Words kill…

It could have been me.

I’ve seen these words written so many times this week. And it’s true, it could have been me. Not at the Pulse; the chances of me being in a club are nil, especially at 2am. I’m more of the ‘cuddle and read at the library’ type (seriously, someone needs to make a cuddle and read club). But the LA pride parade was a target as well and, beyond that, where else? Is it safe to attend pride days at amusement parks? PFLAG meetings? The Trans Night of Remembrance services?

Jeremy and I were on the bus to our local Orlando vigil on Monday when zie turned to me and said, “I bet someone’s going to shoot up one of the vigils.”

“It won’t be ours,” I assured zir. “Our city’s too small.”

Not the best reassurance but it was all I had. Then we got there and zie saw the crowds. Instantly Jeremy became agitated, snapping at me for not knowing exactly what was going on and terrified I was going disappear and leave zir alone in the crowd.

“I can’t do this,” Jeremy admitted a few minutes later. “I’m scared I’m going to be too loud and stand out too much and look different. I’m too anxious. I really need to go home now. Please can I go home?”

I tried to get zir to watch videos on zir phone until zie calmed down and offered a breathing app but Jeremy was too scared. Zie blamed zir high school teachers for picking at zir every time zie stood out in some way and I agree that didn’t help. But I also blame every single person who blatantly stared at zir at the store and on the sidewalk. Every rude comment yelled from cars. Every conversation and discussion that treated zir rights as different and a bit less. Each month my peacock of a teen fades a bit more. And in this space, where Jeremy should have felt zir safest, zie was scared.

Words kill in a myriad of ways.

I have spent my whole life being labelled as different, weird, strange, odd, quirky, freak, a loner. I sat in a therapist’s office yesterday and detailed the bullying I remembered from school, from the little I actually remember about school. I’ve blocked so much of it. She’s been a therapist for years. I figured she’d heard just about everything. Besides, what I went through wasn’t that bad. I’m struggling because I’m weak. I’m sure people have been through a lot worse. Then I watched as her face registered shock and horror. At the end, she went through all the paperwork I’d filled out and tallied the results. Severe depression. Severe anxiety. Extreme risk of suicide.

“Mom, there’s only two times you’re allowed to jump off our balcony.” Jeremy told me. Zir voice was serious. “If you learn how to fly or if there’s a zombie right behind you.”

I stay because there’s family who love me and friends who care and three snuggly cats I’d confuse and upset. Maybe someday I’ll stay because I matter, maybe someday those words will mean something. But that’s not today. I’m tired right down in my soul… in the deepest part of myself. I’m tired of always being a few steps off. Even in the LGBTQ community, I don’t exactly fit. I’m ace. I got married long before I’d ever heard the word asexual and long before I’d ever fallen in love.

If you’ve never been in love, how do you know what it is? How much stronger is it than friendship? What if you’re friends and he loves you? I figured it must be love and tried my hardest… but it wasn’t. And then I fell in love with my best friend, who was non-binary at the time and then male. I always figured I was straight because I look at pictures of men and think they’re cute and cuddly but don’t feel the same urge to snuggle with women. But I also think androgynous people are cute… and friends. I’m sexually adverse to the thought of a vulva but sexually indifferent to the thought of a penis and in both cases would much rather snuggle. And how do you sort out sexual orientation when you’ve only been in love once? That’s about when I figure, fuck it, I’ll just get another cat instead of dating.

They were offering free pins for LGBTQ people and allies at the vigil on Monday. I searched through but nothing really fit me. What I needed was a “confused as hell but still here” pin. Which pretty much sums up my whole life.

Words kill in another way. Sometimes the hatred blows outwards instead of in.

People are baffled by how or why the shooter could have shot up the bar he frequented. Who knows why? Well, maybe it’s because he lived in a culture that considers LGBTQ people to be lesser and regularly talks about shooting them. I’ve lost count of the number of quotes I’ve seen this month alone that read along the lines of “If I see some freak in the washroom with my wife/daughter, I’ll shoot them!”

