On life skills and showing off Jeremy…

My ex-husband called me last week, wanting to know what I’m doing to socialize Jeremy. Aren’t I worried about him?

I definitely needed to pause before I spoke. This is a man who considers a two hour visit “long”. He offered to bring his girlfriend to Jeremy’s track and field meet at the end of grade six then had to message me to ask the name of Jeremy’s school. Zie’d been attending there since the beginning of grade two. Involved is not a word anyone uses to describe him.

“Yes, I definitely worry about Jeremy,” I began. “Zie belongs to our church’s youth group-”

“That’s exactly what I want him to do,” my ex interrupted. “My church has a youth group that meets once a week. It’s sports themed and I’d really like him to join.”

Sports? The only sport Jeremy’s played in zir entire life was soccer and that’s because a) zie loved the silky shorts and b) because the coaches wouldn’t allow bullying on the field. Zie “played soccer” for three years… where played translates to “stood motionlessly in the middle of the field”. Ironically, zir Dad only attended one soccer game and that was to show Jeremy off to a different girlfriend.

My ex was agnostic while we were together and has since joined the Mormon church. He celebrated his baptism with a cigarette, a joint, and a beer, which speaks volumes about his commitment to the church’s values. The church is committed to him though and, in return, he wants to show off the one remaining child who’ll speak to him. His trans, not-straight child… and we all know the Mormon church’s stance on LGBTQ issues.

“Jeremy’s not into sports,” I replied, which might be the understatement of the year.

“It doesn’t matter if he likes sports,” ex retorted. “It’s a chance for him to get together with other kids.”

Jeremy’s Dad hadn’t been into sports either when we were married. He liked baseball well enough and would watch hockey if the game was on but that was it. His real interests were Dungeons and Dragons, computer adventure games, and role-playing card games like Magic the Gathering. Maybe I could pique some mutual interests?

“Is there something else you can do with Jeremy? Zie loves cards, like Pokemon and Magic. And playing with RC cars and zie would enjoy learning D&D-”

“No, the youth group is good,” he said flatly. “Besides, what are you doing to socialize him?

Not that I hadn’t tried to tell him once already. I stifled a sigh and tried again. “Jeremy belongs to our church’s youth group. They meet twice a month and are going bowling in a couple more weeks. Zie also goes to PFLAG with m-”

“What’s PFLAG?”

What rock was he hiding under? And why couldn’t he stay there instead of bugging me?

“PFLAG stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays but it’s for anyone in the LGBTQ community. It meets once a month and has a youth group. There’s a young adult group too and Jeremy’s going to it this Thursday.”

The young adult group turned out to be a disaster. Jeremy’s mad at them because they discriminate against straight white men. Between Lenny and I, that comment triggered an eye roll that spanned the Atlantic Ocean and half a continent.

“It’s supposed to be a safe space for everyone,” Jeremy yelled. “How can they call it safe when they make fun of straight white men all the time? Besides, how are we supposed to get straight, white men to like us if we’re mean to them?”

“Honey, it’s not your job to get them to like you.” I paused, trying to think of an example that was relevant and would resonant with zir.

“It’s like black Americans and the police. The majority of the police aren’t against black people but it’s not black people’s responsibility to make the police like them. It’s the police’s responsibility to tell their peers to be more respectful and to go after the ones who are horribly racist. The majority has to stand up against the unethical minority.”

“I still don’t think it’s fair,” zie retorted stubbornly. “If it’s a safe place, it should be safe for everyone.”

“Is this because you identify as a straight, white male?” I questioned.

I have never seen anyone look more frankly horrified in my life.

“Or maybe others see you as one?” I guessed. There had to be a reason zie felt so strongly.

Zir horror turned to shocked bewilderment. “No one ever sees me as straight,” Jeremy protested, tossing back zir hair for emphasis. As far as I know everyone thinks I’m gay.” Zie paused for a minute. “I’m not sure if they see me as male either,” zie mused.

Jeremy met up with zir Dad at our local library and I asked how the meeting went when I got home from work that evening.

It was Jeremy’s turn to roll zir eyes. “Dad wants me to join his church’s youth group so I can learn life skills. He says he’s worried about what I’m going to do once you’re 70 years old if I don’t learn these life skills now.”

Because praying over table tennis is going to teach zir how to balance a bank book.

Lenny pointed out that I’ve already taught zir how to grocery shop, pay bills, do chores and cook simple meals; all of which are more important than a youth group.

I can’t help but wonder if my ex is thinking of what inviting Jeremy to the group would really be like. You know, when Jeremy shows up in zir favourite silky blue shirt and best perfume?

