So… the meeting…

Well it happened.

The meeting was in a crowded room with five other adults, so I was already feeling overwhelmed when I walked in. There was a brief introduction where I was introduced to everyone in the room… and promptly lost all their names. I was seated beside a vice principal and then there was the head of special education and Jeremy’s teacher (who I already knew) and another vice principal and someone else who took copious notes. I can’t remember her title at all.

I was immediately informed by the first VP that everyone in the meeting was there to support and help Jeremy and that the best way to do so was to make all the decisions first and then tell “him” what we’d decided. I argued vehemently that zie should be involved in the decision making and was overruled.

My first concern was the issue that had been brought up on Friday regarding distractions. Everyone agreed that a stress ball would be fine for Jeremy to use and that even a spinning ring would work. Apparently the issue with having a bag on the floor was that a teacher tripped on a bag last year and fell, which meant she was off work for quite a while. However, they didn’t tell Jeremy this, choosing to detail how students might be carrying weapons or dealing drugs instead. Which at least explains why zie started ranting about how the school should have metal detectors.

This is when I lost it and flipped a proverbial table. They wanted to know if I thought having zir bag of electronics on a nearby table, visible but out of reach, would be an acceptable option. I said that would be best directed to Jeremy and got told no, the adults needed to make these decisions; I needed to decide for “him”. I said that Jeremy was sitting directly outside the meeting room and it would take me maybe 20 seconds, if that, to go ask zir. They didn’t feel that was appropriate. I, once again, explained that it didn’t matter what I thought was a valid option, this plan was being put in place to make Jeremy feel more safe. If zie didn’t think it would work then it wasn’t going to be a help and we’d need to think of something else.

That was when the phone rang and the first VP needed to take a call.

I stood up. “While she’s busy, I’m going to quickly ask Jeremy if this will work for zir.”

I reached for the door just in time to hear someone bark, “No! Michelle, you need to sit back down right now.”

Excuse me? I spun around, swept the room with one glance then said, “No” before walking out. Jeremy was standing talking to an adult. I’d caught zir just as zie was leaving for zir student ID photo. Zie said the bag being visible was fine. I walked back in and said so to the group.

Then came gender. Kind of. I brought it up three times only to be redirected to gadgets, a topic I figured we’d already beaten to death. Nothing new was being discussed, everyone was simply rehashing how obsessive Jeremy was with them and how zie perseverates on them and won’t stop talking or fidgeting with them. Except there wasn’t any resolution to their issues, it was venting and nothing else. I was getting overwhelmed by the negativity. Finally I dragged them onto the gender topic and… nothing.

This is what it says on the school board website…

pronouns

According to the people at the meeting, those three pronouns are the only ones they can use in the school. Jeremy can’t be addressed as zie/zir because “they” is the only pronoun listed other than he or she. But “he” could go by “she” if “he” wanted; totally ignoring the whole “this list is illustrative but not exhaustive” sentence.

When I tried to bring up other information in the guidelines, I got informed by the second VP that she’d help design the pamphlet and was well aware of what it meant and what they were required to do by law. That it would get too confusing if they had to address every trans student in the whole school by their preferred pronouns, making it sound like there were at least five in each class and they all wanted different pronouns. She hastily assured me this school is the most welcoming school in the area and she knew this as a member of the LGBTQ community. I don’t have a rainbow card to pull but I do have another child, who attended a different high school. Her school had rainbow “positive space” signs everywhere plus Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) notices about every 10 feet down each hallway. My coworker Brian had similar stories about his former high school. In contrast, this is the only notice either Jeremy or I have seen at zir school…

GSA

It took us a while to find it, that one lonely little 8.5 by 11 inch sheet on a noticeboard halfway down a hallway. We’d been looking for something bigger, with an actual pride flag. Last year it took us half a year to find the GSA, only to discover no one attends. Jeremy hasn’t asked to join this year. I tried to mention Emma’s school and got cut off and informed the topic had changed.

