Raising the trans equivalent of Jello…

Persistent and insistent.

These are the two words I see over and over when it comes to transgender children. In some ways they describe Jeremy, especially when it comes to electronics and anything purple (seriously, no, you don’t need a purple miniature frying pan when you don’t even cook) but they don’t describe zir at all when it comes to being trans. Jeremy can be so vague and ambivalent I end up feeling like I’m raising the trans equivalent of Jello.

I’m not going to say Jeremy never gave me any signs of being trans as a child because zie was definitely gender creative. Zir favourite colour was pink and zie loved Barbie, stuffed animals, and taking zir baby out for a walk in the stroller.

gender creative Jeremy

The flip side is zie was also passionate about Magic School Bus, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, and just about anything with wheels…

Jeremy watching Granddad fix the car

Jeremy “helping” Grandad and zir uncle fix the car

Jeremy cheerfully wore zir sister’s second hand clothes but was just as happy with Hotwheels shirts and Pokemon runners. Zie loved zir pink Build a Bear and zir Matchbox cars track and went from a very feminine looking long hairstyle to a buzz cut with equal appreciation for both. Even when zie got older and increasingly uncomfortable with pronouns, Jeremy didn’t come right out and say so. A friend of mine finally suggested a trial run of pronouns and it took changing temporarily to they and them before Jeremy finally admitted zie was trans (after months of hinting).

The only real persistence Jeremy has is the insistence that zie is definitely trans and even that’s somewhat vague. At this point Jeremy’s not sure if zie’s pangender but knows zie falls somewhere on the trans spectrum. I’ve assured zir that, yes, it’s fine not to know and zie will sort zirself out eventually. I’ve also assured zir that it’s okay to be pangender and interested in RC cars, computers, and rebuilding and rewiring everything in the apartment. It’s equally all right for zir to be female and interested in RC cars, computers, and rebuilding and rewiring everything in the apartment. Zie was very relieved about both.

Which is why I’m posting this. In an online sea of posts about toddlers demanding dresses or blue boy jeans, there needs to be an additional narrative. Not everyone sorts out their gender at two and it’s equally important to realize that someone who doesn’t figure out their gender until after puberty has just as valid a narrative as someone who sorted it all out at three. And they are just as photogenic and awesomely cute (although I could be biased there).

our new hall light

Absolutely adorable and very handy. Jeremy found this Tiffany lamp and installed it in our front hall. Next to work on shortening the chain a bit 🙂

School Identification Forms…

Ever since Emma started kindergarten I’ve been getting at least one school identification form home on the first day of school; the second at the very latest. I immediately read through, checking phone numbers and email addresses, ticking off permission for them to take neighbourhood walks, and pondering whether we actually live close enough to a nuclear power plant to tick the potassium iodine tablet section. I check it off just in case… better to be safe than sorry. Even if we’re all glowing, at least they’ll have less chance of cancer.

Jeremy came home on the first day of school this year and I promptly checked zir backpack. No form. Same with the second, third, and fourth day. I was just about to write a note to zir teacher asking if it had gone missing when zie got suspended. I got the form a few days after zie returned. By then I wasn’t worried about sitting right down to proofread it, figuring if they wanted it back promptly they’d have given it to me the first week.

I filled it at the end of September so you can imagine my surprise when Jeremy informed me zir teacher wanted me to look around the apartment for zir form.

“Wait, I gave that to you over a month ago,” I blurted. Zie sighed and shook zir head.

“I told my teacher ages ago that I lost it on the way to school but she won’t believe me. She keeps saying it’s an official school document and she can’t just go print out a new copy.”

“Well, it’s not around here,” I replied. “If it was we’d have found it. I’ll write a note saying I can’t find it and that you lost it in transit.”

Emma, Mark, and I were talking in the living room this evening when I looked down at a sheet of paper. It was Jeremy’s school identification form. I have no idea where it came from, at this point you could blame aliens and I’d almost believe you. My apartment isn’t the cleanest place on the planet but we’re far from candidates for an episode on Hoarders and it was sitting right there in the middle of the floor.

Also it’s a good thing I never wrote that letter to the teacher.

I gave the form a quick scan then looked once again at the gender marker. X was already typed into the male section, the only other option was female. I glanced over at Jeremy and wrote in another X…

School form

Emma peered over my shoulder. “Shouldn’t you write something down?” she asked. “What if they think you just marked it by accident?”

I thought about writing down bigender then circled male/female instead. She nodded her approval.

There’s a good chance the school board will have me fill in a new copy or simply change the marker back to M but it was worth it just to see the expression on Jeremy’s face when zie saw what I’d done.