Maybe he felt trapped. Trapped by a society that sees gay people as different and by a state that fights for less protections… less rights. Trapped by a family who based his worth on the wife he needed to produce the son who’d carry his name. Maybe he felt worthless because of everything he read, saw and observed over the years. Countless school yard slurs, jokes, and manly put downs. Maybe he was angry because he went to the bar and saw everyone else having a good time… and how dare they be allowed to be open and themselves while he couldn’t. He couldn’t know their stories… their families… their pasts… but he could see their happiness. I have yet to see an article which talks about him being happy. He couldn’t change society or his family but he could buy a gun. And the society that taught him to hate handed him one. I don’t have much sympathy for someone who destroyed so many lives but I do want society to stop producing more of him.

Words kill. We need to stop telling people… telling children… that they need to be tougher, stronger, and braver. That they’re hurting until their souls bleed because they’re too weak. We need to fix society, just like Leelah asked a year and a half ago. How many more will die before we succeed?

vigil bags

Tears…

Jeremy loves to discuss American politics. Zie’s obsessed with the upcoming elections, watching the Young Turks every night and fervently explaining to me all the reasons why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be elected. I’ve heard it all… voter fraud… possible indictment… media bias… I think the only thing zie’s missed is her defending a rapist back in the 70’s. Please, no one tell zir about that. I don’t need hours more of explanations.

What zie’s not understanding is it doesn’t matter who gets elected. Okay, it matters but the election will not change the fact that the United States is a dynamite warehouse covered in tar paper, situated beside a lighter factory run by pyromaniacs. It’s not a matter of if there’ll be an explosion, it’s when and how wide will the wreckage scatter.

It didn’t start with Obama being elected, the hatred of anyone deemed “different” was already there. But having a black man leading the country gave racists a focal point and a target. Those of you who want to argue that people simply dislike his politics might want to take a wander over to Malia’s 15th birthday page where people are hoping she gets raped to death.

It didn’t start with Trump either. He didn’t fabricate a culture of racist, homophobic, transphobic bigots out of nothing. They were already there, sporting their one man/one woman marriage pins and kicking their trans kids to the curb. He gave them a voice and a chance to congregate outside of KKK meetings.

Today is Jeremy’s 19th birthday. We celebrated yesterday with a 7am wake up to open zir presents, a sunny afternoon spent with family, and a gooey chocolate cake for dessert. I woke up this morning to news of the Orlando shooting. Twenty, then fifty dead. Fifty-three injured. All because one man saw two men kissing a few months ago and didn’t like it. A short while later came the news about another man being apprehended with explosives in his car… on his way to the LA Pride Parade. Half my friends are in shock and crying “there’s nowhere we can be safe”. And, once again, my arms aren’t anywhere near big enough for them all.

One fall evening, I sat in my living room and quietly cried while I watched one year old Jeremy toddling around with zir baby doll. I’d just seen the news about Matthew Shepard and couldn’t fathom how people could hate that much. Were they going to hate my child too? And I sit here today and realize that, yes, they can and they will… without even giving themselves a chance to know zir.

Jeremy doesn’t see a point in naming zir sexual orientation. Zie’ll fall in love with who zie falls in love and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else. Jeremy also uses three pronouns for zirself; he, zie, and she… while not seeing the point in gender either. Zie’d much rather discuss politics, computers, or video games. In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter. Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where Jeremy has to add “if it’s safe for me there” to zir dreams of “someday I’d like to travel to…” And, honestly, the United States is scratched off zir list and has been for a while.

Today I’m going to split the last wedge of chocolate cake with Jeremy and give zir a huge hug. We’ll face tomorrow when it gets here.

Colin and zir phone attachment

Rage…

In some ways my friend is pretty average. She has a house, three kids, a dog and a cat in small town America. Her children go to public school and are actively involved in sports. They camp, climb trees, swim, and love to get messy.

