Life… and all that stuff…

Jeremy’s off visiting zir sister Emma for the day, leaving the apartment quiet… almost overwhelmingly so. Jeremy is not a quiet person. Zie putters all day, long building elaborate water systems for zir plants, upgrading zir computer, and rebuilding zir remote control cars.

plant watering system

This is only half of zir plant watering system.

Jeremy is not quiet during any of this. Zie either has zir music on, a video, or both and zie talks to zirself the whole time. Zie answers zirself too… holding complete conversations. The only time there’s silence is when zie puts on headphones, at least until zie laughs.

I’ve made the most of my quiet day. So far I’ve taken a nap, made myself chocolate pudding, and done some scrapbooking; including a layout of one of my favourite pictures of Jeremy. It’s a selfie zie took last September at the beach.

Colin

And now I’m finally settling down to write before zie gets home. I’ve been meaning to write here for a while but life got hectic. The biggest change is my job; I transferred to a closer location. This is amazing for us because the store is a five minute walk from home instead of an hour long bus ride. At the same time, it’s a huge change for me.

I don’t handle change well *huge understatement*. I left a store where I’d worked for six years. I knew the rules, the location of everything, and all the people. I had coworkers who would hug me as soon as I got to work and coworkers who waved and said “bye” when I left. I knew most of our regulars (and we had regulars that treated the store like their second home).

I’ve lived here for three years and had previously been in the new store four times. Once to drop off a resume, once to pick up tickets to Canada’s Wonderland, and twice to order food. I was so not a regular. I didn’t know a single person who worked there either. I spent just over a week fretting that I made the worst decision of my life. Then I went to leave work one afternoon and several of my coworkers smiled and said “bye” while my supervisor looked sad and said, “you’re leaving already?”. I think it’ll be okay.

The part that’s better than okay is Jeremy. This job means that I wake up at the time I previously had to leave and am home before I used to get on my first bus back. Jeremy sees me for almost two additional hours a day and knows, if zie’s really lonely, zie can meet me at work. Zir mood has perked up dramatically. Zir sleeping is still horrible but a pleasant mood makes up for a lot!

I’m moving forward in other ways too. I got my passport and bought a plane ticket so I can visit L in 201 more days (and 1 hour and 30 minutes)!!! Plus I’ve filed for a divorce from my emotionally abusive ex-husband. As expected, he did not take this well. Since Jeremy is the one who served him, zie got stuck listening to him rant about how much he hates me and how he wants to buy me a one way ticket to London.

Jeremy rolled zir eyes when zie told me this. “I don’t think Dad understands how immigration works,” zie said dryly.

My ex called a short time later wanting to know how he can file a counter claim… for a simple divorce. We’ve been separated for fifteen years, I have no idea what he could want to counter claim about. Child support has long been hashed out and he’s 15 years behind in that. Custody has been dealt with as well. Besides, Jeremy’s almost nineteen years old, I’m reasonably sure any judge would laugh in his face if he wants to renegotiate custody.

Then the call moved back to Jeremy.

“He’s my son!” my ex retorted.

That’s when I lost it.

“Zie is not your son!” I snapped back. “Zie is your teen.”

“What?” his tone was both angry and confused, not a good combination with him. But it was too late to back down now even if I wanted to. Which I didn’t.

“Jeremy isn’t male so zie isn’t your son. And zie doesn’t use he or him for pronouns.”

“Jeremy has never told me this,” my ex replied haughtily. “Until he tells me himself that he doesn’t want me to call him my son, I’m going to continue to use male pronouns.”

That was it. I held the phone out to Jeremy, who’d been sitting beside me the whole time.

“What pronouns do you want your Dad to use?” I asked. I’d expected a quiet zie and zir.

“I am not male!” Jeremy said forcefully. “I don’t want to be called he and him. I want you to use zie and zir.”

I put the phone back against my ear. “Did you hear zir?”

I’ve never heard anyone splutter before but that’s definitely what he was doing. “That doesn’t count! It doesn’t count until I feel like asking him what pronouns he wants me to use. Until then I’m going to keep on using he and him.”

If you ever wanted to know what Jeremy’s father is like, this conversation sums him up completely. Along with the fact that he’s been arguing with Jeremy for weeks now, telling zir that we need to carpet bomb the entire Middle East. That “we” is presumably North America and not the two of them, but with my ex it’s hard to tell. The good thing is, he has nothing more flammable than his own flatulence and a cigarette lighter. Jeremy keeps trying to explain to him that there are millions of innocent people there but zir Dad isn’t overly concerned about things like morality and ethics. Unsurprisingly Jeremy has been cutting zir visits short and they weren’t exactly long to begin with.

With any luck, in another month I can start planning my divorce party. I’ll post pictures of the cake once it’s made.

I should have some sort of conclusion to put here but we’ve got thunderstorms rolling in and I just took a couple of Advil so you’ll have to settle for “The End” and a picture of Jeremy posing with zir Easter dinner.

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Happy spring!

The End!

Dear “Christian” Conservatives…

It was just over a year ago when Leelah Alcorn stepped in front of a transport truck. Just over a year ago since she was buried under a name she didn’t like and didn’t want. But you won’t use the name she chose. Unctuous sympathy drips from your mouth while you refer to her as Joshua. I’ve read your articles, the ones where you blame liberals for causing her death. You claim she died because of depression and that real therapy, which reassured her of her innate maleness, would have helped. Then you quote doctors from John Hopkins University and a study which claims that 80% of transgender youths end up cisgender by the time they’re adults. But do you know what you ignore? That study had flaws big enough to drive a truck through. The researchers lost track of a bunch of the youths and simply assumed they’d stopped being trans. That’s not research. That’s guessing and wishful thinking.

