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.

 

The Influence of Media

I was on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and a Christmas carol showed up in my news feed. It was Little Drummer Boy as sung by an a capella group named Pentatonix. I loved it and immediately shared it. The next day another song, Carol of the Bells showed up as well. It was just as good. I searched them up on You Tube then bought and downloaded their CD.

Colin acted like he wasn’t interested in the group. You know, it was Mom’s music. But every time the songs came on, he found a reason to wander over to the computer. As I scrolled down the list of videos, one popped up titled SuperFruit. It started with tinny video game music and Colin immediately crouched down beside me. The video consisted of two members of the band chatting about their likes and interests. If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, they both made it very apparent they were gay.

Colin leaned across the keyboard and clicked a button on the side of the screen.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Subscribing,” he replied, still watching the video. “They’re funny.”

The next morning, I headed into my room and found itunes open on my laptop.

“Why do you have itunes open?” I called.

“I’m converting the itunes songs to acc so I can listen to the songs on my DS,” he replied as he wandered in. “Oh good, it’s all ready.”

Minutes later, Carol of the Bells was playing through his DS and he happily showed me how he could set the background to various settings from wavy lines to dirt bike racers, to Mario. I told him the background was neat but I also liked watching the video of the actual singers. He sat beside me and watched along right to the end. Then he laughed and pointed at the screen.

“Gay… and gay,” he announced, grinning widely.

“Yes they are,” I agreed.

A couple of days later a post turned up in my news feed, saying that if people supported Phil Robertson, just to save her some time and unfriend themselves.

“Who?” I wrote back in bewilderment.

“He’s a character off Duck Dynasty,” came the immediate reply.

“Colin? Do you know what Duck Dynasty is?” I asked. We don’t have cable and some days I joke that I feel like I live under a rock. He walked into the living room and shrugged.

I turned back to the computer and started searching. It didn’t take long. Within minutes I discovered it was a TV show claiming to follow the lives of a family making and selling duck whistles. The guy did an interview and spouted off against homosexuality and for racial segregation. I read one of the quotes to Colin.

“The station suspended him?” he asked. I nodded. “Good,” he continued. “They should have expelled him.”

A coworker of mine posted a link to a video of a sermon Phil gave back in 2010. This one was even worse than the GQ interview. In the sermon he says…

…that men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with women, will receive the “due penalty for their perversions.” He goes on to say that they are full of “murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, god-haters. They are heartless. They are faithless. They are senseless. They are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

Smiling wryly I turned to Colin. “So what evil have you invented lately?” I asked.

“Mom, I’m not gay,” he replied immediately. “I’m straight.”

“Umm…” I said not so intelligently. “Really?”

He nodded.

“So, do you like girls?”

“No!” came his shocked reply, followed immediately with, “Yes. I mean yes. Of course.”

I was left unsure whether he’d accidentally gave his honest answer or if he figured I’d lead with a “do you like boys?” question and replied accordingly. Either way… I decided to leave it alone.

“Okay. Do you like boys?”

He looked at me then squirmed in his chair.

“I don’t know,” he finally replied.

I watched him with some surprise. “How can you not know?” I asked. He shrugged.

“I try my hardest not to think of boys. That way I don’t know,” he replied.

I sighed (hopefully silently). That was not straight. However I’m not nearly tactless enough to say that. Instead, I said, “Hon. What I want the most is for you to be honest with yourself. Please don’t lie to yourself.”

He shrugged then headed off to his room. Moments later, Carol of the Bells began to play.

Meanwhile the debate began on Facebook. One friend supported Phil, claiming he was standing up for his religious beliefs. I replied back, giving my opinion. The debate stayed friendly and polite.

The next friend had his wife show up in the thread, belligerently talking about “minority groups” and asking why it’s okay for them to shove their opinions and way of life down people’s throats and how they want to be special and not equal. The friend liked her replies. I immediately deleted him.

I didn’t even bother replying to the next two friends who posted their support. Both were quietly unfriended. I no longer had the interest or energy to try and share my point of view.

I get it. To them, they were arguing in the abstract about a faceless group of people. They weren’t thinking about friends or family members. They were thinking about some vast amorphous entity called “The Gays”.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of my son, who might be gay or who might be bisexual, but who desperately wants to be straight. Desperately wants people not to hate him.

What I want is for people to forget the word games. Forget the smarmy “I’m against homosexuality but I’m not a bully” bullshit. I want them to try taking a look into someone’s eyes and saying, “You know what? You’re a great person just the way you are” and mean it. Give it a try. You might just make a difference.