In other way’s she’s not. My friend is pansexual and non-binary, her oldest is gay, and her daughter is trans. Small town America doesn’t like them very much. And it shows. Her daughter has a diagnosis of gender dysphoria by a reputable paediatrician; she was told to follow her daughter’s lead and let her be herself. She’s bought enough clothing, from both sides of the children’s department, to open a clothing store and I’m reasonably sure she’s cleared out Target’s toy department as well. Their pantry is well stocked, the children attend school regularly, they’re clean and unbruised with that confident and slightly cocky attitude children have when they know they have a parent who is going to listen and support them. Meanwhile children’s protective services might as well have a revolving door installed on their front porch.

Children’s protective services removed her children for several months a year ago and allowed her daughter both to be beaten and have hot sauce and vinegar poured on her tongue for daring to say she was a girl. What’s a little pain now if it cures her? This preschool aged child spent months surrounded by so called professionals who berated her for saying she was a girl and insisted she had to go by her boy’s name. And now they’re back. This time claiming that if she really was a girl, she’d say so persistently and wouldn’t be scared to announce it. Once again this child, who’s biggest worry should be remembering if n comes after m, has to worry about her physical safety from the people who vowed to protect her.

My friend gets to comfort her sobbing child who wishes she could cut off her own penis and die. I don’t know what the worker gets out of it. Maybe the self satisfaction of not allowing the liberals to ruin her country.

I go on Facebook and see a veritable flood of articles about bathroom bills in various States. They all contain arguments from people who insist that there is nothing but male and female and that both are readily defined and recognizable. These people know they’re right, after all it’s obvious. There’s only been male and female forever. Won’t anyone think of the children?

Then they proceed to ignore the facts laid before them. All the various combinations of X and Y which make up people’s chromosomes. The prevalence of intersex people. All the various cultures who have and do recognize more than two genders. Studies that map how prenatal hormones shape the brain in regards to gender (most of which I’ve discussed here). They don’t need to read anyone else’s information because it’s their opinion, which they’re allowed to have, and no one can tell them otherwise.

It’s easy to shrug them off as unimportant, nothing more than wilfully ignorant trolls, except they’re not. They’re the caseworkers my friend has to deal with, the parents of her daughter’s classmates, and the coaches in their teams. They’re the people my adult friends hand their resumes to, who look at their ID then their face before filing the resume in the trash. They’re doctors and teachers and politicians. The people who won’t allow my friends to have ID that matches their gender. They’re people who have a gun and hatred and a burning need to show what they’ll do to protect the children.

They’re very eager to protect the children. Just not all the children. Not the little girl who’s being forced to hold hot sauce in her mouth until she recants and promises she’s really a boy… just please make it stop hurting. Not the six year olds with bladder infections from holding it in because they want to use the “wrong bathroom”. Not the children who get told by adults that they should kill themselves for being different. No one will miss you. They only want to protect children who were never in any danger in the first place, from a threat they made up to incite hatred.

My arms aren’t big enough to hug my friend who’s so very tired of reading articles and posts detailing society’s hatred of her… and my friend who’s positive there’s no one in the world who cares… and my friend who feels like no man will ever love her for herself… and my friends who are terrified for their children’s safety (children who are still young enough to be tucked in with a bedtime story and a kiss)… for my friend who’s growing increasingly tempted to cut off their own breasts because surgery is far too expensive in “the land of the free”… for the young artist who receives scores of hate mail every single day because she draws cartoons that depict her life.

And then some one else complains their free speech is being trampled because how dare some damn liberal disagree.

And my friend rocks her sobbing daughter to sleep.

Religion, the original gated community…

Kathleen, hope all is well and I am being very kind to myself. Thank you for asking but how are you doing?

Those words might sound mild, even a bit positive, but they brought tears to my eyes. Tim* most certainly isn’t being kind to himself and there’s nothing I can do about it. His life is a tragedy in slow motion and one I’ve been watching for years.

The first thing I noticed about Tim was his vibrant personality. Even though he was still in high school, his enthusiastic energy was almost palpable; his smile as bright as his vivid red hair. The second thing I noticed were his mannerisms. Everyone knows the stereotype of a flamboyant gay male. That was Tim, right there. The kid might as well have worn a t-shirt with the caption “why yes, I am very gay”. We worked together for almost five years and I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer described him as “the gay one”.