Know what else you ignore? Leelah Alcorn should have been your poster child for “curing” transgender youths. She had a traditional nuclear family and religious parents who loved and supported her as their son. They did everything the Christian conservatives suggested. They got her into Christian counselling with a counselor who treated her depression and encouraged her to be a straight male. They took away her access to liberal websites which supported her as a trans female. They brought her to church and consistently referred to her by her birth name. If your articles and views were right, she should be happily filling out college forms as Joshua.  But she’s not. She died hating her parents and begging people to change society. She died asking people to remember her as Leelah.

This new year is barely ten days old, we haven’t even hit a fortnight yet, and so far I’ve nearly lost two friends to suicide. Both friends are trans and both have families who, like Leelah, are reasonably sure this is just a phase. One has family who finally realize this is serious; they’re now making an effort at using the right name and pronouns. The other? Well this is his second attempt since October and he’s just lost an unsupported trans friend to suicide. All I can do is keep reassuring him he’s wanted and needed and hope for the best.

Meanwhile there are families doing everything wrong according to conservatives and right according to liberals. They (for the most part) have kids who are thriving. Granted, they have their own unique issues. Most families don’t have to remind their kids not to leave their breasts on the kitchen table or warn them the family dog is chewing their penis. But they’re the ones taking smiling photos of their kids dressed up for prom (complete with friends and dates) and scheduling college tours.

Please stop. Stop fretting about saving your daughters from terrified newly out trans women who just want to pee. Stop showing off your knowledge of grade five biology as if middle school is the pinnacle of education. Stop telling people you know them better than they do. Stop acting like six year old trans girls are gap toothed predators stalking their fellow Girl Scouts. And stop patronizingly referring to Leelah by her dead name. Your attitude pushed her into the path of a truck. Would you please let her rest in peace?

 

*If you’re trans and struggling, there are resources available. Please reach out. I assure you, you are wanted and needed*

Kathleen’s introductory guide to trans…

There’s a good chance you’re reading this post because a friend shared it on Facebook and you’re curious. You’ve seen Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation via the media and watched Laverne Cox’s character on Orange is the New Black. Maybe you agree that they’re women or maybe you don’t understand why people think “he’s” a woman. Either way you’ve come to the right place.

The best place to start is with a definition. Transgender simply means that someone isn’t the gender they were assigned at birth. Assigned at birth is a common term in the trans community because, when you get right down to it, that’s what happens. If there’s something between the legs and it’s relatively long, the baby’s a boy. If there’s something there but it’s relatively small, the baby’s a girl. If it’s in between that’s what’s referred to as intersex. There is no biology or genetics done here, just a tired doctor eyeballing a newborn’s genitals and ticking a M or F box.

Sometimes people claim to be using biology as proof that trans doesn’t exist. All that does is prove the person really doesn’t understand biology. Gender is a spectrum; there is far more than xx/xy and penis/vagina. Claiming there’s no more to gender than two sets of chromosomes and genitals is akin to claiming algebra doesn’t exist because it doesn’t mesh with what you learned in grade two math. First, as I said above, intersex exists. Second, gender exists in the brain, not between the legs.

Gender and sex development occur in the womb. At the beginning, all zygotes look the same then they begin to differentiate according to hormones and the embryo’s chromosomes. Noticeable visual differences can be seen by the time the fetus reaches 20 weeks. But gender isn’t visible to the naked eye, that develops in the brain and can be seen in brain scans. To put it simply, the fetus’ genitals release small amounts of hormones which are supposed to trigger a hormonal wash to wire the brain. However sometimes the hormones aren’t detected and either not enough or different hormones wash through instead, wiring the brain with a gender that differs from the visible sexual characteristics.

People use the quote “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” on a regular basis and this goes doubly for gender. If you don’t want to be judged by outside appearances, why judge someone else? Women and men come in all different shapes and sizes (and so does everyone in between). I’m sure everyone’s had an incident where they’ve been told they can’t possibly know something about themselves, that someone else knows better. Maybe it was over something silly like developing a taste for a food you hated as a child and having your Mom refuse to serve it to you. Maybe it was over something serious like having your beliefs or sexual orientation dismissed as merely a phase or some sort of rebellion. There’s a frustration that boils up inside when people claim they know you better than you know yourself… an anger and discomfort at being ignored and patronized… a feeling of invisibility. Now imagine how much harder it would be to have the core of your identity ignored and devalued.

Your sex was the first thing other people defined about you as soon as you were born, usually even before your birth and often before your health. Your gender was the first thing people asked about you as a baby. It permeates every aspect of your life from the clothes you buy to the recreation you enjoy. If you’ve been arguing that trans people are wrong about their gender, it’s time to ask yourself why. Why do you feel you know more about their gender than they do? They know what genitals they have and are probably far more appalled* by them than you are. Isn’t it better to trust them to know such an integral part of their life better than you?

Sometimes when people disagree with being transgender, they bring up irrelevant arguments. Quite frankly, someone thinking they’re a dog is as relevant to an argument about trans people as someone wanting to marry their toaster is to an argument about equal marriage (whether it’s same sex or interracial). Someone thinking they’re black as an argument is a little more relevant since it happened recently. Rachel Dolezal splashed into the media this spring as a white woman who claimed to be black so incessantly that she got appointed the president of NAACP. As usual, the reality was complicated. She didn’t come up with this notion out of nowhere, she has black siblings and came from an abusive family. Rachel isn’t black, she’s a woman struggling through the aftermath of abuse who identifies with the people who supported her in early childhood. Colour really is skin deep. You can’t do a brain scan and determine whether someone’s black or white. Race is based on where our ancestors lived, a melanin umbrella for sun protection. The closer the equator… the darker the skin. Gender, however, can be recognized through brain scans.

