac arrest and simply ignoring it as anxiety.

It was finally time to get up for the pebbles. I took the long way around, figuring there’d be several people beating me to the front (like usual) but I was first and almost every seat was full. I got about halfway through my brief explanation when I realized the words were getting really hard to force out. Oh right… I needed to breathe.

One of the teenagers nodded through my announcement. I wasn’t sure if it simply wasn’t a surprise or if she was agreeing with my explanation. Someone else said thanks as I walked back to my seat. And otherwise it was a non issue. One elderly lady wanted clarification on the pronouns and the Religious Education teacher is going to update the child and youth forms so they aren’t strictly male and female. The rest of the conversations were on Avaaz, a climate change protest in New York next weekend, and the coffee… pretty standard UU fare.

And the RE teacher used Jeremy’s pronouns when talking about the forms.

I’m hoping this will work. Our speaker today (Lynn Harrison) is an aspiring minister and amazing singer/songwriter. She sang an absolutely gorgeous original song today and I just found it on her website. Now to see if I can embed an MP3 here…

Woo hoo… it worked. Enjoy 🙂

My letter to Jeremy…

Dear Jeremy,

You came out to me as straight again last night, something that made me flinch because it usually involves a lot of yelling on your part. You got mad at me for not immediately believing you and then I struggled to try and explain why. I’m not good with words, at least not verbally. I need the space to think, type, and backspace as needed; time to collect my thoughts. And this is complicated.

When your sister was eleven or twelve years old, she told me she was straight and I could use male pronouns when I discussed relationships with her. My response was to say “okay” and switch to using male pronouns. If you’d done something similar, I’d have done the same. But you didn’t.

You came out as bisexual last summer, which is fine. Even after that, if you said you’d done some thinking and really weren’t attracted to males, I would have said “okay” and that would be it. But you didn’t. You informed me several times that you didn’t know if you were attracted to guys at all because you refused to think about it. Then you told me you were straight. And then you joked that you would never leave the closet because you “took away the door and welded it shut and stuck a big screen TV in front of it. There’s no way out.”

And you rate the various doctors in Doctor Who by cuteness. No, it wasn’t just that one time. It happens so naturally for you, I don’t think you even notice unless I say something. And I just don’t.

To me your sexuality is kind of like Schrödinger’s cat. It’s there but I can’t see it and don’t know what it is. Hints can be given but until the box is opened… and that’s where the similarities fall apart. Because there is no box to open (there’s no poison either but that would be an entirely different blog). You could be telling the truth now or lying and I won’t know.

I’m scared you think it will be okay to lie and say you’re straight because you like girls too. That if you fake hard enough, everything will be fine. Life doesn’t work like that. Just ask Dan from Single Dad Laughing, he wrote a whole blog post about his experience. Jeremy, when you came out, you said you were more interested in women than men and so is Dan. Like you, he also is fairly effeminate. His two marriages failed with both wives convinced he was gay, even though he was deeply in the closet. He ended up suicidal and didn’t come out until his early thirties. He’d known he wasn’t straight since he was eleven.

I posted a question on a forum I frequent, asking about a young friend of mine. I did not say it was you. One poster replied with a story of how her daughter got pregnant as a teenager. The father was a young man who’d come out as gay then bisexual and then said he was straight. He ended up killing himself. I got off the computer and bawled.

I tried to explain last night, tried to say you only have one life to live and you cut me off. You told me that I don’t listen to you and I don’t discuss what’s important. That I don’t support you at school. I think Kelly from Living a Bold Life said it the best:

Make it clear that you are fighting for your child to be themselves as far as preferences go, but not in the behavior category. That your expectation is the same for your child as every other kid as far as behavior is concerned.

Hon, I will talk to your teachers about gender and pronouns. I will give them reams of information if they request, and I have told them this. I will fight for you to get relevant sex information during sex ed class. I will stand up for you regarding boycotting the Olympics in Russia. I will not back you for bringing electronics into the library and refusing to put them away. To be fair, I know you realize your excuses were really flimsy. You didn’t feel like walking downstairs to your locker? You had to have your devise out so you could research online because it was too much effort to switch between tabs in your browser? I wish you’d just said you were feeling uncomfortable at school and wanted to go home instead of causing a scene in the library and getting sent home (again).

I wish you felt more comfortable, more safe in your own skin. I was discussing this with Lenny this morning and zie said, “He’s dealing with bending gender stereotypes, and that links to sexuality – ‘am I really gay if I’m more than a little female?’ that sort of thinking.” Jeremy, I know you will sort things out. Just trust yourself.

You thought I was being ridiculous when I said you only have one life to live, that there are no do-overs. And I know you thought I was being silly when we went shopping yesterday and I offered to have you pretend to help me pick out pyjamas for myself when we went through the ladies department. You rolled your eyes and sarcastically informed me you could just point them out for yourself, which is great. You did use my suggestion in Wal-Mart, which is fine too. I still think you would have rocked that Duck Dynasty nightgown (also your eyes are going to stay that way if you keep rolling them like that).

Jeremy, I guess the short answer is, I want you to love yourself as much as I love you. You’re amazing.

Love, Mom