He introduced himself to me by pointing out a young man as “cute” then watching to see my reaction. Several months went by with him being quite openly gay then he announced he’d met a girl for dinner. Once again he watched for reactions; this time he seemed quite shocked that people had trouble believing he’d invited a girl for a date. Later he told me he didn’t know why people were spreading rumours that he was gay. I found myself unable to think of anything to say. Within days he’d reverted back to being openly gay again.

I talked to Tim from time to time about Colin and why I wondered if zie was gay or bisexual. At one point I told him about how Colin had asked me, in grade one, if it was all right for zir to marry a particular male classmate when zie grew up. Tim’s face grew wistful. He’d made a similar comment when he was that age and one of his older brothers told him never to make a comment like that again or he’d be beaten up. I began to understand his flip-flopping.

Over the next few years he did a few more reversals regarding his sexual orientation. I tried my hardest to be supportive and I’m sure his other friends did as well. He slowly became more positive about being gay and joined PFLAG. Several years in a row he invited me to attend our local Evening of Hope; an event similar to the Transgender Day of Remembrance but for the whole LGBTQ community (the Trans Day of Remembrance is also observed). I made sure to attend. One year his mother called during the whole service. Candles were being named then lit and carried across the stage in front of a hushed audience. Meanwhile his phone kept ringing and ringing.

Mom, this is serious. I can’t talk right now.”
This is a memorial service.”
No I can’t leave.”
“Mom, please, you have to stop calling.”
I helped organize this. I’m needed here. I really can’t leave.”

Her son was working alongside the mayor and the police to help organize a huge event with dozens of vendors and approximately a hundred people. He hurried around, well respected and busy, taking donations, directing people to the right places, and organizing the set up. And instead of being there to support him, she was sitting at home harassing him to leave. I wouldn’t know this lady if I ran into her on the street but there’s a good chance I wouldn’t like her.

I watched as he matured into his early 20’s. He wanted to be an event planner and organize weddings. I listened as he fell in love and again when they broke up. Tim didn’t want to be a secret, he wanted a boyfriend who was willing to be out with him. Then he started looking for a new religion because the Catholic Church wasn’t supportive enough. He wanted a place that would accept him as gay. I suggested my own congregation of Unitarian Universalists and got a “maybe…” in response. I get that. I’m an atheist and he’s deeply religious; I’ve had a few friends assume that the whole congregation must be atheistic if I’m there. It’s not but I backed off, figuring he needed to find his own path. Unitarians are good at that. Maybe too good.

He continued to help with PFLAG and received an award for being a person who made a difference. His posts reflected the love he had for his family and a growing acceptance of himself. Then his posts faded, he was busy at work but fine. He couldn’t attend my parties due to work but was fine and we’d get together soon. The posts he did make were less about family and more about God. And then came this post…

Tim mormon

He deleted it almost immediately but a quick peek at his about page showed his religion as Mormon and his “interested in” section set to women. There aren’t many churches out there who are less accepting of LGBTQ people than the Catholic Church but the Mormons are definitely one of them.

There is no way this can end well. He’s not straight. He’s not even (from what he’s said during quiet, honest times) bisexual. And he’s joined a church that only loves him if he lies and only accepts him if he ignores his own romantic feelings.

I understand why people turn to religion. They look for acceptance, community, support, and (for some) a greater meaning to life. At it’s best, religion can serve these needs. What worries me is when religion is at it’s worst. It’s worst leaves people shattered and broken… clutching the fragments of their lives as they watch their community turn away. It leaves LGBTQ kids on the streets, begging and selling themselves to survive. Or walking in front of trucks convinced life will never get better. It teaches children that they are the chosen ones and the “others” are the sinners. Giving them a sense of pride for being chosen and a sense of fear that they might stumble and become one of the “others”.

Get a group of atheist parents together and you’ll hear a variety of stories about their children being harassed by other kids for not believing in God. Kait used to get chased off the school bus daily by a girl who insisted she was going to burn in hell forever. A mother I talked to recently has a child who was having nightmares about Jesus coming to get him like some sort of bogeyman. Once again it was from peer bullying.

