It wasn’t about the apple juice…

The call display on the work phone showed Jeremy’s school. I sighed and picked up the phone. “National Fast Food chain. How may I help you?” I said cheerfully.

“May I please speak to Michelle?” The voice was quiet, almost hesitant. This definitely wasn’t the principal.

“This is Michelle,” I replied.

“This is Ms. Teacher. Jeremy’s being sent home now. He was in the other room today, helping make a meal, when he was asked to pour juice for the class. He refused then started swearing at the teacher and the EA’s. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t see it, but when they asked him to get out the apple juice for his classmates, he told them all to fuck off.”

I thanked her for letting me know and informed her that zie’d be missing most of next week due to counselling and the concert.

“Oh oops, zie,” she said with a slight chuckle. “I meant to say that.”

Maybe she did but chances are if she was using zir pronouns regularly she wouldn’t misgender Jeremy every single time we talk. It’s been half a year now since our meeting regarding pronouns, that’s plenty of time to get used to zir pronouns.

I waited about 15 minutes before I called Jeremy to give zir time to get out of school. Then I listened as the phone rang and rang. Yesterday Jeremy informed me that zir teacher was told Jeremy’d been sent home due to attitude (I still have no idea what happened) but that zie’d been told to go to the AR room for quiet time. Which means no one knew where zie was for at least an hour. Had there been a similar mix up today? Then zie answered and let me know zie was on the way home.

“What happened?” I asked cautiously before bracing myself for the coming onslaught of words. When Jeremy’s upset, zir words tumble out like a tidal wave of tangled emotions and thoughts.

The first go around, all I caught were the words “… told me my gender was a choice”.

“So this wasn’t about the apple juice,” I commented then asked zir to tell me again.

Once again they divided the class by boys and girls and served them “ladies first”. Jeremy complained that was sexist and they should serve the men first sometimes too. They started out telling zir that they almost never serve the girls first, something I know isn’t true because Jeremy complains regularly about their “ladies first” comments. Then one of the educational assistants told Jeremy repeatedly that she didn’t know why he was complaining because he’d chosen to be in the middle so would never be first no matter what. That was when zie got told to serve the juice. Of course nothing before the juice was deemed relevant to share with me (or presumably Jeremy’s primary teacher).

By this time I was over halfway home and so was Jeremy. I made plans to meet zir at a nearby grocery store. It was freezing out and I figured if I went home first, I simply was not going to get back out again.

“Mom? Can you please be ready when I get there? I’m going to need the biggest hug ever.” Jeremy sounded plaintive and fairly close to tears. I promised zir I would.

I stood at the back of the store watching for zir, my head turning every time the doors opened and someone walked down an aisle. Nope, that was a balding, middle age man… and an elderly woman… and a young woman… no, wait, that was Jeremy. I hurried over and held out my arms. Jeremy hugged me back as hard as zie could. Zie was weepy and quiet for the rest of the afternoon.

At least Jeremy’s got the weekend to recuperate and I’ve got the weekend to work on yet another letter. This time I’m requesting that every EA and teacher directly responsible for Jeremy has to read the school board’s official document on transgender students. Something has got to change.

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All out of ideas…

I spent today listening for the phone, jumping every single time it rang because I was that sure it would be Jeremy’s school. It wasn’t like yesterday’s meeting left me with any positive feelings.

At 2:30pm I breathed a sigh of relief. There hadn’t been a call and we had less than a half hour until the end of school, it seemed like Jeremy would make it through the whole day. I was sent home minutes later and double checked my cellphone when I got on the bus. My missed call list was empty. Phew!

I waited until Jeremy would be home before I called because zir bus is about as loud as a jet plane during takeoff… while you’re outside the plane.

“I’m on the second bus home,” I said cheerfully once zie answered. “So, how was your day?”

“It was horrible,” came the immediate reply. “Didn’t the school call? I’ve been home for hours.”

Well shit.

The school definitely hadn’t called. I sat, wedged into the window seat, listening to Jeremy’s rambling and disjointed story. Zie seemed quite positive they hadn’t called me because the EA was probably too embarrassed about how badly she’d behaved but the story zie told painted a different slant entirely. There was something about refusing to do “ballet stretches” in gym and arguing about having a cellphone in zir pocket. Then being in the office and wanting zir netbook and an EA grabbing zir arm and accidentally hitting her with the door. Then she left and Jeremy went home. I had no idea who got hit by a door or what order any of that was in. What I did know was Jeremy had pretty much instigated the whole thing by refusing to do simple stretches in gym class and then demanding the netbook while in the office. The EA shouldn’t have grabbed Jeremy’s arm but that arm wouldn’t have been there if zie’d been in gym playing tennis with everyone else.

“Maybe next time you could simply do the stretches,” I pointed out.

“I guess,” Jeremy replied.

