I am not Ryland – the story of a tomboy

There’s a blog post by someone named Lindsay that I’ve seen a few times. It’s titled I am Ryland. I’ve ignored it until now simply because it was written back in 2014 but it’s still going around (and around… over 10k times). In it, the author explains how her gender nonconforming childhood meant she was exactly the same as the transgender boy Ryland:

The thing she fails to notice is her parents treated her the same way Ryland’s parents treat him. They listen to him and follow his lead on who he is and where his interests lie. My parents were the same way.

Penny the pony

I’m in the yellow jacket

I was a little girl who dearly loved most “boy things”. I climbed trees like a monkey (and roofs and the fences behind baseball diamonds). I collected worms, preying mantises, and spiders. I don’t think my sister Karen will ever recover from my spider collection. If we needed to dig the deepest, run the fastest, or swim the farthest, I was there. My best friends, right up until puberty, were boys and they remained mainly boys until I was an adult. Even now I’m equally comfortable with male and female friends.

Like Lindsay I wanted the privileges of being a boy. I wanted to be picked by my grade five teacher to run across the street to buy treats for the class… a reward that was supposed to be random but only went to boys. I wanted to be a tree surgeon when I grew up; I couldn’t imagine anything better than climbing trees for a living. I thought being a garbage man sounded cool too (driving that big truck) but there was the little word man which stood in my way.

The one thing I didn’t want was to be a boy. I wanted to be myself, a tomboyish girl. I wanted to run and climb and collect bugs without being told to settle down and be a lady. Ladies were boring. They sat and talked and did nothing else. They certainly didn’t lie on the ground to catch bullfrogs and they screamed when they saw mice and snakes, even though they were cool. I wanted to grow up to be a woman.

What Lindsay misses is Ryland isn’t her. He’s not a tomboy who wants male privilege. He’s a boy. He’s not confused. He’s not being ignored. And if something rare happens and he changes his mind at puberty, it won’t be traumatic. He’ll just get a new wardrobe and haircut then go on with his life.

I’m glad that both Lindsay and I had our chances to have rough and tumble childhoods. I’m glad we both had the choice to be tomboys and grow up to be women. And I’m glad Ryland’s parents are giving him the same chance to be himself.

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You spin me right round baby, right round…

It was an odd sort of day. The snow crunched underfoot as we tied our jackets around our waists due to the warmth. It was 12C and the snow was melting everywhere except for the woods where we walked. Jeremy’s cat trotted along beside us. It was peaceful.

Then Jeremy broke the silence. “Mom, my medication has really been working this time,” he stated. I nodded because it had. His yelling had dropped to pretty much nothing, chores were getting done. He’d even started cleaning up his room.

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Jeremy walking Lara 

“I think it was the depression that made me say I’m male. I’m really not and now I’m wondering if I’m female. I remember how happy it used to make me feel when someone thought I was a girl.”

This was pretty much the last thing I expected him to say but I rolled with it.

My memory’s not nearly good enough to remember a whole conversation verbatim but we went on to discuss hormones and surgery, names and pronouns, with Jeremy asking to please be called he/him for now. And soon the conversation went back to Jeremy’s favourite topic of computers.

I woke the next morning to find Jeremy in my computer chair. “How could they turn a penis into a vagina?” he asked. “They’re totally different.”

My favourite way to start the morning is with a simple “hi” and lots of quiet but I gamely tried to explain sexual affirmation surgery… before breakfast… while half asleep.

“But it’ll look normal, right?” he asked once I was done.

“Yes,” I assured him. “It’ll look like any other vulva.”

He looked like someone was forcing him to swallow a worm. “I guess I’ll have to make a decision,” he said quietly.

I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure trans woman are usually happier at the thought of having a vulva of their own.

“Look,” I said, leaning closer, “How do you feel inside? Do you feel male? Female? In between?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t really feel like anything.”

“It sounds like maybe you’re agender.”

“Maybe,” Jeremy agreed hesitantly.

“Sweetie, you have plenty of time,” I assured him again. “You don’t have to decide anything right now or even any time soon. And, if you want, I can find someone you can talk to.”

Jeremy nodded and looked a bit happier. “By video chat,” he agreed.