And so it continued with me referring to Jeremy as zie and zir while everyone else said he and him. At one point the second VP drew boxes on her paper and nudged the lady beside her with a smile, drawing her attention to the paper. My heart sank. Were they really gossiping about myself or my child during the meeting? But no. She’d drawn a box around Jeremy’s name and another box around the word “they” then pointed to both. She was simply reminding the other woman about pronouns. That was one of the only bright spots of the meeting.

They have a work placement set up for Jeremy at the local board office; I believe emptying wastebaskets and taking out recycling. No one in the meeting felt zie’d be there for long. They don’t have any classes available outside the small class setting right now, so Jeremy can’t take any classes that might help with job skills. And there’s no math this semester; instead zir teacher is going to teach simple machines. Her reason? Because she’d been thinking of zir. She cut out zir favourite subject, the one zie argued and pleaded to take more of, in order to teach the class about pulleys and levers. I’m not arguing about the curruculum, simple machines sound very interesting. What irritates me is the claim that she did it for Jeremy. I assured zir we’d work on math at home. If anyone’s got any amazing math websites, please feel free to share them. Goodness knows this is not a subject I can teach.

Two people expressed concern that Jeremy’s gender identity would be a “distraction” because “he” will keep arguing with them when they use the wrong pronoun. I asked if zie’d argued with them over being called “he” before and got told no. They decided zie could keep a tally of their mistakes and bring them up at the end of the class so it wouldn’t be a distraction. They didn’t want “him” bringing it up in the middle of class because an explanation would be too long.

“You don’t need to explain anything,” I pointed out. “All you need to do is say I’m sorry.”

“That would take too long and would be distracting,” she insisted.

“Simply saying I’m sorry would be a distraction?” I asked, in a tone I’ve used on my own kids countless times. Apparently grown adults squirm at that tone too.

“Yes,” she replied. I simply gave her the look.

They wanted to wrap the meeting up right then without bringing Jeremy in because nothing got really decided and maybe we should schedule…

“Jeremy’s been sitting outside waiting this whole time,” I pointed out. “Zie was told fifteen minutes ago that zie’d be allowed inside in five minutes. Plus I had this day off already but I cannot guarantee I’ll have the next day off. Zie needs to come in and hear what’s been discussed.”

They let zir in.

So that’s it. Jeremy’s still being addressed as both he and him while they insist zie can only be referred to as they. The one subject that Jeremy enjoyed will not be back until after Christmas. There are no classes aimed at helping zir find a job zie’d enjoy and they’ve already figured zie’ll tank zir placement. They won’t allow zir a placement outside the school board because zie’s not a good ambassador. They don’t discuss hair colour or nail length at all with Jeremy but when they do, it’s out of a place of genuine concern for “his” wellbeing. They’ve never discussed boys and girls being opposites in the class but, if they did, it would have been an example given by other students and they couldn’t correct them because some of the students are not that bright and it would crush them to have their example corrected. Which isn’t what happened at all but…

I now have a better understanding of Jeremy’s anger issues. And, seriously, if they’re expecting zir to do a tally for every time they misgender zir, I’m going to need to buy zir a bigger backpack and one hell of a large notebook.

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Back to school…

It was still dark when we woke this morning. I popped the english muffins in the toaster, fished our lunch bags out of the fridge, and then I took Jeremy’s back to school photo; they made sure to pose with their netbook.

“I put the letter and all the information for your teacher in your backpack,” I assured them. “Please make sure she gets it, I didn’t destroy an entire forest just so it could sit in your backpack unread.”

letter for the teacher

Just some light reading

“I will,” they promised

I was showing Jeremy’s back to school photo to a coworker when I realized I’d never asked Jeremy what pronouns to use while I’m at work.

“They,” Jeremy said when I called them. They used as much scorn as a seventeen year old can muster, which is quite a bit.

