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 🙂

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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.

Hidden in plain sight…

On Christmas morning Jeremy eagerly opened a big bag from under the tree. The present slid out and zir face shone with joy when zie saw the picture on the box and the gift behind the cellophane panel.

“You got me a girl’s car!” zie cheerfully exclaimed.

When Emma and Mark showed up a few hours later, zie showed them zir new purple car then said casually, “I like it even though Mom got me a girl car.” The difference between zir first spontaneous words and zir calculated thoughts later break my heart.

A few days ago we were walking through our soon to be closed Target. Jeremy looked down one aisle then pointed and said, “Look at that picture!”

liked picture

 

“Do you want it?” I asked a lot more casually than I felt. What I really felt like saying was, “You pointed out something you like, in public, that’s aimed for girls. I have no money. Let’s get it anyways!”

Jeremy immediately shook zir head. “No. It wouldn’t suit the theme of my bedroom.”

I wasn’t aware zir room had any sort of theme but dropped the subject. Jeremy picked out a different picture at Dollarama. Tell me this isn’t the sweetest thing ever for a seventeen year old to pick out (ignore the brown zig zags)…

chosen picture

Seriously that’s an aww moment right there.

Then came Sunday. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog yet but I was one of four speakers giving a talk on gender diversity at our UU congregation (and the only cis-gender speaker at that). I was nervous almost to the point of hyperventilating, meanwhile Emma dug through boxes and bags of clothes to get dressed, and Jeremy wandered around in pjs. Our ride was picking us up in less than ten minutes and not only had I not practiced my speech, I hadn’t even managed to print it yet. The printer suddenly couldn’t find my phone and claimed I couldn’t print from my netbook because some other computer was waiting to print. I pictured going up in front of everyone then having to wake up my computer and log in before getting to my speech.

“I know how to get your phone to print,” Jeremy said as zie gestured for my phone. We had to be downstairs in less than a minute and zie was still in zir pjs. But if it worked… I handed over the phone. It worked.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully, “that’s going to be a huge help. Now go get dressed. Why not put on your gummy bear earrings while you’re at it.” Zie’d have time considering Emma was in the washroom.

Jeremy’s okay floated behind zir as zie hurried to zir room.

We were on the way to church when I realized Jeremy was still wearing zir plain purple studs.

“I forgot,” zie said casually.

Zie didn’t look at me but I looked at zir. Plain black coat, the greyest purple t-shirt zie owns, black track pants, loose hair, and black runners. A quick sniff confirmed zie’d skipped perfume as well. We were meeting my Mom at church then going to my parents’ house for a family dinner and celebration of my Dad’s 71st birthday. They all love zir but refuse to use the right pronouns. To them Jeremy is their grandson, their nephew, their big male cousin. And Jeremy reciprocates by hiding zirself.

We were seated before the service when Jeremy tried to hand me zir spare cellphone.

“I’ve got it set to record sound,” zie hissed in a stage whisper. “That way you can use it for… you know…” Zir eyes flicked toward my Mom, who doesn’t know about this blog.

“Hon, that’s very nice of you to offer but I’m going to be using your real name in the speech. I’ll post the video on Facebook and just share the text of the speech on the blog.”

Zie nodded reluctantly and put away the phone. The offer was touching though.

The speech was nerve wracking, although everyone assured me afterward that I sounded just fine and not even a bit nervous.

One of the other speakers wandered over to compliment me on my speech. “Do you have another child?” she asked curiously. Her gaze wandered over Emma and Jeremy.

“No, just the two,” I replied. “I was speaking about Jeremy.” She looked surprised. Jeremy sat quietly in zir seat, fiddling around with zir phone. It felt like zie was hidden in plain sight.

That night Jeremy looked around zir bedroom then mused aloud, “You know… I actually don’t think I have a theme for my room. I guess anything could fit.” Talk about a cheering moment.

Today Jeremy put on zir dangly gummy bear earrings and sprayed zirself liberally with perfume before heading out to counseling… in my coat and zir bright rainbow scarf from Lenny. This evening zie headed out to Dollarama with Emma and borrowed a bright white, blue, and purple coat from her while complaining about how boring and bland zir coat is. The coat was a bit too small. I looked at zir disappointed expression and tried to zip the jacket a bit harder. The kid couldn’t bend if zie tried but the jacket was closed and Jeremy was thrilled. I really do need to get zir a brightly coloured coat.

I took a closer look at the Dollarama picture and realized it would be no big deal to take the background off and put on a new one… and scrapbooking stores sell lovely glittery purple sheets. I assured Jeremy this would in no way change the actual words on the picture (my heart melts) and zie agrees that would look fabulous.

(I’ll post the text of the speech tomorrow once I’ve changed the names).