It’s been eighteen years…

CN: murder, suicide

Eighteen years ago I sat on my couch and cried inconsolably, newspaper on my lap, while Colin and their sister played. A young college student, Matthew Shepard, had just been brutally murdered by his peers, solely for being gay. They considered him a threat over who he loved.

I looked at my sweet toddler and wondered about their future. They were so loving, affectionate, and feminine and I worried for them. Were they going to end up gay? What would their future be like?

jeremy-in-1998

Jeremy ~ February 1998

Tears poured down my face while I hoped Matthew had woken up a little near the end, just enough to know he’d been rescued… that people had cared. Enough that he hadn’t died alone. I couldn’t bear the thought that he’d died alone. I could barely bear that he’d died at all. In that moment he wasn’t a stranger’s son but my own child’s future.

Colin cynically commented that they were surprised his murderers got charged way back then and I assured them that of course they did. They were charged and convicted. But I had to admit that their cynicism wasn’t out of place. I poured through the papers over those next few months, reading all the articles and hoping for charges… hoping the plea of “gay panic” wouldn’t be accepted. That love wouldn’t be used as an excuse to kill. And it wasn’t… but only barely.

Today my news feed seems to alternate between pictures of Matthew and a story by a young man who survived conversion therapy, despite several suicide attempts. He’d been told 50% of his class would kill themselves and admits that number ended up being correct. The youngest was 13 years old. Those children were placed in that camp by parents who couldn’t accept their children for who they are and were willing to accept a 50% survival rate as long as their child came home straight. They seem to feel it’s better to bury a dead queer than love a live one.

jeremy-in-2010

Colin ~ February 2010

A young trans friend of mine attempted suicide a couple of days ago. Another is contemplating it over top surgery. There were the Orlando shootings in June and, in Canada, the young artist Sophie Labelle gets death threats daily for daring to draw queer issues (mostly regarding the T in LGBTQIA). And if I hadn’t been a bit on the delusional side on how high you can jump and live, I wouldn’t be here either. I didn’t want to risk living through a seven storey drop (eight considering we live over the basement drop off) so, ironically, I’m still here too.

Eighteen years ago I’d hoped that our society would have changed dramatically for the better. It’s changed but not enough, not nearly enough. Today is beautiful, warm, and sunny but in my heart it’s raining. I am so tired of the deaths. Please help make it stop.

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Living invisible…

When I was a kid I used to wonder how Wonder Woman found her invisible jet. I mean seriously? I have trouble finding things that are visible while she opened a see through door and hopped right on in. Now I wonder if all those rumours are right and she really is a lesbian because, in that case, she would have had all sorts of practice in being invisible. Being LGBTQ brings its own invisibility.

Several years ago I went out shopping with friends of mine. They were shopping, I just was along for the ride. I’m seriously one of those “you can take me anywhere” friends. You’re filling your gas tank? Sure, I’ll come along. You’re buying a new bed? No problem.

In this case it was the latter. My friends M and P were in the market for a new bed and were going to be in my area so of course I’d join them. We mosied into a big Canadian bed and mattress store and I hung back while they priced mattresses and pondered firm versus extra support versus memory foam.

“Hello! May I assist you?”

A clerk came running up and immediately began talking to P and myself, completely ignoring M. This despite the fact that M and P were side by side actively discussing a mattress while I hung back at least five feet. But M and P are both male… invisible relationship.

The clerk finally clued into my complete disinterest and M’s persistent questions and started talking to M but there are layers of invisibility and M’s in a wheelchair… so theirs is a double invisible relationship. It took several additional minutes and some blatant “I’m going to be in this bed too” comments from P before the clerk clued in that P was not some sort of personal assistant of M’s but, in fact, his partner. They didn’t end up buying from there.

This week I got my official documents from the hospital, including my intake paperwork from the on call psychiatrist. Back in June I’d second, third, and fourth guessed myself. Had I really seen her flinch? She’s a psychiatrist! She works with troubled people every single day! She had to be more professional, she must have just leaned back. But no, she actually flinched when she realized I’m queer*.

paperwork

Would you look at that… I not only had an imaginary boyfriend but a pretend relationship too. Does it get any better than that?

No, but it does get worse. While she was awkward around me and invalidated my relationship, she completely invalidated L’s whole self. I was invisible but trans people are pretty much invisible squared. Although maybe it’s less invisibility and more buried under tonnes of total misinformation.