I am a cisgender (or cis) woman. To put it simply, when I was born the doctor looked at me and said, “It’s a girl!” and I am one. Meanwhile the doctor told me that Colin was a boy and zie’s not. Cisgender is not an insult unless it’s been shortened to something like ‘cis scum’ and, in that case… seriously? What the hell did you do?

Don’t tell me, I don’t actually want to know.

It’s not a label you can refuse either (unless you’re trans). You can’t claim to dislike this one label when you’ve accepted every single other one. Claiming it’s an “invented word” doesn’t fly either. Is the rest of our language organic and free range? Were the other words all carefully hand picked off the etymology tree? This is a label that will turn up so rarely in your life that you don’t really have to worry about it. Even if you hang out with a bunch of trans people you’re far more likely to talk about phone cases, chocolate, and that amazing new Thai restaurant that just opened up down the street. Although honestly I’m more partial to the Chinese restaurant two blocks over (their homestyle bean curd is so yummy!).

My friends agree that dysphoria is the hardest part of being trans but there’s another difficult part… a whole bunch of misguided comments and cringe worthy questions. I’ve asked a few friends what comments or questions they get, but first I’m going to share a video made by trans activists:

As you can tell by the video, our society has a weird obsession with trans people’s genitals. My biggest tip is just don’t. When was the last time you asked someone if they were circumcised or if they shaved “down there” or you pondered the size of their labia? I’m really hoping the answer to all of the above is never. Give trans people the same respect. Plus let’s stop with the “chopped off his penis” comments. A trans woman’s penis is not cut off (presuming she chose to have surgery in the first place). The penis is very neatly divided and looped around to form a vagina, labia, and a (usually) functioning clitoris. This is done by a well trained surgeon and team, not the trans woman and a pair of scissors.

Alongside rampant discussions and questions about genitals comes a whole other debate. Bathrooms.

Cue the sound of trans people hitting their heads on the keyboard.

For most people, public washrooms are an irritation. Will there be toilet paper? Will the paper sit neat and clean in the dispenser instead of strewn across a waterlogged floor? Will it smell like a circus outhouse on a hot day or an artificial version of roses. Trans people get all that plus the added concern of being yelled at or beaten up and, in some cases, having security or the police called. Simply because they wanted to pee.

There’s a concern that some cis people have that men are going to sneak into the ladies room in drag, pretending to be trans, and rape someone. Won’t someone think of the children?!? This ignores the fact that a) that same man is going to have to walk through the store in drag, which is hardly inconspicuous (I’ve seen people literally turn in place to continue staring at Jeremy when we’re out) and b) there are trans children who need just as much protection as their cis friends and siblings. These fears also conveniently ignore a huge swatch of trans people, namely trans men. If people were forced to go into the washroom of their assigned gender, that means trans men would have to go into the women’s room…

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Yep, he wouldn’t be conspicuous at all

When people argue against trans people using their correct washroom, they forget about men like Michael Hughes. How exactly are you supposed to tell if he’s trans when he’s in the washroom? If a woman is scared of having a man in the washroom with her, I’d think she’d be more upset about a muscular bearded man than a woman who’s in there to pee and (possibly) check her lipstick. For that matter, how are people supposed to tell in general? Are we all to drop our drawers before we enter? Are they going by gender stereotypes? There’s already at least one cis woman suing in the States for being harassed and escorted out of the ladies room for not looking feminine enough.

Plus these arguments ignore one crucial fact. There has not been one single case of a trans person attacking or harassing a cis person in the washroom. Not one. The closest I could find was a case where a couple of young teens claimed to be exposed to a trans woman’s penis while changing for a team event. Not attacked, simply exposed. Plus it turned out that the two girls snuck into a member’s only section of the gym, an area they were clearly told was out of bounds, and then proceeded to open up a closed and private sauna room door where the trans woman and her friend happened to be sitting. Conversely, I wouldn’t have the space or time to write down all the times trans people have been harassed in the washroom from this year alone. It’s not unknown for trans people to suffer with bladder problems stemming from holding their urine for hours instead of using a public toilet. They’d rather suffer from bladder problems instead of being attacked (again). But they’d really rather be safe.

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So not a risk to anyone in the women’s room. Very much at risk in the men’s room.

There’s another act of violence against trans people, misgendering. This occurs when people refuse to use a trans person’s pronouns, instead using the pronouns the person was assigned at birth. Colin is continuously misgendered. Akin to misgendering is the act of using someone’s birth name, also known as their dead name in the trans community. Both can cause a great deal of emotional distress to a trans person, as well as disrespecting the right to their own identity. At least 22 people have been killed this year because they were transgender women. I say at least because some end up being dead named and identified as male. Their names were read at our Transgender Day of Remembrance service this year and an appalling number were identified by the phrase “unknown woman”. Outing someone is an act of violence. Telling people your female friend “used to be male” puts her at risk of being beaten up or murdered. Telling people your male friend “used to be female” puts him at risk of being beaten up or raped. If you have a trans friend that’s great. Don’t betray their trust by outing them so you can appear cool or trendy. Don’t betray their trust because you’re struggling with accepting your new information about their gender. Introduce them with their pronouns and chosen name then move on.