So I chatted with a friend of mine who describes herself as “ambiguously female” and got a chat sorted out. Luckily she was already Facebook friends with Jeremy.

I was dozing the next morning when Jeremy wandered in. “It’s too bad you’re asleep because I wanted to talk about gender,” he said.

“Huh?” I mumbled. Apparently that qualifies as awake.

“I think I might be more gender fluid than agender,” he continued. “But I don’t want to be both male and female. I want to be one or the other. So I need to figure out who I am the most.”

“Hon, there’s nothing wrong with being both,” I assured him, quickly waking up. “If you’re both, we’ll just get you two sets of clothes.”

“But I don’t like fancy clothes,” Jeremy pointed out worriedly. I laughed.

“When you were buying your clothes in the ladies section, did I ever buy you fancy clothes?”

He smiled and agreed I hadn’t.

Then he caught me making breakfast.

“If I have surgery, it’ll be my very first surgery. I haven’t even broken a bone before.” He paused. “Oh wait, I had eye surgery when I was a baby so it would be my second surgery.”

“Let me know when I can blog this,” I commented and he shook his head.

“Not yet. My Dad reads your blog. He’s only called me once in a long time and I want him to call to talk to me, not to call about gender stuff. And I want to get things more sorted out.”

“Look Jeremy,” I said the following morning after he’d talked, yet again, about surgery. “Do you feel like a woman?”

He nodded and said yes then added, “But I also feel like a man.”

“So you’re right back where you started as bigender,” I pointed out. He shook his head.

“I feel more… what do you call it? Gender fluid.”

At least he was achieving some continuity.

So I thought and thought while he shovelled his room clean then called him into my room to share my thoughts with him.

“What?” he asked from the other side of the wall.

“Hon, this is a poignant Hallmark moment. Get your ass in here,” I replied, because we’re loving and touching like that. He wandered in and flopped down onto my bed.

“Jeremy, our society acts like we all fit into tiny boxes, all neatly labelled and sorted. We don’t. People are more unique, more messy, more creative than that. Right now you’re trying to cram yourself into a male box or a female box. Don’t. Just be your glorious self. If you feel female then act female, if you feel male then act male. You only have one life to live and it’s too short to live it stuffed in a box of other people’s expectations. You do you and be yourself fabulously.”

Jeremy held his phone up to his neck and giggled. “Look, I have a double chin. See.”

It’s a wonder this kid has made it to 19 years old. Also, we’re never getting a slot in any Hallmark ads. I glared at him.

“No, I like that,” he said hastily. “I’ll take it under consideration.”

“And you don’t need to have surgery either,” I pointed out. “I mean do you like your penis?”

Jeremy looked at me in surprise then shook his head. “Not really.”

He used to hide it as a child so that wasn’t much of a surprise.

“Okay,” I replied, thinking quickly. “Maybe more insight would be a help. Why don’t I post this and see if we can get any advice from people who have been through this before?”

He thought about it for a moment then agreed. So now it’s your turn. If your gender could be described as confused or multifaceted, please feel free to reply with how you’re doing now and what your options were/are. Thank you so much for your help.

On hair and gender…

“Can you cut my hair when we’re at Nana and Grandad’s?” Jeremy asked.

“Umm… yes,” I replied. I was a bit startled seeing as I’d cut their hair just over a week earlier. “How short?”

I was hoping they didn’t want too fancy a cut. I have no hair dressing skills. I can barely manage a simple braid and bang trimming. Well, hair dressers don’t seem to think I can manage bangs but my kids have never complained.

“Buzz cut,” Jeremy said happily. “You can use Grandad’s clippers.”

This was obviously going to be harder for me than them. I’d spent years fighting against so many people for their right to wear their hair the way they wanted, which was long (and usually dyed). Now suddenly they wanted it short (and undyed). But part of their right to bodily autonomy meant short hair as well as long.

“Okay,” I replied, hoping my reluctance didn’t show. If it did, Jeremy didn’t seem to notice.

I put on the #7 clipper first and soon the lawn was covered in clumps of hair. The cut looked good on them. Long enough to be feminine while short enough to be masculine.

“It looks good,” Jeremy agreed, looking at my camera phone (seriously, who needs a mirror anymore). “I’d like it shorter though.”