Want to know what the best way is to combat this invisibility? Don’t assume. Don’t assume the person with breasts is female and the person with an adam’s apple is male. Ask if someone’s in a relationship rather than saying “So, do you have a boyfriend?” And please don’t pair little children up into cutesy relationships, let them simply be friends. That’s one of the things I’m grateful for with my parents. They never assumed I was dating my best friend, they just let me play with him. Actually, my two closest friends were male and I never thought of dating either of them.

*wanders off to ponder whether every LGBTQ person has their own invisible jet and we just haven’t found them yet*

 

 

* The psychiatrist was completely wrong about how she realized my queerness. Having a trans boyfriend did not make me queer, falling in love with him when he was bigender and half-female did.

Jeremy’s counselling appointment…

I dragged Emma to Jeremy’s counselling appointment yesterday, promising we just needed to sign him in then I’d take her to Tim Hortons for a treat and some one on one conversation. What I forgot was I’d requested a group chat at the beginning of his session.

Jeremy had his dentist appointment right before his last session and hadn’t been able to tell me if his teeth hurt or not. This was on top of not being able to tell me what clothes he wanted or if he liked his hair cut. His counselor suggested I come in for a bit at the next session to discuss my concerns.

Once again her main suggestion was that it might have something to do with autism. Otherwise all she could come up with was that maybe I do too much for him considering I’m the one who calls in his appointments from the waiting room. I’d called in because he doesn’t like the phone but told him he could be the one to dial next time. He shrugged and said he didn’t care either way.

I figured Jeremy might need someone to talk to while Amy’s down for her visit so let his counselor know, commenting that Amy had made some fairly transphobic comments on my Facebook page which had bothered Jeremy. He nodded in agreement while the counselor stared at both of us with total bewilderment.

“Why would this bother Jeremy? Is Amy transgender?”

Meanwhile I looked back with equal bewilderment. If Amy was trans, why would she be making transphobic comments on my page?

“No, she’s not,” I replied then looked at Jeremy and asked, “Can I tell her?” He nodded. “Jeremy identifies as gender nonconforming.”

The counselor’s bewilderment increased. “I don’t know what that means,” she replied. “I’ve never heard of it.”

I thought about her comment about me doing too much for Jeremy then turned and looked at him expectantly. “You explain,” I urged and then waited nervously. Part of Jeremy’s learning disabilities include processing issues. He understands a lot more than he can say and being nervous makes his ability to explain even worse. But he also needs to be able to explain for himself.

“It means I don’t exactly fit in as male or female,” he explained. “Right now I feel mostly male with a little female.”

“But you know you’re a boy right?” she asked. “You look like a boy and you know you are one. Right?”

I cringed. She might as well have picked up a sheet titled “What not to Say” and read off it.

“Well, yeah…” Jeremy said hesitantly. “Mostly…”

“I mean you’re happy with your body right?” she continued with a vague downward moving hand gesture.

“I haven’t noticed any real signs of gender dysphoria,” I interrupted. Her gaze sharpened and she looked excited.

“Ooo, you know all the lingo,” she blurted. “You didn’t do all that research just for Jeremy did you?”

The last part was incredulous. What on earth was I supposed to say? I tried not to look over at Jeremy, who probably already felt uncomfortable.

“Well, my best friend identifies as trans,” I replied. Which wasn’t why I’d done most of my reading but that wasn’t any of the counselor’s business.

She looked even more excited. “You sound very knowledgeable. So what does queer mean and why do people use it? I thought it was a slur but someone told me it’s the Q in LGBTQ.”

Oh good grief.

I took a quick peek at the clock. I’d promised Emma I’d only be a minute and we’d already been at least fifteen. And how the hell do I get into conversations like this anyways?

“Umm… it’s kind of an umbrella term people use to describe themselves if they don’t identify as straight or strictly male or female.” I wasn’t going to bring up cisgender, not if I wanted to get back into the waiting room any time soon. “People use it in order to reclaim the word but it’s a word they use to self-identify with, not one you call someone.”

I quickly changed the subject to Jeremy’s school before she could ask me any more questions, then cringed once again when I saw the clock. Poor Emma. A half hour sitting alone in a waiting room filled with grumpy adults and three year old Chatelaine magazines is not how any teen wants to spend time, especially not on a sunny, summer’s afternoon. By the time we walked upstairs and bought our food, we had five minutes alone before Jeremy came out to meet us.

Jeremy adores his counselor and other professionals speek well of her so I figure she’s not usually this tactless. I’m guessing, however, she won’t be much help with sorting out his gender identity.