We are all human. We all have hopes, dreams, hobbies, and a burning need to know why Facebook keeps switching to “top profile” (the last one might be just me). Don’t let a label get between you and another person.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below and I’ll do my best to answer them honestly (and possibly by frantically messaging my friends). This blog is unapologetically a safe place. Any transphobic or homophobic comments are deleted and the person is blocked from commenting. I’ll make allowances for honest ignorance.

* Most, but not all trans people, deal with some degree of gender dysphoria. Some, like my teen Colin, are perfectly happy with their body including their genitals. One of my friends refers to her genitals as “that thing” or “the abomination”. Another friend of mine had to hide sharp objects for fear her daughter might try to cut off her own penis as a preschooler. Many of my friends have posted pictures which show a man and woman on opposite sides of a mirror, while saying that’s exactly how they feel. They feel themselves completely as one gender and it’s continually jarring to have everyone else see and refer to them as a different gender entirely.

How to make my block list…

… aka why school based sexual education for children is so important.

These comments happened in the middle of a discussion about Ontario’s new sexual education curriculum, during which poster #1 and #2 argued they could teach their children just fine at home, thanks. They’d have no problems teaching their children about “the birds and the bees” and could handle their questions without any outside assistance.

Meanwhile I, as usual, referred to Jeremy as my teen and used zie/zir pronouns…

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Then came a specific question about what you would say if your eight year old child asked a pointed question like “what’s a blow job?”

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Because answering questions honestly is “abuse”

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Conventional families… what are those again?

I pointed out that she’d have a great deal of difficulty teaching her children about the LGBTQ community considering the ignorance she’d shown regarding trans issues.

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transphobic2

transphobic4Between these posts were ones where Poster #1 claimed Jeremy would always be a male because of genitals, continually and intentionally misgendered zir repeatedly, and flat out stated she did not want her children to learn anything at all about the LGBTQ community. To make it more interesting, before I blocked her, she admitted she’d never even met Jeremy.

I commented in the thread that she was the perfect example for why mandatory school sexual education was needed and I stand by that statement. Luckily, and even more weirdly, it turns out that her children are nowhere near elementary school age. I figured she had preteens considering her 8 to 12 year old comment but her children are university age. Hopefully they’ve grown up to be less ignorant than their mother.

Ignorance is not a family value

Engage tact before opening mouth…

I was sitting in the break room with a new coworker a few days ago, doing the whole awkward introduction thing, when I realized it was time to call Jeremy.

I usually call zir at lunchtime so I can make sure zie’s awake and functioning. Plus the call allows me to remind zir to eat, something I’ve never forgotten to do but zie manages to forget regularly.

“I was talking to my teen,” I explained as I got off the phone a couple of minutes later.

“Oh, you have kids?” she replied curiously.

It seemed like an obvious answer to me but I nodded anyway. “I’ve got a 20 year old daughter and 18 year old teen. I was talking to the 18 year old.”

Most people change the conversation there. She didn’t.

“So, your 18 year old… is it a boy or a girl?”

It? Great.

“Zie’s bi-gender,” I replied. “Zie’s trans , identifies as both male and female, and uses the pronouns zie and zir.”

Her eyes grew wider. “Oh! Both genders! Does your doctor know?”

The doctor part made me suspicious about the direction her thoughts were going but I played innocent. “Yes, we talked to him already.”

“So, umm, your child is, umm, medically male and female?”

Yep, her thoughts wandered exactly where I suspected and right where I didn’t want to go.

“No, you’re thinking of intersex. My teen is transgender,” I replied as I glanced at my phone. Damn, I still had some break left.

“Oh.” She fidgeted for a moment. “So is he, umm, a boy or a girl.”

“I’m not discussing my child’s genitals with you,” I said bluntly. I’d already given her pronouns to use and a label so she wasn’t asking for those reasons. That left only one tabloidish interest… what was in zir pants.

She looked startled for a second then the realization of what she was asking kicked in.

“I’m cool with stuff like that,” she babbled. “I knew a transgender in high school.” Cue me wincing. “He was really shy at the beginning but after a while he started wearing make up and dresses and stuff.”

“I think you mean she,” I interjected, glancing at my phone again. Usually my break finishes way too quickly. Today wasn’t one of those days. Had my timer broken?

“Oh yeah,” she said sheepishly as my timer chimed cheerfully. Finally. I couldn’t leave quickly enough.

I told Jeremy about the conversation later and zie grinned when I got to the part about refusing to disclose zir birth gender.

“Way to go!” zie exclaimed before changing the conversation to Cool Dude. I’m not entirely sure who he is, other than someone on YouTube, but Jeremy’s very impressed with him.

“Cool Dude’s gay,” zie informed me for about the twentieth time. Jeremy paused then laughed. “I don’t know why he bothered to come out. Some people you just know are gay. I’m sure you’ve met people like that before,” zie said as zie gestured flamboyantly.

I looked at zir and laughed. “Really Captain Obvious?”

“Are you calling me gay?” zie asked.

“No, I’m calling the other Jeremy gay,” I retorted.

Zie smiled. Some days zie insists zie’s straight. Sometimes zie simply insists zie’s not gay. The rest of the time zie refers to the gay community as zir community. I just take a few metaphorical Gravol and go along for the ride.

Jeremy’s smile faded. “You know what I disliked about school,” zie said abruptly. Talk about a loaded question. Especially since zie could (and does) go on for hours about the subject.

“What?” I asked cautiously.

“Every Hallowe’en all the teachers dressed up in Duck Dynasty costumes, even after they came out as homophobic. It made me so uncomfortable.”

“All of the teachers?” It was a fairly big school.