I went to my room almost as soon as I walked in our front door. I wanted a chance to get my thoughts together, to sort out when it was acceptable to ignore the teachers (which would be pretty much never) and when Jeremy needed to buck up and listen (which would be a whole lot more than now). An hour later I didn’t have anything hammered out. I figured I’d get the fries chopped and soaking in cold water then brainstorm ideas with Jeremy.

I’d just cut the last fry when the phone rang. It was Jeremy’s VP. Considering the lateness, I figured it would be the school’s automated attendant calling to let me know zie’d missed half of school today. Having a real live person on the line was a shock.

The  VP told me that Jeremy had refused to do stretching exercises and got sent to the office; this part I’d figured out. Then she said “he’d” insisted on getting and using “his” netbook. She informed Jeremy that zie either had to go back to gym or just wait in the office for twenty minutes until the next period started, the netbook wasn’t an option. She noticed Jeremy was standing but figured if “he” wanted to stand that was “his” choice. That was when she left to go ask the head of special education for ideas. Apparently Jeremy pretty much followed her out the door. Zie wanted to go home and needed to bring the netbook home with zir.

Jeremy’s classroom door was locked because the teacher was working on a lesson plan. That’s something they both agree on. According to the VP, Jeremy started trying to open the door. A teacher noticed “him” there and went to the door. At this point the VP stressed once again that the door was locked, the implication being that Jeremy was being so aggressive with the door that zie managed to open it despite the lock. She said an EA came behind Jeremy and tapped “him” gently on the wrist, just to let “him” know there was a teacher behind the door… but “he” didn’t listen. “He” barged right in, knocking the teacher against the wall and hurting her wrist. She ran off, terrified by “his” aggressive behaviour. But she was fine now.

During this whole conversation she never referred to Jeremy once as “they”. She’d been the first VP I mentioned yesterday, the one who’d sat beside me at the meeting. The one who’d informed me that zie and zir were not acceptable according to board policy but they’d have no problem using the pronoun they for “him”.

Shortly after I walked in our front door, Jeremy referred to zir female teacher as “he”. Zie said if she was going to misgender zir all day long that she could be called by the wrong gender and see what it was like. Obviously this was something that had bothered Jeremy today. As the VP continued talking, I couldn’t help wondering how much of the frustration Jeremy showed that day was brought about by the simple fact they’d refused to listen to zir and had ignored something very important zie’d struggled to bring up for months.

“… talked to the principal and he decided Jeremy cannot come back to school until we’ve set up a meeting and a new safety plan and possibly have a better placement for ‘him’,” the VP continued. “It’s obvious ‘he’ doesn’t feel comfortable in ‘his’ current setting. ‘He’s’ not going to listen to ‘his’ teachers at all; ‘he’ doesn’t seem to have any respect for them. ‘He’ll’ need to stay home until something has been sorted out and we possibly have some options in place to choose from.”

Until something’s been sorted out. In other words, they had no idea when zie’ll be back. I did, however, agree that zie did not feel comfortable there or that the teachers would listen to or respect zir. And sadly, my first emotion when she mentioned the suspension was relief. There was going to be no worries tomorrow about what was happening at school with Jeremy. The cellphone was never mentioned by the VP. I didn’t bother to bring it up.

I got off the phone then called Jeremy into my room, demanding to know what happened. Zie gave me almost the same story, except for adding that zie’d offered to use the netbook to do school work. Which was still a meh on my part but at least zie hadn’t been demanding the right to play Rollercoaster Tycoon. Then came the whole door incident.

“I just wanted to go home,” zie announced, sounding near tears. “I was told the class would be locked but figured I’d try just in case. It was and I’d stepped away from the door when the librarian came over to leave. My teacher yelled for her to close the door but it was open a bit so I figured I’d go inside and grab my stuff. That was when the EA came up behind me and grabbed my wrist. She grabbed it really hard and it hurt. I pulled hard to get away from her and the door opened even wider, hitting the librarian. I was going to say sorry to the librarian but she left right away; my teacher said she was going to file a report. I grabbed my netbook and left. I didn’t even get my backpack.”

“Why didn’t you do the stretches?” I asked. This was my sticking point. If zie’d just done the stretches then nothing would have happened.

Jeremy said they were uncomfortable so I asked zir to show me, which zie finally did. It looked like a perfectly normal stretch to me.

“You must have seen what was wrong with it,” zie insisted. I looked at zir blankly and finally admitted I’d seen nothing.

“Mom. It showed my genitals!” Jeremy was blushing and sounded horribly embarrassed. Then zie burst into tears. “Why do I always get in trouble for everything? It doesn’t matter what it’s for. Asking for more school work… wanting to go home… it’s always me getting in trouble. The EA grabbed my arm and nothing’s happening to her.”

Talk about a collision of errors. Jeremy behaved badly by anyone’s standards but I can’t help but wonder what would have been different if zie’d felt supported and welcome in the school.

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.