Years ago, our congregation welcomed an older man who had left a fundamentalist church. Every Sunday, for weeks on end, he’d come to the front of the room for  the pebbles of joy and concern ceremony and cry. He could barely choke out any words, he’d simply break down in heart wrenching tears. His former church had left huge scars on his soul. It took nearly a year before he could manage to speak. He was white, straight, and cis… with a good job, children, and a wife who loved him… and his scars nearly broke him regardless. He didn’t entirely fit into their mould so they tried to hammer him in place. They damn well shattered him.

Love isn’t trademarked, it just is, and it’s there for everyone; not just the ones religion deems worthy enough. Life is not a tragedy, love is not a mistake, and if your religion loves all the little children (except if they have a penis and are wearing a dress) then you’re doing it wrong.

* not his real name

An update on “How not to react when your child comes out as gay”

Last summer I posted about Daniel Pierce’s coming out video, showing how horribly his family reacted when he told them he was gay. He recently posted an update to detail how much his life has improved.

Sometimes there’s good news 🙂

Daniel Pierce

Link to article 🙂

Party time!

Poor Jeremy. Zie absolutely loves parties but has an introvert for a mother so parties don’t happen nearly often enough for zir liking. Then I got an invitation to a Scentsy party. Scentsy, for the 99% of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, is a company that primarily sells electric warmers and scented wax. I’d been to a party a couple of months ago and Jeremy subsequently took about half the wax I bought. A party plus a product Jeremy likes seemed like a winning combination.

I had great plans for the day. We’d stop downtown to pick up lunch for Jeremy and then walk along a lovely creek side trail to the party. Except we ran out the door and left my debit card on the kitchen table… something I discovered while standing in the line for Jeremy’s lunch. Luckily I was able to promise zir food at the party.

Jeremy taking pictures of the early spring buds.

We had a lovely walk, chatting and joking around while Jeremy found us directions on zir phone. I didn’t have the heart to tell zir I’d been there before and knew the way. It wasn’t until we were three blocks away that zie started noticeably limping.

We’d gone shopping a few days earlier and zie’d ended up with blisters from last year’s sandals. I’d bought zir a new pair but a couple of the blisters were rubbing and had gotten worse.

The poor kid was in obvious pain by the time we got to the party but recovered well as soon as zir sandals were off… then zie was set for the party to begin.

The hostess wasn’t nearly ready for Jeremy. Her husband sat on the couch, mostly ignoring us and watching a car show, while all the other guests were female. Last time a couple of guests had brought their husbands but they were barely involved in the party, only occasionally sniffing wax if it was offered to them. She had Jeremy pegged as male and more likely to sit on the couch, talking about engines. Jeremy likes cars but was a lot more interested in the wax. Zie looked over at my clipboard of goodies and immediately wanted to know where zirs was. Much to my relief, the hostess immediately offered zir one.

While Jeremy was underwhelmed by the baskets of wax samples and their accompanying paperwork, zie was more than ready for the rest of the party. The two of us ended up in a massive competition for the Scentsy Diva tiara, a plastic crown which was won and worn by yelling “scentsy diva” any time the word “scentsy” was said. By the end we were just trading it back and forth. And, of course, Jeremy was the final winner, earning a prize and the title of diva. Zie wore the tiara for an extra half hour, just because, and got a few puzzled looks from the husband of the hostess, who seemed confused by a flamboyant teen in a tiara who wanted to chat about cars and computers.

Zie rocked this tiara!

Zie rocked this tiara, later telling zir sister that zie was born to be a princess.

At the end of the party, the hostess offered gifts to anyone who wanted to host a party of their own. Jeremy was shocked that I didn’t immediately jump to host one. Zie’s probably the only person on the planet who’d be surprised. Almost all my friends are online, which doesn’t help in the case of real physical parties. I might surprise Jeremy and have a party anyway as I’ve got a few coworkers who seem interested. One thing’s for certain though, I’ll need to make sure we have a tiara. I’m reasonably sure Jeremy thinks that’s a mandatory Scentsy item. Maybe I can find one in purple.