“Well not all of them but Mrs. ________ and Mrs. ________ both did.” Jeremy named both of zir educational assistants. The same ones who told Jeremy that zir gender was a choice.

I’d had no idea about the costumes. Zie’d never said anything. Of course even if zie had said something there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It wasn’t illegal to dress up as a television character. But you’d think at least one of the teachers would look at what those people were saying and think about how their students would feel about their choice. You’d think they’d think. That’s what school’s for, isn’t it?

I’ve got a kid who’s struggling with anxiety daily. It’s not even 9pm and zie’s already in bed, saying zie’s upset and doesn’t know why. We live in a complex with two pools (complete with life guards), a park with paved trails just perfect for zir to drive zir remote control cars, and a gym. Jeremy spends every day indoors waiting for me to come home. Zie could go out on zir own but would rather wait for me. Zie doesn’t feel comfortable going out alone.

Jeremy’s teacher and EAs were loudly insistent they were allies, even while misgendering Jeremy, and I know my coworker felt like she was being quite supportive too. It would be nice however if they spent a bit less time patting themselves on the back and a bit more time listening to what they’re saying. It would be even nicer if tact came in a spray bottle, like air freshener, and could be applied liberally to people when needed. I’d buy it in bulk.

 

No more pencils… no more books…

 

“Hello? Mrs Green? This is [vice principal]. Jeremy’s on his way home from school now. He was arguing with the teacher over lessons. He wanted to copy files from the school computer to his little zip drive instead.”

I glanced over at the clock. Jeremy had left barely an hour earlier, cheerful and eager. Which was a welcome change although apparently short lived. This was on Friday the 19th and only three more days were left until the end of school. Speaking of which…

“I should let you know, Jeremy has an appointment on Monday so zie won’t be at school that day plus zie has counselling on Tuesday. Zie’ll be back on Wednesday though.”

I waited for the obligatory giggle and “oops, I meant zie” which has followed ever since I had a school administrator come in to discuss the board’s transgender policy last September. It didn’t come. I guess the principal figured she doesn’t need to bother anymore now that zie was almost done school. As if correctly gendering someone only matters when board policy forces it (and when another adult can hear).

“If he wants to come in for an hour on Wednesday to copy his files he can. Over lunchtime.”

Heaven forbid my child inconvenience them by trying to attend zir entire last day of school with the rest of zir classmates.

Then I called Jeremy and listened incredulously. I try my hardest to support zir teachers and strongly feel spelling is important. On the other hand, they know how much Jeremy dislikes the subject. Zie’d missed almost a week of school due to anxiety, which they knew because I called zir in sick with anxiety and panic attacks every day. Plus they only have spelling tests on Fridays so there wasn’t going to be another spelling test ever for zir. So what did the teacher choose to do first that day? Sit Jeremy down with a list of words to memorize. Something that gives zir anxiety on the best of days. Jeremy asked why zie needed to study for a test zie’d never take and was immediately told to go home.

“Other students get sent home for throwing chairs. I get sent home for asking a question.”

Jeremy flipped through mood swings all Tuesday to the point where I wondered if it was possible for zir to have PMS. Zie’d be laughing one minute then start yelling at me, only to burst into tears two minutes later. Then zie’d be laughing again. And zie waffled about school, deciding zie would go only to change zir mind a short while later. It wasn’t until I was crawling into bed that zie made zir final decision.

“I’m not going to school tomorrow,” zie announced in a voice thick with tears. “M already has my number so if he wants to call me he can. Except he doesn’t even know his own number…”

Jeremy’s best friend P moved last year and hasn’t contacted zir once since then. Jeremy can’t call him because his number changed with the move. M is the only local friend zie has currently and they have no contact outside school. Meanwhile zie’d already downloaded zir files from the school’s cloud, all that was left there was a plastic storage container. I can live without that.

“Okay,” I said reassuringly. “I’ll call the school and bus company on my way to work.”

Which I did, making the bus dispatcher laugh when I announced it was my last time calling in. I simply left a message in the school’s voice mail. And now zie’s done, leaving me feeling unsettled… unfinished.

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks…

Jeremy was so eager to start school… so eager to learn. And zie still is. Zie loves math, loves learning about electronics and computers. Zie’s fascinated with politics and current events. I spent Jeremy’s entire time at high school arguing for zir to take electronics, computers, politics, auto mechanics, a work-ed program to do with electronics or computers. I got shot down every single time. I fought for zir to have testing for learning disabilities and got told “next year” every single year. I asked repeatedly for zir to have a school laptop due to language difficulties and fine motor skill issues and got turned down. The only success I managed was getting them to use the right pronouns and that only happened on paper or when they were prompted. Zir entire high school career was remarkably similar to banging my head against a wall, except it was less fun. And now it’s over. Kind of.

Jeremy cried two nights ago that zie was an adult and had no education.

“No education yet,” I pointed out. “That doesn’t mean no education ever. You’re just starting.”

The principal didn’t ask about zir appointment on Monday. She was just glad zie wasn’t going to be at school. If she’d asked, she’d have found out zie’s getting psychometric testing. And once zir anxiety’s a bit more under control, zir real education will begin.

I’m going to need a crowbar and forklift…

Jeremy went to school willingly on Monday, which not only floored me but surprised all my coworkers. I was thrilled with this… until I came home. I’d barely walked in the front door when Jeremy informed me zie’d gotten so fed up with being misgendered, zie started calling the teacher and EAs “he” and “him” to see how they’d like it. It turns out they didn’t like it at all.