Shorter? Sigh. I pulled out the #5 clipper and began cutting again. Their hair became decidedly shorter. Soon I was done. The ears weren’t perfect but, if they wanted professional, they’d have taken my parents’ offer of a real hair stylist instead of me.

“Do you think he’s are feeling more like a boy again?” my Mom asked hopefully as soon as Jeremy hopped into the shower.

I thought back to the evening before. We’d been watching an anime Jeremy wanted me to see (Gurren Lagann if anyone out there’s interested) and they were excited about an upcoming character.

“Look,” they’d said, pointing at a bluish character. “They’re both a boy and a girl. They’re non-binary, just like me!”

leeron_littner

“No,” I replied honestly but as gently as I could. “I think they just wanted short hair.”

I wandered into the family room a short time later, where Jeremy was sitting with their cousins… all playing on separate devices.

“Mom, this hair cut makes me feel more feminine,” Jeremy said happily.

And why shouldn’t it. Hair is just that. It’s not gender. It’s not even a secondary sex characteristic. It’s simply a head covering (and in my case a ‘blowing across my face’ covering).

The next night Jeremy informed me, once again, that they don’t think gender exists… that it’s just something society made up.

“Are you sure you’re pangender?” I asked. “Do you think you might be agender instead?”

Jeremy thought for a moment. “I think you’re right,” they replied.

colin-and-lara

Jeremy and their cat Lara. They’re not male or female… just perfectly themself.

The grass is always greener…

When Jeremy first came out as non-binary, they trialed using they/them pronouns for just under a week before switching to zie/zir pronouns. I was pleased in one way because they’d chosen the same pronouns as my then best friend (now ex-boyfriend). The rest of me was disappointed because no one had ever heard of those pronouns before. If they weren’t mishearing zie for he and zir for her, I was getting “what did you just say?” and “how do you use that?” at the best and complete ignoring the pronouns at the worst. It tended to be me that got the comments simply because Jeremy doesn’t usually refer to themself in third person although they got an earful and a half at school.

Now, after two years of explaining to pretty much everyone what zie and zir are, how to use them, and why Jeremy’s using them in the first place (all of this with their permission), they’ve switched back to they and them. My first thought was ‘cool… easier pronouns’ and my second was ‘damn, I’ll need to reexplain to all my friends… but at least it’ll be easier’. Famous last words and all of that.

My Mom and sister’s first reactions were they is plural, which is true but not completely. The English language has plenty of wiggle room and people from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Austen have used singular they. It was fairly common in the 16th century too (according to the Oxford dictionary). And it’s not like the English language is static. You used to be only used as a plural pronoun, with thou as singular. I’m sure people can handle the transition to using singular they too.

Then I needed to talk to a mental health care professional. You know, someone who should have regular involvement with the LGBTQ community considering the depression statistics.

“My offspring’s name is Jeremy. They’re 19 years old,” I explained with Jeremy standing beside me.

The woman proceeded to glance, bewildered, around the room for an extra offspring. “They?” she asked hesitantly.

Because this isn’t 2016 and no one’s heard of singular they before. Although, considering she wasn’t the first or last person confused over this, maybe most people haven’t.

I think the weirdest and funniest thing is there seems to be a subset of people who think I’m forcing Jeremy to pretend to be trans for some unknown reason. I don’t get any money for this blog (or for spouting my mouth on Facebook for that matter) and Jeremy’s not meek and laid back; they are tenacious with strongly held views. To be fair, their mildest view, in one way, is regarding gender as they don’t particularly care what pronouns they’re called… as long as it’s not incessantly “he/him”. But that’s because Jeremy doesn’t hold firmly to any gender and think all genders should be abolished. And that’s *cough* a strongly held view on their part. I’ve explained to them multiple times that many other people like having a gender and identify strongly with their gender (myself included). It whooshes right over their head. According to them, gender is the root of societal evil and that’s that. Alrighty then.

If Jeremy was male, there would be no way anyone could miss it because they’d be telling everyone within ear shot that I’d lost my mind and couldn’t handle them being he. It would be their only topic and one everyone under the sun would know about. But they aren’t and they don’t. If the people who think I’m forcing them would try using female pronouns even once, and saw their smile, they’d know this for themselves.