Pronoun confusion…

I had a meeting yesterday with someone from Jeremy’s school. We sat down to discuss zir options, one of which involves transferring Jeremy to an even smaller classroom setting with higher expectations and the possibility of earning credits. The staff member asked me what my hopes were for Jeremy. I immediately started talking about how much Jeremy loves working on computers and other electronic devices. Zie needs real classroom experience to learn how to fix and operate these devices; fiddling around on zir own isn’t enough. This is a talent Jeremy can use to gain real employment, unlike the school’s current “opportunity”. Zir job placement right now is shredding the classroom’s paper.

“Zie needs a chance at hands on experience; to do things zieself…” I paused. That wasn’t right. “Herself… himself…” I blurted. I figured I’d hit the right pronoun eventually, if I could remember any more. My head dropped onto my hands. “I stink at pronouns,” I groaned. “Words in general…”

I looked up at the staff member’s baffled expression then sighed. “Right… I’ll just redo that sentence…” And I did.

The plus side (kind of) is Jeremy finds conversations like this hilarious. And the cats have yet to notice being called zir.

Mostly male with a bit of female…

This is Jeremy’s description of zir gender, repeated word for word. It never changes. It also doesn’t accurately reflect what I see as zir mother. I’m not an expert on raising sons but I’m going to take a guess that most 17 year old boys don’t squeal in delight at the thought of getting vanilla bliss shaving cream for their legs or gasp a delighted “awww” at the sight of their new glittery unicorn cat stuffed animal (it definitely is aww- worthy though). Even mostly male seems a stretch.

Jeremy gave that description to our doctor first and then gave zir amazing analogy of gender as a cupcake. I love this analogy and used it yesterday to explain Jeremy’s gender to a friend of mine. However pink frosting doesn’t equal “a bit” especially if Jeremy’s the one putting on the frosting. To me “a bit” would be a blue cupcake with blue frosting and pink sprinkles. I said as much to Jeremy and asked for zir definition of “a bit”. Jeremy shifted awkwardly in zir chair, avoiding eye contact.

“Umm… you have to remember I’m not good with words. If I take a bit of a chocolate bar, I take half the bar,” zie said sheepishly.

Right. So a bit equals half. I stifled a snort.

“How about you try saying ‘some female’ instead of a bit,” I suggested. Jeremy looked at me and smiled. I’m thinking zie’s going to stick with the cupcake analogy.

I just asked Emma what her gender would look like it if was a cupcake and her initial reaction was the same as mine. “I guess pink with pink frosting but ewww…”

Both of us are allergic to excessive amounts of pink and break out into metaphorical hives. They’re kind of like real hives but you can’t see them and they only itch on the inside.

I suggested she think a bit further outside the box and she came up with a dark purple cupcake with black frosting and the female sign, in purple, on top. This is very definitely Emma.

If my gender was a cupcake I’d be a white cupcake with a pink centre, white frosting, and those really shiny sugar sprinkles that shimmer with a bunch of different colours. I have no idea what analogy that would be but I like it 🙂

If your gender was a cupcake, what would you look like?

So, that didn’t happen…

I made plans to go out last night with a vegan/vegetarian group. It was the night before Jeremy’s big dentist appointment but I didn’t feel bad about leaving zir home alone because Jeremy had plans to see zir Dad. That was the first thing that didn’t happen. Instead zir Dad called me at the restaurant to ask how Jeremy was doing. No comments about their visit at all, just a vague “I might give him a call in the next few minutes.” I called Jeremy a short while later and zie hadn’t heard from zir Dad. I asked if zie wanted to call back instead and got a firm, “If he wants to call me and set up this visit, he has my number and can call me himself. Otherwise I’m not interested.” Jeremy was happily playing some version of Half-Life so I got off the phone and went back to the group.

I am not a social person at all so going out in a group was interesting. I did have fun though and chatted with the people beside and across from me. They’d set the meeting up at a Mexican restaurant and went through a huge effort to print out several signs saying “I am a vegan” in Spanish. This was nice but we live in Canada and I figured the chances of the staff being unable to speak English were quite slim. I was right. Everyone tried to sort out what ranchero sauce and Pico de Gallo were. Was it ranch sauce? Did Pico de Gallo have chicken in it? I wandered over to the waitress who’d let me charge my phone in the corner and asked her, explaining that I’m vegan and then what exactly that was. Sure enough they both were vegan; a red sauce and a mixture of diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. I’m not fond of cilantro (why does it taste so soapy?) but can live with it.

I showed Jeremy’s picture to the people at my table. Yes, I’m one of those parents and having a cellphone with a camera hasn’t made things any better. This led to an interesting conversation where the person beside me, who heard Jeremy’s name first, referred to zir as he/him; the person across from me, who only saw Jeremy’s picture, referred to zir as she/her; and the person who sat diagonally across from me, who made a hurried comment about belonging to several groups… some for vegans and some about queer issues, didn’t mention gender at all. It wasn’t a long conversation as we were mostly talking about food and what stores and restaurants were available locally but it was still interesting. Jeremy found it funny and was thrilled with the last person.