One EA told Jeremy that she didn’t mind at all, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Zir teacher complained that she was promised zie wouldn’t make a scene if they forgot the right pronouns. Jeremy informed her that was supposed to be an occasional lapse, not non-stop for half a year. The teacher then went on to complain about Jeremy’s rudeness and told zir that she was going to write a letter to me about it. Then she sent zir out of the classroom ten minutes early sans letter. I figure she had second thoughts about writing me an angry note about being misgendered. Good choice on her part because I’d have either laughed hysterically or put that letter someplace letters should never go.

The irony of the whole situation is that Jeremy figures zie used the wrong pronouns for about five minutes.

I half joked on Facebook a few days ago that I was going to need a crowbar and forklift to get Jeremy out to school today. I could have used them because zie didn’t go. Jeremy was positive they were going to be mean to zir, which made zir anxious. Jeremy uses electronics to calm down, meanwhile they’re constantly fighting zir on having “gadgets” in the classroom.

There’s a meeting with the school board tomorrow night called Families Engaged, where they want to hear from LGBTQ families (either LGBTQ parents with children in the school board or parents with LGBTQ children). Emma and I are going and I’ll be sharing what’s happening with Jeremy. I also have a meeting with zir school on Tuesday. Jeremy’s not back in school until Wednesday so hopefully we can get something sorted out before zie returns; although considering my track record with this school I’m not hopeful.

My speech on gender diversity and raising a trans kid…

Wow that’s a long title.

Since I’m nowhere near talented enough to change Jeremy’s real name in a video, I’m just going to post the transcript here. Pretend I’m talking quietly at a podium while I shift nervously and fiddle with my hair. I was wearing turquoise if that helps 🙂

 *******************************

There’s so much I didn’t know when my kids were growing up, especially when it came to gender. I look back at Jeremy when zie was little. Jeremy was equally happy with dinky cars and Polly Pockets, which was fine with me. I grew up in a family which believed toys were for all kids. When Jeremy was four, zie got a little toy shaving kit for Christmas and the first thing zie did was hop into the bathtub to shave zir legs. I figured that was because zie didn’t have a Dad at home and explained that boys shave their faces, not their legs. Jeremy looked a bit surprised but followed my instructions. Actually, the first time Jeremy shaved once puberty hit, Jeremy shaved zir legs but by then zie wasn’t using a Bob the Builder kit. Zie borrowed my razor instead; I quickly got zir one of zir own. And there was dress up time, which always consisted of Jeremy getting dressed up in Emma’s clothes, never the reverse. Emma would refer to zir as Jemmy and would pick out the clothes she thought would suit zir the best. Both kids loved this game.

I think Jeremy was around eight or nine years old when zie saw some words written on the bus shelter wall and wanted to know what they meant. The words were:

I wish I was a girl.

I had no idea what to say let alone where to start. It was a big topic that I didn’t understand very well. And Jeremy was standing there watching me expectantly, positive I had the answer. I decided to start with empathy so I said, “You know how you look like boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside…” then stopped when I saw Jeremy’s confused expression. Zie shook zir head and said “no”.

I look back now and marvel at how blind I was but then I simply figured I’d screwed up my explanation. I went on to explain that most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside or look like a girl on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside but sometimes it’s the opposite. When people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a girl on the inside, or vice versa, it’s called transgender. Jeremy listened intently then was heartbroken that we couldn’t find the person who wrote the words so they’d know they weren’t alone.

Throughout this time, Jeremy would ask how I knew that zie would grow up to be a man. I knew zie’d been bullied at school with kids calling zir a he-she and I was well aware that grown adults were telling Jeremy zie needed to “be a man” so I chalked zir questions up to bullying. I assured Jeremy that zie didn’t need to do anything special in order to be a man, zie just needed to grow up. That zie could be a man and still love the colour pink and long hair and glitter. Each time Jeremy seemed reassured by my response.

A couple of years ago I became Facebook friends with Lenny. One of the first things Lenny told me is zie’s transgender and identifies between male and female, using the pronouns zie and zir. I’d had no idea people could be anything but male or female so this was a surprise. Lenny lives in England so zie’d never know if I was using the right pronouns or not but it didn’t seem fair to use the wrong ones. I insisted the kids use zir pronouns as well.

It wasn’t until last year that Jeremy began to show signs of discomfort with using male pronouns. Zie got sent home from school one day for arguing with zir teacher about the words boy and girl being opposites. Jeremy insisted they weren’t because you could feel like both a boy and a girl. The teacher argued she was talking about language and not gender then persisted in telling Jeremy zie was wrong. In the spring, Jeremy asked for the teacher to explain more pronouns than male and female and the teacher refused, claiming that she could only teach “invented” pronouns if there was a trans student in the class and then only the pronouns that student was using. Jeremy wasn’t out so I backed down. Zie didn’t come out until the end of summer.

Fifty-seven percent of unsupported trans youths attempt suicide. That statistic drops down to four percent when youths have a supportive family. I’ll do anything to make Jeremy feel supported, up to and including waving pom poms. Jeremy assures me that’s not necessary.

The hard part is how often and regularly Jeremy gets misgendered. When I talked to Jeremy’s school, their biggest concern was whether Jeremy’s gender identity and pronouns were going to be a distraction in the classroom. They use zir pronouns in official documents but call Jeremy he and him. And I can count on one hand the number of people in real life who consistently use zir pronouns. It’s so frustrating because people just don’t seem to understand how important this is to Jeremy. If they’d use the right pronouns in front of zir, even once, they’d see what a difference it makes. Give it a try, they’re not hard to use.

Thank you.