I have one quirk regarding the pronoun and that’s treating singular they the same, grammatically, as plural they. “They’re going to the store” sounds so much better than “they’s going to the store” and it makes me sound so much less like I stumbled into a sitcom about the deep south (which would even more farther south than Oshawa or even Sarnia). If Jeremy felt strongly about grammar, I’d swallow my mild discomfort and singular they every contraction, but they don’t.

So, after two years of thinking they/them would be so much easier to explain, I’ve discovered it’s not. The good part is I’ve at least got Jane Austen on my side.

Happiness is…

Happiness is… spending time with Jeremy, either playing Mario Kart or swimming, and just having fun. We’ve been going to a different pool lately, one owned by the same landlord but in a nearby building. Jeremy loves it and I love that it’s warmer than ours.

1221 pool

“I’ll race you Mom!”

Happiness is… picking out the perfect presents for Jeremy for Christmas. Yes, I know I shop early. Yes, I know there’s still 130 more days left and it’s still only August. It’s just that Christmas is my favourite holiday of the year and they really will love  all of them.

Happiness is… watching Jeremy’s happiness at finally buying the laptop they’ve been wanting for years. And seeing their confidence bloom again. I’ve watched for several years as Jeremy hid much of their feminine side and today they casually bought a pink and white laptop bag because it’s “perfect” and a hot pink keyfinder button for their keychain.

new laptop

“I am smiling!”

Happiness is… needing to work on a suicide prevention plan and asking friends permission to add them to a contact sheet… then getting so many friends volunteer it might turn into a contact booklet. I don’t know if my friends realize how much this means to me, how much it feels like I’ve been wrapped up in their caring.

Happiness is… going for a whirlwind vacation in just under two weeks and listening to Jeremy chatter about it several times a day. We have so much planned from the butterfly conservatory, to the waterpark, to the antique aerial car over the Niagara whirlpool; I’m not sure how we’re going to fit in sleep.

fallsview waterpark

“I can’t wait until we get there Mom. What do you think we should do first?”

Happiness is… waking up to two adorable kittens snuggled beside me. Their antics amuse me and warm my heart every single day.

Smudge relaxing small

So much adorable in such a small package!

Happiness is having so many things to be happy about 🙂

Watching Jeremy return…

Right now Jeremy’s tired and a wee bit grumpy, staring at their bagel as if they’ve never seen one before and aren’t quite sure what to do with it. But, even now, they’re more here than I’ve seen in a long time.

Two weeks ago I took Jeremy to the hospital in desperation. Their anger was getting worse, their depression was deepening, and the cycles between didn’t end. I asked if they wanted to go and was floored when they said yes.

It was a long day. A psych evaluation via the emergency room always is. Jeremy was seen by triage, two nurses, an emergency room doctor, a psych nurse, the psychiatrist, a phlebotomist, and whatever the technical term for the person who runs the EKG machine. At the end they came out with a diagnosis of “likely bipolar” and two new medications.

The downside to the medication is exhaustion. We’re not sure which pill is causing it, although right now Jeremy’s leaning towards the blue-green pill, Latuda. Which explains their glazed stare at the bagel. The upside is watching Jeremy return with their quirky sense of humour and innate kindness. They joke around with their younger cousin, head out for walks with me, snuggle the cats, and chat with their grandparents.

Jeremy got their final inheritance from their grandfather on Wednesday and on of their very first purchases was a netbook for me. It’s cute, tiny, and has a blue cover which reminds me vaguely of both Tetris and Lego.

“You deserve it,” Jeremy urged.

It wasn’t expensive so I accepted.

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Me at my parents’ house with said netbook

Jeremy also bought themself a laptop off Amazon, a shiny red one with a terabyte hard drive and a quad core. Now they just have to wait until the 15th.

The main part… the good part is I have them back.

“Hey Mom! This song is so gay. Not gay in a bad way, gay in a mmm good way!”

Yep, they’re definitely back!

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Jeremy walking Lara while rocking their second best headphones. The best, from B, were charging at home.

My dear fellow cis people…

I love you, I really do but having some of you around is like trying to explain your elderly pet.