Once again I discovered today that people don’t listen. I referred to Jeremy as “they” during my whole shift and no one noticed. I’d say “they” and my coworker would reply “he”. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed; I think I was closer to both. At one point a relatively new coworker asked if I have a son.

“Umm… kind of… not really,” I replied awkwardly. “I’ve got two kids, Emma and Jeremy.”

She gave me a look that said she’d always suspected I was insane and I’d finally proven it.

“Is Jeremy in grade 12?” she asked. I nodded and she grinned. “So’s my Jeremy. Was he excited to go back?”

“No, they weren’t,” I said. “They were happy at home this summer.”

“Oh, my son was happy to go back. He was bored at home and…”

The conversation moved on and then another crowd of people came through the door.

I’d hoped to make it through the whole first day of school without a phone call then the phone rang five minutes before the end of my shift. At first I was relieved it was simply Jeremy. One of the educational assistants discovered a partially disassembled battery operated scooter in a school closet and figured Jeremy would love it. She was right, they did, but it wasn’t allowed on the bus. Could they walk home with the scooter instead? I gave my permission both to Jeremy and their teacher.

I figured she’d mention the letter, instead she talked about the scooter and how unsafe it was. Which was understandable but as she talked I wondered if the information I’d printed was resting under Jeremy’s (hopefully) empty lunchbag.

“I sent some information with Jeremy. Did you get a chance to read any of it?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she said awkwardly. “I got the impression it had to do with a meeting so I put it all in the office.”

Wait… what? She saw a letter addressed to her by one of her student’s parents and placed the whole thing into the office without reading it? That made no sense.

“Did you at least read the letter?” I asked. “It was only one page.”

I leaned against one of the storage racks. I hadn’t hung around there since last spring when I was on the phone with Jeremy’s teacher.

“I skimmed it,” she replied. “I just want you to know I don’t agree with what you wrote. I talked about transgendered all last year.”

I bit my tongue. Hard.

“And we discussed this last year. I talked to the principal and explained everything to you. I just don’t feel…” My mind filled in comfortable. She obviously had second thoughts about that sentence and scrapped it entirely. “Our school guidelines do not require us to use invented pronouns in the classroom. I went over this with our principal and he would know. He helped write that information.”

“That’s not what it says on the district website,” I replied. “That’s not what it says in the Canadian guidelines either. I printed information from both the school board’s website and the government of Canada’s website and underlined all the relevant sections.”

“I don’t think we’re on the same page here,” she commented and I sighed.

“I don’t think so either,” I agreed.

“This is something meant to be discussed when there’s a transgendered student in the class-”

“There is now,” I said bluntly. “Jeremy is trans and they were very uncomfortable last year when you only taught binary pronouns.”

“You said in your letter that he hadn’t decided yet. When Jeremy decides what gender he’s choosing-”

“You mean when Jeremy tells you what gender they are. They’re not choosing anything and they already know their gender. I said they would tell you when they feel comfortable enough to use the pronoun ‘they’ at school. The information I printed was straight off the school board’s website. It’s easily available and I can email the links to anyone who is interested in reading it.”

She had to get off the phone then. I left work not knowing when a meeting would be arranged. If I don’t hear anything by Monday (my next weekday off) I’ll call the school and arrange a meeting myself.

I got home a couple of minutes before Jeremy then waited while they chugged a cup of orange juice. Apparently a scooter that’s supposed to be battery operated is not easy to push. Then I asked them how school was and, more specifically, what the teacher said about the letter.

“She said it was an insult and a slap in the face,” Jeremy replied. “She said she thinks about me the most out of all the students.”

She’s said this to me before too and I’m beginning to think she does. Unfortunately thinking about someone isn’t always positive.

Last year Jeremy was sent home multiple times for arguing with the teacher. Quite a few of the times were because they felt there needed to be more math. Jeremy loves math. This year, according to Jeremy, their teacher’s decided they’ve done enough math as a class. All this semester they’ll be working on science instead; science being growing plants. Which Jeremy loves… as a hobby.