A letter for Jeremy…

My friend Lenny wrote an open letter for Jeremy and I have zir permission to share it here:

Hi Jeremy,

I wanted to write you a letter about my experiences of being non binary gendered, queer, and coming out, but I’m finding it tough. I might have to make it more than one letter, and you or your Ma can email me.

The reality is that I was more torn up about who I am before I came out. Once I’d come out, I really felt relieved. I’ll just start writing and see where I get to.

As a kid, I was the messy outdoor sort. Trees and animals were fascinating. I nearly ended up at agricultural college. Bugs, birdwatching, rock pooling, going outside. Swimming, or my favourite thing, climbing trees. Loved my Fisher Price garage. Both parents and I have lamented the lack of a train set in their lives, yet we still don’t have one.

I have a probably apocryphal memory of having been in a ‘special group for girls only’ talk from the school nurse from middle school where I cried and they thought I was sad because I hadn’t had a period yet when actually I was crying because I didn’t want to have one ever.

I started writing letters to a girl a year or two older than me who I really liked, respected, and thought I could trust yet I never sent them. It was a kind of one sided romance. Not stalker-y but shy.

Cross country running. Camping. I spent most of my time around guys, watching them roleplay and beat each other at MTG card games. Then came puberty.

Puberty was no laughing matter. The cramping pain, unpredictability and the frequency of floods and leaks . I think that was actually still not as bad as the boobs part, they hurt, always felt sore, and were prone to being targeted by boys elbows. They probably wouldn’t have appreciated it if the same movements were applied to their scrotum.

I didn’t really need an AA bra, but if there was any slight dulling from sensation, it was worth the stress we experienced trying to find one.

The changing rooms at school were an issue, small and open plan, no corners to hide in. I just felt so embarrassed. Who cared if I didn’t have a shower? Not I. I did not want to be naked around these people who I barely knew. I remember thinking I might have felt better next door with the boys. I don’t think they showered either.

There was just always something wrong. Like I was just looking at desire from a really weird angle. Like maybe my body doesn’t do that or fit or work properly.

I came out at college thanks to a poor choice of location and a lot of Jack Daniels. Went back in the closet within a very short space of time though. I really hope in retrospect that I didn’t hurt her badly, make her feel bad about herself, last time I heard of her she was involved in the students union and doing well. I really do not recommend doing that to someone.

I wore men’s clothing exclusively for a time and felt better in it. It was expected of me, almost. I’ve restarted that in the last couple of years, and feel an awful lot more comfortable.

I came out as bi to my family at 22. It was eventful, but I chose a moment, because I didn’t want my first girlfriend to be the one who’d ‘turned’ me. I decided I could make the statement that I was bi without any practical tests. I didn’t want to ‘try’ because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. I didn’t need to.

I was truly prepared for it to be the worst possible moment of my life, but it wasn’t.

Mum got me to call up my dad whilst he was asleep on another continent to tell him, and she wanted me to promise not to tell my sister. It made things significantly uncomfortable and painful in places, it felt a bit ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (though I now recognise that it was probably imposed by myself rather than my family) . Yes I had to face up to who I am. Sometimes people want to know the person they thought you were.

It’s taken me years to realise that my parents love me regardless of my sexuality and gender (even though they don’t think they are what god wants) and it took a really big extreme period of mental illness to show me that they have my back.

It took me til 2010 to come out as transgender. I’d been staying with my then boyfriend and had come across the term neutrois. I looked it up and found that the term genderqueer was for people who felt like I do about myself. I cried.

I told him about it and he said he couldn’t love me if I was a boy, he cried and told me that if I wanted to be one of his loved ones, I had to be a girl. I’m not a girl (but I’m not a boy either) and soon enough after that he pushed me away.

I started to be more of who I am, not trying to fit into someone else’s ideal-me.

I recognise and accept that neither my sexuality nor my gender are binary – in the case of sexuality, there are people of all genders, not just male or female identified that I’m attracted to. I don’t much like the word pansexual. It makes me think of horned goat god Pan who liked to induce panic (named after him) in people, and it’s not about shocking people, it’s about being myself, loving people for who they are. I tend to use queer instead.

In 2011 I changed my title to Mx and my name to Lenny Grey. My family were not best pleased. When I told Pops though, he said “you always have been a tomboy” and another dear friend said “you always did hate your boobs”.

This is a really basic account of how things have been for me regarding gender and sexuality. There are doubtless many happy and sad stories still untold. I want to say that I am still here, I am supported by people who care about me, and that coming out takes however long it takes.

Your mum will still be there for you whatever label fits you best. Be who you are, however long it takes to work that out.

Nobody else can be you.

Keep being fabulous.

Lenny