“Ignore those growls, he’s really sweet once you get to know him. DON’T LEAVE THAT ON THE FLOOR! Sorry, he’s slightly incontinent and pees on hats. It’s not wool, is it?”

I’m going to write a few suggestions. Please read and share with your cis friends. The more people you reach, the less “those cishets” comments I get to read. And more importantly, the less vulnerable and depressed friends I need to reassure about their gender. This is very important because I’ve got a few friends who are really damn suicidal.

My first suggestion is to read my handy Introductory Guide to Trans (written from a cis point of view). You can read anything informative that you find, I just happen to have mine handy (and it explains what cis means). My second suggestion is to follow this easy list.

  1. Please don’t use elementary school knowledge to define someone else’s gender. Seriously, this is the only time people use childhood knowledge as proof. We don’t walk around saying, “Well Miss Smarty Pants! You say you have grey eyes but I learned in kindergarten that we have blue, brown, or green eyes. It’s basic knowledge!” or “You say the heart has four chambers and rounded edges but my four year old draws it with two bumps and a point. Plus it only has two chambers… if you fold it in half! What do you say about that Mister Cardiologist?”

    Gender is complex and only now just being understood. If your knowledge is from elementary school and secondary school, trust that you don’t know it all. Accept people’s knowledge of their gender to be correct instead of what you barely remember from grade nine biology.


  2. Don’t ask people about their genitals. At all. Ever. If you’re crawling into bed, you’ll find out soon enough. There’s a limited amount of variety and you’re either going to get a vulva (which I think looks a lot like Cluthu’s less cute cousin), a penis (which looks like a drunk with bad drawing skills sketched an elephant), or something in between. It’s not a surprise. It’s not like your bed partner is going to pull down their pants and, wow, there’s that pony you wanted for Christmas when you were four.

  3. No questions about surgery either. C’mon, it’s shocking if I mention I’ll probably need a hysterectomy, which means it should be equally shocking to ask anyone if they’re having top or bottom surgery. And they’re not chopping off their penis or breasts. If you’re that curious just google. Google doesn’t care what you search.

  4. Bathrooms. Here, in North America (as with most of the world) we have these magical devices called doors. We’re not peeing in a trough with everyone beside us… at least us girls aren’t. Quite frankly, I don’t care if the woman beside me has a full beard as long as she feels safe going into the stall beside me. And, for the transphobes, I just saw a woman yesterday feeding her baby while sporting a fine, full growth of 5 o’clock shadow. You cannot tell if a woman is trans. You can assume but you can’t tell. Don’t harass people going in to pee, don’t claim you’re doing so to protect “the girls”. I can assure you that every single trans woman I know would end up beating the crap out of someone abusing a kid in the washroom. My cis friends would too.

  5.  No arguing with people about their gender. It’s their body and their mind. They know their gender better than you. That includes people who currently have no real idea what their gender is. I assure you that the person you disagree with does, in fact, possess at least one mirror and has knowledge of what their genitals look and feel like. There is nothing you can say about their gender which would be a surprise. It’s not like you’re going to say, “You’re a girl” and they’re going to say, “Wow, I never noticed that vulva before. You’re right!” They can sort out their gender without your input. All that’s needed is some back up support.

  6. Do not out anyone without their permission! You have friends, not trans friends to make you look cool and trendy. They’re people, not Pokemon critters. And, as people, they deserve the right to privacy. Introduce people by their names, not their genitals. This is my friend Sarah, she was my friend in high school and played the tuba. Not, this is my friend Sarah. She was Freddie in high school and played the tuba.This ‘no outing’ goes for anyone who’s LGBTQ or anyone with a secret. You don’t decide when the secret is shared. Not your secret, not your choice.

  7. Make friends with people, not their gender. Your trans friends are friends, not collectibles. If you’re not talking about their relationships, chocolate, coffee, jobs (or lack thereof), pets, lack of interest in doing the laundry, etc then are you really friends?

Jeremy had a friend over last week who shared her cold with us and this list is ending now so I can go for a popsicle run. I have the sweetest picture of Jeremy curled up in my bed while hugging zir cellphone but I’d like to live to see 47 years old so you’ll all have to live without it. Be kind, no staring, and no peeing on hats (metaphorical or otherwise).