It’s not about you…

I remember being pregnant with my children, feeling as their gentle flutters progressed into full belly flops on my bladder and painful karate kicks against the backs of my ribs. Back then I had no clue what my children would be like; they were more like ideas than real people. I’d sit in my rocking chair with my hands clasped gently over my stomach and wonder who they’d be. Dreaming of children who loved singing as much as me; envisioning singing rounds, our voices weaving together in harmony.

Then they were born. Short, chubby, bald people who looked a lot more like Winston Churchill than either their Dad or myself. People that screamed randomly, pooped on themselves, and considered “gah” to be an entire conversation. I still had no idea what they were like except loud, messy, and highly uncoordinated. They slowly evolved into their own people. Kait was colicky and had a desperate need to be held by me. She developed a heat rash across one cheek because she could only sleep while draped across my chest, listening to my heart. Colin was more laid back, willing to be held by anyone or to simply chill on a blanket. Weirdly enough Kait was the one who walked early, desperate to explore on her own while Colin was half a month past zir first birthday before zie took zir first cautious steps away from me.

As for the singing, Kait was happy enough to sing with me as a toddler (I have video proof of this) but quickly decided she couldn’t sing and refused despite encouragement from me. Colin has never sung in front of me. The only times I’ve ever heard zir sing is through zir closed bedroom door while zie listens to music.

I have never mourned their lack of interest in singing beyond some vague, wishful “gee it would be nice…” musings on a very rare occasion. Because of this I don’t have any statistical proof, however I have good reason to believe people would be fairly unsympathetic if I bemoaned my lack of musical offspring. They’d rightly ponder my mental health if I insisted on pretending my children played musical instruments and talked about our imaginary music nights; even if I coached it as needing time to let go of my need for musical children. They’d tell me to smarten up and accept the fact my children just aren’t musically inclined. That not everyone enjoys singing and to take pleasure in the children I have and appreciate the music they listen to.

I’ve watched as parents get supported for struggling, and failing, to cope with their child being transgender. I’ve seen parents talk about deliberately misgendering their child for months on end because it was too hard for them. Parents who used non-binary pronouns, despite not having a gender neutral child, because they didn’t feel ready to switch over to the pronouns their child preferred. One common thread through all these conversations is “I need…”

You know what? It’s not about you!

We don’t get to pick the kids we raise. We don’t get to choose their height, their hair colour, their IQ, their skills, their goals, or their gender. It’s that simple. I couldn’t pick singing skills and you can’t pick gender. And it doesn’t matter if you think you were raising a boy and instead, whoops, she’s a girl… or vice versa… or neither… or both.

Actually, to be fair, it does matter. When I started getting Colin tested for autism, I went through a spell of mourning. Zie’d been born absolutely perfect and then zir eyes started turning in. Surgery fixed this and everything was normal… except zie wasn’t talking. I was assured speech therapy would make a difference and soon zie would be normal. For a while that seemed to be the case but I soon realized more was going on. All my vague searches turned up autism, which wasn’t something zie’d outgrow ever. There was no “and then everything would be normal” at the end of that diagnosis. I did my brief bout of mourning away from Colin because this was my issue and not zir’s. The same goes for having an LGBTQ child. Take some private time to set aside your dreams and goals while realizing they’re yours. In the meantime be your child’s biggest supporter. Realize they need you now more than ever. They need to know you are right there behind them for support (just like that first time on the monkey bars… all set to catch them if they drop).

Because there is something matters a whole lot more. Take a good long look at this chart (these stats are worse than the ones for LGB youths, which are already too high)…

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There’s a huge difference between the dark and pale blue sections. 57% is a scarily high number. Now take a closer look. That pale blue section includes “somewhat supportive parents”. The benchmark for being a good, supportive parent to a trans child is not “well I didn’t kick him/her/them out”. If you can’t manage to use your child’s preferred name and pronouns, you are not a supportive parent.

Today I read a letter about two unsupportive parents, written by their teen before she stepped in front of a transport truck, completely without hope that she’d ever be able to live her life as a girl.

Leelah

Leelah was 17 years old when she died. I’ve linked her archived Tumblr blog* to the picture but this is part of what she wrote in her note…

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Her parents ignored what she was saying to them. They ignored her pleas for acceptance and instead they told her she was wrong and going against god’s will. They dragged her to Christian conversion therapists who told her the same thing. When she tried to ease them into acceptance by coming out as gay instead, they took away all her social media and blocked her from her real life friends as well. They also refused any sort of transitioning help, including blockers. All they wanted was a son, even if this was an illusion. And they clung to this illusion even after her death…

misgendered memorial

Photo found via Tumblr

Even after death, her mother couldn’t accept her as Leelah. She couldn’t see what she’d done. One of Leelah’s friends corrected the post for her…

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Corrections by Shani Mer Bryan. Found on Transgender Graphics

This is what it boils down to. If you find yourself struggling with supporting your child and getting bogged down with “why me” and “I don’t know if I can deal with this”, scroll up and take a good long look at Leelah’s face. You can do this because your child is counting on you. Please go and make a better future for our childrens’ sake… for Leelah’s sake.

Also, she asked for donations to be made to any trans groups. Pick one and make a donation in her honour.

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Art by Mike Kirby

And please, if you’re feeling suicidal, there are people who care. People who will listen. Go to my resources page and you will find a list of phone numbers and websites. You can also message me at secretmom@email.com. You are not alone.

* Leelah’s parents deleted her Tumblr and final words. Luckily the internet is pretty much forever and archived copies have been found.