I told Jeremy that today was a fresh start and to give their teacher a chance. Sadly, I think that chance has been blown.

Pronouns and a letter to the teacher…

I was talking to a friend today about pronouns and was asked if I’d thought of trialing a pronoun for Jeremy, like she did with her daughter. So I talked to Jeremy this morning and explained that I was feeling uncomfortable using him and he these days, simply because neither seems to suit Jeremy anymore. I explained what happened regarding my friend and her daughter. It felt a bit like I was pushing Jeremy by saying I want to use they and them but at the same time Jeremy seemed genuinely happy with the pronoun they… for the most part…

Jeremy: Mom, the only problem with they is it makes me sound like I’ve got about fifty personalities.

Me: And all of them are fabulous.

Jeremy (grinning): Except for Jerry. He’s an ass.

They do have a point though. It’s going to be an interesting pronoun to use when I’m talking about a few people and Jeremy “… and then they’re going home. Not everyone though, just Jeremy”. I figure we’ll get used to it in time.

So Jeremy’s using they everywhere except school and with extended family; which means I’m using they everyone except for my main Facebook page, where I’ll refrain from using pronouns as best I can. I might need a list.

I’ve spent this morning writing a letter for Jeremy’s teacher as their first day of school is this Wednesday. And here it is:

Dear Mrs. Teacher,

I would like 2014/2015 to be a good year for you, Jeremy, and the rest of the class. Jeremy has spent the entire summer panicking about the upcoming year. I know he can be a handful and a half to deal with but he’s also feeling unwelcome and disliked; this in turn causes him to act up out of frustration. He’s already talking about leaving school as soon as he turns eighteen because he thinks no one wants him there.

A compromise needs to be reached regarding electronics. Jeremy never goes anywhere without a bag of electronic equipment, this is a comfort for him, a coping strategy, he feels safer with them. While I don’t think he should be spending the day playing with his electronic devices, he will be calmer and better behaved with something nearby, even if it’s just in a bag by his feet. I would like to buy him a stress ball, although these days they’re fairly hard to find, he concentrates better with something in his hand. He is also coming into school with my old netbook. I would prefer him to use a school issued one, especially since it wouldn’t require an external keyboard, but I’ve been told repeatedly that his language based learning disabilities and processing issues do not qualify him. This netbook will be used for writing, other than at lunch or during any other break when he’s allowed to play games. Also, Jeremy would like the opportunity to do his math assignments in paint as he finds operating a mouse easier than a pencil. If you have any math or science based websites he can work on, he’s welcome to use them as well.

Jeremy identifies as gender nonconforming. I’ve spoken to several people this summer and have read the information on the [local school board]’s website. His identity falls under the trans umbrella and, as such, means he gets the same rights as the other transgender students in the board. This means no comments on his hair length or how long he keeps his nails, no encouraging other students to tell him to cut his hair, and no criticizing his hair dye (his hair is not going to fall out). In short, anything that is acceptable for a female student is acceptable for him and is not to be commented on in any negative fashion. He was made very uncomfortable last year when he was being taught only binary pronouns in English. Despite what I was told by you, via the principal, it is recommended to let the students know that there are other genders and other pronouns. There is nothing on the website referring to “invented pronouns” or only discussing them if and when a student changes pronouns. The school board is well aware that not all trans students are out and recommends acting as if you have a trans student in the class at all times.

I have referred to Jeremy as he/him throughout this letter. I, however, will be referring to him as they from now on as Jeremy does not identify as 100% male. Jeremy does wish to be called he/him at school for now at least. They will let you know if this changes.

I am enclosing half a forest of information from both the school board’s website and the government of Canada’s page. I have highlighted the parts that I feel pertain the most to Jeremy but the whole documents are very helpful.

I would enjoy a chance to sit down and talk with you, [principal], and anyone else who wishes to attend in order to provide the best outcome for this upcoming school year. I can be reached at [my phone number].

Thank you,

Michelle