And then there’s today. Our doctor prescribed Jeremy a knock out combination he uses for patients that are claustrophobic and need an MRI; Ativan and Zyprexa (waits for everyone to finish googling). Jeremy took the medication and then informed me zie really wanted to go grocery shopping with me. So I took my high kid to the grocery store. That might have been my quietest shopping trip yet; zie was very happy and calm. Then my Mom came to drive us to the dentist. Jeremy slept the whole way then fell back to sleep in the waiting room. I led zir to the office and waited about five minutes before turning on Facebook. All was quiet so I updated my status saying that everything seemed good… and then heard slurred screams. Jeremy saw the needle and was freaking out with the sort of panic you’d expect from someone who’d woke to find an ax-wielding maniac in the room. The dentist ushered us out of the room, promising to contact someone who could do the surgery in the hospital under a general anaesthetic, and then Jeremy promptly passed out in the waiting room. Zie slept all the way home and is still asleep 10 hours later. The longest zie’s been up this whole time is 15 minutes… just long enough to scarf down two cans of Alphagetti and two containers of those really crappy (but tasty) cup of noodles. I took a picture off zir fast asleep in bed with Sprinkles the unicorn cat but didn’t post it on Facebook. Only five people (other than myself) have seen it. Jeremy might just kill me for this anyways.

Now I fully expect Jeremy to be up all night long. I can only hope zie’s as quiet for me as I was for zir.

Cupcakes…

Yesterday was beyond busy. I got home from work and had twenty minutes to get ready before taking Jeremy out to see our family doctor. By the time we got home, I had exactly 25 minutes to eat dinner and get to bed. The day pretty much ganged up on me. We had to go to the doctor though; Jeremy’s getting zir wisdom teeth out tomorrow and has that huge needle phobia. The doctor prescribed the same drugs as zie took for the immunization back in February.

While we were there, I brought up the topic of gender. I wasn’t sure if it was necessary or not but figured it might be something worthwhile to mention. Jeremy agreed. The doctor looked confused when I said non binary transgender and admitted he didn’t know what that meant. Could I explain further? I looked over at Jeremy instead; zie was there and it’s zir body.

Jeremy thought for a second then said, “If gender was a cupcake, I’d be a blue cupcake with pink frosting.”

The doctor immediately perked up. “Oh, bigender,” he said and quickly typed this into Jeremy’s notes. The kid’s definitely got a way with words…and a huge sweet tooth.

Poor Jeremy. I don’t think zie’s got any real idea of what tomorrow’s going to be like. Zie’s talking about shopping at Dollarama later and has great plans of hanging out on the computer. I just bought zir a set of soft purple bed sheets and this little stuffie…

A unicorn cat with purple glitter... this pretty much just screamed Jeremy's name.

A unicorn cat with purple glitter… this pretty much just screamed Jeremy’s name.

Jeremy loves the stuffie and was pleased with the sheets, although a bit baffled when I suggested making the bed. Jeremy figures zie can just lie down on the couch tomorrow if zie gets tired of playing video games. Like I said, the poor kid has no idea.

And just because the title of this post is cupcakes…

5e8cdb92ce900af21485614f79871ceb

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.

The letter…

This is the letter I wrote for my Mom, Amy, and Karen. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions!

*************************************************************************

I think Jeremy was about eight years old when zie* found a scrawled message on a nearby bus shelter and wanted to know what it meant.

“I wish I was a girl”

I looked at the words and didn’t know what to say. Obviously I’d have to give some sort of basic explanation of transgender but I had no idea how to broach the subject. I decided to try for the empathetic route.

“You know how you look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside?”

Jeremy stared at me blankly and shook zir head. Now I wish I could go back and get zir to elaborate but back then I simply went on by clarifying that most people look like a boy on the outside and feel like a boy on the inside (or vice versa with girls). Jeremy seemed satisfied with my explanation and the conversation moved on from there. Zie doesn’t even remember it but it obviously stuck in my mind.

And on we went, with people sometimes thinking Jeremy was a boy… and sometimes a girl. With kids (and adults) calling zir names ranging from he-she to faggot. One neighbour, a grown man at that, used to throw garbage off his balcony at Jeremy every time zie walked through the back door of our building. Thankfully they moved shortly after he started. I posted pictures of their moving truck on Facebook and baked a cake to celebrate.