I also can’t help but wonder what this Thursday’s PFLAG meeting’s going to be like after Jeremy’s steadfast protection of straight, white men.

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Fear…

“Mom? I can’t do it. Please don’t make me go to school tomorrow.”

Jeremy looked up at me from zir bed, where zie lay cocooned in blankets; eyes wide and body tense. I sighed.

“How about you go tomorrow and miss Thursday,” I suggested. Thursday was the provincial literacy testing day and most of the school would be absent. “You’ll be fine. I know you can do it.”

Zie nodded slightly but zir expression wasn’t very hopeful. I wasn’t hopeful either although I tried not to show it. Instead I kissed zir goodnight and headed off to bed.

This morning I got myself ready then went to wake Jeremy up… then woke zir up again (and again). I could see actual consciousness the third time around and with it came zir anxiety.

“Mom. I can’t go to school today. I’m so dizzy. I don’t think I can stand up. Can you please call the school and tell them I won’t be there?” Jeremy’s voice was shaking by the end.

I patted zir shoulder and promised I would call. Then I promised myself I’d call our family doctor and make Jeremy an appointment. And I did. For the 23rd of April… the earliest appointment available. His receptionist did put Jeremy on the list for cancellations.

Every single week I have friends share pictures of yet another transgender teen who’s committed suicide. The latest was a young man who was popular, well supported, crowned home-coming king, and a known activist. Several people commented on how he’d spoken to and encouraged their own children. He’d been an amazing kid, a real inspiration.

I listened to Jeremy play zir video game while watching the latest episode of The Young Turks. Two weeks ago we were walking home and Jeremy commented that if zie died, all zie’d be remembered for was playing video games and being trans. I assured zir that if I’d died at 17 years old, I’d only be remembered as that quiet girl who reads a lot of books; that zie has years to grow into talents and memories. I read through the article and wished I had a pair of handcuffs so I could clip Jeremy to me and keep zir safe. Jeremy couldn’t kill zirself if I was right there 24/7.

But that’s not living (not to mention using the washroom and showering would be beyond awkward). And so I head off to work knowing that Jeremy’s going to be home alone. Reminding zir to take out the recycling while I’m away… and hoping zie at least remembers to eat and change out of zir pyjamas.

I panic every time I call home after work and zie doesn’t answer. I know full well Jeremy loves to crank zir music and will call back as soon as zie sees the “missed call” light flashing but there’s always that cold shiver pushing out from the pit of my stomach… inching up my spine to tap relentlessly against my brain. And it doesn’t stop until Jeremy’s Doctor Who ringtone plays.

Tonight Jeremy’s at zir UU Youth Group, happily eating nachos and discussing censorship with like minded peers. Tomorrow night we’ll be at PFLAG where zie’ll be eating pizza and chatting with other trans teens. And in between I’ll be at work and zie’ll be alone. And I’ll take another deep breath and hope to hear from zir on the way home.

kitty cuddling

And so it continues…

I sent a brief email to the LGBTQ group facilitator. I thought it was concise and easy to understand:

Jeremy’s refusing to go to [LGBTQ group]. He’s saying that all the other youths, except for [bus kid], are ignoring him and refuse to talk to him. I’d like to get your impression of what’s going on.
Thank you for your help,

Michelle

This was the response I received:

Hi Michelle,

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I am sorry that Jeremy feels that way. [LGBTQ group] is meant to be a safe environment for LGBTQ youth to come and engage in pro-social activities. As a facilitator I aim to ensure the safety and security of the youth, as well as, provide plans and activities for them to engage in. Some of the upcoming planned events for group I hope that it will provide more group engagement.

If you have any further questions or concerns please feel free to let me know.

I don’t know why she offered to answer additional questions when she never even answered my original one. Lenny’s comment was that the email’s a generic message and I feel the same way. It’s like the facilitator stuck a sentence into a form letter then emailed me back. I honestly have no idea how to respond and she gave me nothing tangible to encourage Jeremy with. She mentions upcoming planned events but nothing’s listed so I can’t even try to tempt him with something cool.

Friendship woes…

The good news is Jeremy’s at a friend’s house. He went directly there from school and won’t be home until bedtime. Sadly that’s the end of the good news.

The reason Jeremy’s there is because his friend P is moving eight hours away this month; Jeremy’s hoping to get him set up on Skype so they can keep in contact. So it’s great for today but will stink in two more weeks. Jeremy doesn’t have any other friends.