The insomnia continues…

I had choir practice last night, which didn’t finish until 9pm. Which was fine except I needed to be up at 4:45am. I got home, read a couple of quick posts on Facebook, and headed off to bed.

Then I got out of bed to get my cat away from the closet doors… twice. She likes finding dark corners to pee. I’ve got Christmas presents at the back of my closet.

Then Jeremy came in to tell me zie couldn’t sleep because zir heart was pounding too much to sleep. This was around 1am. Back to school anxiety had settled in.

I woke shortly after 3am to use the washroom. I was just drifting back to sleep when I realized it was very quiet. That was when Jeremy started yelling for a light because it was really dark… way too dark and zie couldn’t find the emergency light in the living room. I crawled out of bed and handed zir mine. I was in the process of turning on my cellphone so I could set an alarm for work when the power came back on. Jeremy immediately followed. Zie excitedly explained that all the lights went out, even the ones behind our building. There are flood lights on the building behind ours… which means our apartment is never dark. Except for last night. Jeremy informed me zie was not going to sleep at all. This wasn’t a surprise.

I was dozing off again when Jeremy came back nearly in tears. Zie’d made a mug of tea in zir Tassimo and had forgotten it. Somehow the tea ended up spilling all over zir netbook. I thought back to that brief power failure. Jeremy had said something about the power light being off. I told zir to take the battery out and leave the netbook propped up for 24 hours so it could dry. Zie came back in 10 minutes later and stuck the netbook under my nose so I could smell how burnt it smelled. That was not a hopeful smell.

Twenty minutes later I turned off my alarm clock and got out of bed. It was set to go off in five minutes anyways.

Five hours into my shift, my manager asked if I wanted to go home early. Oh yes!!! I’ve taken an hour and a half long nap and am finally awake and 99% sure I’ve got legs. Or it might be I have legs and am 99% sure I’m awake. At least I don’t have to walk anywhere yet…

We’re going to an Evening of Hope tonight, which is a local event against homophobia and transphobia. Our UU congregation has a button making machine so we’ll be helping people make buttons. Now I just need to find something purple to wear. I’m assuming the purple circles under my eyes don’t count.

Ironically I think Jeremy’s more awake than I am.

Opening with homophobia…

A friend of mine went to the Marc Anthony concert in Miami, Florida last night at the AmericanAirlines Arena. She felt horrified and, in her own words, hopeless when the opening act started. The comedian, Joey Vega, started his act with the statement “no faggots accepted here”. She and her husband both stood up and booed but she said they were the only ones, that people were laughing and clapping.

Now I don’t know what to do and quite frankly am not in a state of mind to do anything right now. But if anyone else wants to do something, here’s all the contact information I could find.

AmericanAirlines Arena
601 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132, United States
1-786-777-1000
Contact us

Feedback address for Sony Music (Marc Anthony’s label)

And now my jaw drops. I just found this gem of a quote on the Comedy Hosting website:

Joey [Vega] has combined his comedy with motivational speaking — helping people realize that anything is possible in America. No matter who you are — Latino, Black, white, female, gay, disabled — you can go beyond all obstacles and become successful in America.

Joey takes a lot of pride in knowing that he can make a difference in people’s futures. People leave his shows not only laughing, but also feeling good about themselves and their future.

Comedy Hosting
info@comedyhosting.com
1-888-428-4646

Joey Vega’s Twitter account

On pronouns and an autumn walk…

It’s been gorgeous here for the past few days… absolutely gorgeous. We’re finally getting blue skies, sunshine, and shorts weather after a cold and rainy summer. Jeremy would have been content to stay home and play Half-Life but I dragged zir out with me for a walk yesterday afternoon.

We have a small patch of woods beside us, covering less than a city block of land, but it’s very pretty…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s only one paved path through the woods but plenty of little dirt trails. Jeremy and I walked on the latter before emerging from the woods and heading over to a nearby bike trail. We were on our way back when I saw our local bus approach.