School trepidation…

Gatineau*

The first time I heard that name was with Emma. She’d been dealing with several issues; bullying, anxiety, and an overwhelming conviction that she’d made her Dad disappear and he was never coming back. I asked the school’s social worker for help and was assured that Emma and I talked well so we didn’t need any outside help. This was flattering but not useful. I requested an assessment from the school psychologist and asked for more help. Gatineau was recommended and an assessment was scheduled immediately.

A stern looking older man met us outside their interview room. Emma immediately froze. He stared at her then barked, “She’s obviously depressed.”

“She’s very shy,” I replied as we edged past him into the room. “She’s always been scared of men. Besides, she was laughing and joking around just a minute ago.”

I looked back to see him glaring at me. “I’m the psychiatrist and I know depression when I see it. She’s depressed.”

His tone said he felt that was clearly the end of the discussion. I figured it wasn’t worth starting off with an argument, not when I was there to get Emma help so shut my mouth.

The room was filled with a huge circle of chairs and a fish tank, which looked oddly out of place. We all sat near the door, the fishes swam alone on the other side of a vast expanse of chairs. There was a man who sat across from us with a pad and pen, obviously ready to take notes. He didn’t make Emma any more comfortable although, to be fair, she could hardly get any less comfortable.

Then I thought of something else. “Before we begin, I should let you know I’m having Emma tested for Aspergers.”

The psychiatrist looked over at Emma then shook his head. “She definitely does not have that,” he replied haughtily.

I began to wonder if it was possible to pull a doctorate of psychiatry out of a cereal box. The psychologist had me fill out checklists that started almost from conception and sat with Emma for hours. Meanwhile this doctor had diagnosed her in under two minutes without speaking to either of us or even attaining eye contact with her.

The doctor settled on play therapy for Emma along with a parenting group for me. I wanted Emma to get social skills help and was assured that would come as long as I joined their parenting group. I agreed and we were placed into art and group therapy at the same time. The only caveat was I needed to miss the first three sessions as my parents were away and I needed them to watch Jeremy. I was assured that was fine.

I knew immediately the group was a poor fit. Emma was prone to slamming her bedroom door while yelling, “I hate you! You’re mean!” Meanwhile the rest of the group were dealing with youths who set fire to the living room, robbed stores, and smashed furniture.

The weeks went on. Emma enjoyed her therapy, coming home regularly with crafts, while I listened to the other parents and offered any support I could. One day our group mediator was late and conversation immediately moved to the psychiatrist.

No one in the group liked him. They disliked his attitude and distrusted his diagnoses. I commented that Emma was diagnosed with Aspergers** but hadn’t got any of the social skills help I’d been promised. The mediator stepped into the room to tell me I was wrong, their psychiatrist had ruled out that diagnosis, and my diagnosis couldn’t count because Aspergers was only diagnosed by a psychiatrist. I pointed out that he made that diagnosis in less than two minutes, without speaking to Emma; meanwhile the psychologist spent hours with her. He retaliated, saying their art therapist had also spent hours talking to Emma and agreed with the psychiatrist. I pointed out that their art therapist wasn’t a psychiatrist either, so if I couldn’t go by a psychologist’s thorough assessment, he couldn’t use six hours of art therapy for a diagnosis either. But she was well respected and spent many hours with children… and so was the psychologist. The mediator told me they’d never agreed to any further help for Emma and certainly not with social skills; they didn’t even offer it.

Didn’t even offer it. What the hell was I doing there then? I sat through the rest of the session feeling numb then talked to Emma about her sessions. I’d thought the therapist was letting Emma discuss her feelings about her father and school. Instead she’d been spending therapy listening to why her art therapist felt she didn’t have Aspergers. I pulled us out of Gatineau.

I got a withdrawal letter a month later, claiming I’d missed almost half the group sessions and had been a reluctant participant. I looked at the dates and realized he’d not only counted the initial classes but a full month of sessions after we’d left. I vowed I’d never go back to the agency.

And then came the chance for a new class for Jeremy. A smaller class setting, an LGBTQ friendly school, a program that offered a chance to earn school credits, and it was brand new and barely had any students. Jeremy could get in almost immediately. But the class was run by Gatineau.

Yeah.

I stammered that I’d been there a few years ago and had not been impressed with the service, only to be reassured that they had almost all new staff and no longer had that psychiatrist.

We had our intake assessment. The new psychiatrist was cheerful and engaging, while Jeremy was in amazing spirits and responded quite animatedly. I was told a second appointment would be set up “next week” between us, Gatineau, and someone from Jeremy’s school; probably zir teacher.

There was a message from Gatineau today, wanting to arrange Jeremy’s counselling sessions. I called them back and was told they could only offer an appointment mid-day, which means Jeremy is going to miss a full day of school every week on top of what zie’s already missing due to anxiety. Then I asked about the class.

“Oh, umm, yes. Well, that class is full right now so Jeremy’s been placed on a waiting list. We’ll let you know when he gets to the top.”

“I’ll have to call [school board member] and try to get Jeremy into a different class then. Zie needs to get out of zir current class immediately.”

“Oh! Oh!!!” She sounded shocked and a bit worried. “I’ll have to talk to J and see what she says. I’ll let you know next week where Jeremy is on the list and if we know how long it will take for him to get to the top.”

So yet more waiting. Waiting for Gatineau and waiting for the school board member to call me back.

There’s a meeting on Thursday between the school board and PFLAG to address how the board can improve how they work with LGBTQ families. I figure we’ll have quite a lot to discuss.

* Gatineau is not the real name of the agency
** Emma was diagnosed with Aspergers through the school board. However it is not a diagnosis she agrees with and she’s subsequently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression. I’ve also since discovered that Aspergers and anxiety have a lot of similar symptoms.