It wasn’t until this year that Jeremy became more obviously uncomfortable with binary gender names, begging me to ask the teacher to explain other pronouns and arguing with the EA that male and female aren’t opposites and that you can feel like both. The teachers decided zie was simply being contrary. I decided to do some research and had several in depth conversations with Jeremy.

Jeremy identifies as non binary transgender. To break it down, gender is a spectrum and, just like a rainbow where the colours red and purple connect instead of staying on different sides of a line, male and female are not opposites. The vast majority of people are born with the sex characteristics of a man and identify as male… or the sex characteristics of a woman and identify as female. These people, aka us, are called cisgender (with a soft c). Everyone else (unless they choose to be called otherwise) falls under the trans umbrella.

Non binary simply means zie doesn’t identify as male or female. Some people identify as neither gender (agender) and some flow between the two. Jeremy consistently identifies as both. This is hard in our culture. The Bugis society in Indonesia has five genders; Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have the hijra, MtF trans people who have a long history of being considered good luck; and some Native Canadian tribes have a tradition of two-spirited people, who were valued as teachers and spiritual leaders. Our culture ignores the reality that not everyone fits into standard binary roles. This is slowly changing.

Something our society currently lacks is non-binary pronouns. Jeremy tried going with the pronoun “they” for a short time but ultimately found it awkward and confusing. Zie claimed it felt like zie had 50 personalities. We found a list of pronouns and went through it. Jeremy decided on zie/zir, the same pronouns that my friend Lenny uses. Zie is used the same as he and she, while zir is used the same as him and her. Both are pronounced phonetically with zie sounding like “zee” and zir sounding like “sir” (but with a zed sound). I’ve found a link that shows the pronouns used in a portion of “Alice in Wonderland” to give you an idea of how to use them.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use these pronouns. I know they seem awkward and unwieldy, and you will make mistakes, but I can assure you it will mean the world to Jeremy. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and everyone started calling you he, him, and sir. It might simply be weird at first but then picture it stretching on for days… months… years. The attempted suicide rate for trans people is currently at 41% and that’s from a lack of acceptance. I don’t want Jeremy to be a statistic and I will do everything I can to make zir feel safe and welcome. I’m sure you will as well.

I’ve found a video by a group of teenagers explaining the importance of pronouns and hope it will help.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

Love, Michelle

* zie and zir are the pronouns Jeremy prefers. They are fully explained in the letter.

An afternoon walk…

Jeremy and I went for a walk yesterday. It was a gorgeous summer day (we got good weather just in time for fall) and it was nice just to get out and spend some time together. I got an amazing shot of them in the woods, but it’s a full face shot so I can’t share it here; they truly looked lovely though. Meanwhile we simply chattered about nothing in particular.

We were walking back towards home when I looked over at Jeremy and remembered something they’d said this winter.

“Mom, I’ve thought about killing myself this month. My life’s pointless, it’s just not going to get any better. I’m never going to amount to anything.”

“Jeremy,” I said hesitantly. “You know I go on a parenting group for mothers. There’s a few people in that group who don’t identify with either gender. One thing to remember though is they’ve grown up, are in relationships, and have kids.”

“Are there any fathers in that group?”

I shook my head. “There’s another group for fathers though.”

“What do they wear?”

“Whatever they want to wear,” I replied. “Some wear masculine clothes, some wear feminine, some alternate between, and some try for more neutral clothes. It just depends on what they feel more comfortable in.” They smiled.

We walked a bit further. “Do any of them live nearby,” they asked hopefully.

“Umm, I know someone who lives across the lake but that’s not exactly convenient. Why?”

“I was hoping maybe they could come in and talk to my teacher… but it wouldn’t make a difference. When that kid came out as trans in the other class…”

I looked over to see Jeremy scowl. “Our teacher sat us down to explain that the kid was male and not female and one of my classmates started to cry because he had to stay a girl and wasn’t allowed to change. She cried so much the teacher ended up sending her into the hall to calm down. She didn’t try to explain anything to [classmate] at all. She should have told her it didn’t have anything to do with her. If it was me, I’d have sent her home for a week.”

“That’s not fair either,” I interrupted. “She’s developmentally delayed. She should have gotten an explanation instead of being sent into the hall.”

“That’s why I said a week,” Jeremy protested. “I’d go look up information.”

“You wouldn’t need a week. The teacher should have already had the information ready ahead of time.” They nodded.

“I’m going to do a teach,” they said decisively. “I’ll explain everything and they’ll have to listen, no excuses.”

So Jeremy’s going to teach a group of teens in a life skills class about non-binary trans… under the supervision of their teacher, who’s been critiquing Jeremy’s hair and nails for the past two years. This is going to be one heck of an interesting fall.

And now I’m off to dye their hair purple and watch an episode of Doctor Who. School goes back in tomorrow.