“I’ve got my bus pass,” I said cheerfully. “I can get on the bus and go home.”

Jeremy looked at me incredulously. Just then the bus slowed. We were right near a bus stop so obviously someone wanted off.

“Look, the driver saw me. He knows I want the bus,” I said then I looked closer. The sunlight had been reflecting off the window but as the bus moved, I could finally see the driver’s long blonde hair and delicate features. “Oh, I mean she,” I added.

“Mom,” Jeremy chided. “You don’t know if the driver’s a man or a woman.”

“No, I can see the driver now…” Maybe the glass was still covered in glare from zir angle; Jeremy’s quite a bit taller than me. I glanced beside me and realized zie could see the driver just fine.

“You can’t tell what someone’s gender is  just by looking at them,” zie continued.

I nodded. “You’re right, the driver might not identify as female. Although statistically speaking…”

Jeremy glared at me then muttered under zir breath. All I caught was, “I… don’t… female…”

I thought back to all the times my Mom argued with me. In some ways it helped me try and see things from a different perspective but sometimes I just wanted some support. I figured Jeremy was firmly in the latter category.

“I’m sorry,” I told zir earnestly. “You are right. I shouldn’t have assumed. I don’t refer to any of the customers by gender when I’m at work.”

“Wait,” Jeremy said, looking at me incredulously. “You don’t use binary pronouns at work? Instead you save them to use in front of your kid who uses zie for a pronoun.”

The kid had a point. “I’m sorry, ” I said again. “I’ll try harder.”

We walked a couple of steps then zie added, “Mom, you know I’m joking right?”

Zie wasn’t angry and was in good spirits but I didn’t get the impression zie was joking at all. “It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “I’ll still try harder.” Jeremy smiled.

As for work. I posted back in February about a customer of mine who joked that Jeremy wouldn’t want to dye zir hair lime green in case zie was mistaken for a “fag”. I’d been absolutely furious but stayed polite and have been polite ever since. Today we had a completely different conversation.

I was outside sweeping the parking lot when she walked over to comment on the mess. There were cups and wrappers strewn over the whole parking space.

“That must have been a man,” she commented as she drew near.

“Or an entire car full of teenagers,” I agreed, sweeping a couple more wrappers into the dust pan.

“So, how are your kids?” she asked with obvious interest.

“They’re doing fine. Emma’s got a job interview tomorrow and my kidlet’s getting zir wisdom teeth extracted on Thursday, which will be interesting considering zir needle phobia.”

Now she looked confused. “She?”

I shook my head, “No, zie. I’m talking about Jeremy. Jeremy’s having zir wisdom teeth extracted… hopefully. That’s one serious phobia zie’s got.”

Her confusion deepened. “Don’t you have two kids? A boy and a girl?”

“I’ve got two kids. One girl and one kid. Jeremy doesn’t identify with a gender and uses gender neutral pronouns, zie and zir.”

“Well… that’s… different…” she sounded baffled. She paused for a moment, obviously trying to find something to say. “I was shopping recently at Penningtons (a Canadian clothing chain aimed at plus sized women) and there was a man shopping for himself. He was buying a dress and he had on women’s clothing and a hat and his hair was all styled and shaped.”

“That sounds like she was a woman,” I replied. “It was probably scary for her.”

I had no idea if it was scary or not, for all I knew she could have been having an amazing shopping trip. What I wanted was a moment of empathy. The customer went silent.

“I used to teach piano to a family years ago,” she said quietly. “The oldest boy was a teenager and he used to say all sorts of homophobic stuff. One day I was teaching theory and asked him to think about what it would be like if he suddenly started having crushes on other boys… knowing how he was going to get treated… knowing he was going to get beaten up. The boy was shocked. He’d never thought about it before…” Her voice trailed off. “They had so many kids in that family, two girls and four boys. I wonder if one of them ended up gay.”

I shrugged, unable to answer, then she smiled. “Jeremy doesn’t identify as a gender… good for you.”

And with that she turned and walked away.