Then there’s Jeremy’s birthday party, which was supposed to happen this Saturday. He’s been planning it since shortly after Christmas. They were going go-karting then coming back here to swim and have pizza and cake. The operative word there is ‘were’. Jeremy initially planned on only having P here then decided that one kid wasn’t enough for a party. This brought M, a casual friend from class, onto the list. I suggested inviting one of the kids from his youth group, the one he sometimes meets on the bus, but he refused. He felt two kids were enough.

This would be fine except P’s brother is having his birthday party on the same day so P can’t go. Jeremy says there’s no point in having a birthday party without P and I can’t exactly force him to have a party. I did try, once again, to have him invite the kid from youth group but he refused and is refusing to go to youth group entirely.

Two weeks ago he headed off to the group. He barely talked to me on the phone en-route because he’d met up with the kid on the bus and was busy chatting. I was thrilled. Then he got home, soggy with pool water and scowling. They’d gone for a swim with another group, one ironically enough from the complex we used to live. There he’d run into his old best friend, a kid he’d hung out with since Junior Kindergarten, who’s been camping with us a couple of times. He did his best to ignore Jeremy entirely, which is something that didn’t surprise me because he’s been trying to ignore Jeremy for several years now. Then Jeremy told me all the kids in his group (other than the kid from the bus) are ignoring him as well. I don’t go there so have no idea what’s going on.

Jeremy assured me he’d be fine socially without this group; he’ll just find an online group with a forum and make friends there. There are so many ways this is not an answer. He needs real friends.

As I’ve mentioned before, Jeremy’s autistic. his social skills are not the best and he tends to drive a conversation right into the ground, refusing to leave it. But he does try. Shortly before the last group, he took apart a broken TV he found out back and retrieved the speakers from it. Somehow he managed to connect the speakers to a volume dial, a battery pack, and a USB connection, then he plugged his MP3 player into it. The thing is a tangled mess of wires but it works. Apparently the kids declared it to be smelly and gross then refused to go near it, which was a huge disappointment to him.

I sent a letter to the youth group leader to see if anything can be salvaged there. Otherwise I’m at a loss. We’re looking at the third summer in a row where Jeremy’s done nothing but sit at home the whole time I’m at work, refusing even to go downstairs to the supervised outdoor swimming pool. Another whole summer where I’m his only friend.

It all depends on the company…

We live near a large bowling alley. It’s theoretically within walking distance, although we have yet to walk there.

The bowling alley is also near Jeremy’s school and his teacher arranges a field trip there every single month. Every single month since September, Jeremy has *accidentally* forgotten his permission form as well as conveniently forgotten to tell me about the upcoming trip… until the day before. That’s when he asks if he can stay home because it’s too late to go on the trip. He doesn’t like bowling, he doesn’t want to go. It’s going to be boring.

Jeremy came home from his LGBTQ youth group on Tuesday night and happily informed me they’re going to the bowling alley next week.

“I’m going to ride my bike there so I won’t even need to take the bus,” he said. His expression told me he couldn’t wait.

So, apparently it’s not the bowling alley that’s boring. I’m not sure how to handle this, although right now I’m leaning toward simply saying nothing.

And here’s an update on Grayson Bruce, directly off his family run Support for Grayson Facebook page (it’s a public link, I’m not sharing private information):

“Today I met with Dr. Tony Baldwin, Superintendent of the Buncombe County Schools and David Thompson, Director of Student Services. We had a real heart-to-heart talk. I strongly feel we can work together to make things better for Grayson and all the students in our school system.

We are working with Mr. Thompson to help organize a Parent Advisory Council on Bullying. We will partner with them to make sure that every child feels safe and comfortable at school. After our talk this morning I’m confident that we can make strides in that area.

We appreciate all of your support from the bottom of our hearts! The outpouring of love from everyone has been unbelievable and has given us the opportunity to shine a light on the different kinds of hurts kids experience at school.

We are considering all options for getting Grayson back in school. We are pleased the school system is working closely with us. All of the options include Grayson taking his “My Little Pony” bag to school.”

The best of intentions…

I talked to Jeremy’s teacher on Tuesday and asked her how the LGBT discussion went last week. She rather awkwardly informed me that it was more of an introduction than an actual discussion then she perked up and told me she’d been in touch with a wonderful doctor (whose name she could not remember). He’s coming on on some unspecified day for an open discussion on tolerance, acceptance and why being gay isn’t wrong.

She sat there quite proud of herself while I probably looked like I’d been smacked in the face with a dead fish. An open discussion… I mentioned this to my young coworker.

“Yeah, like that’ll be a good discussion,” he said dryly. “It’s always the idiots who talk the loudest.”

I double checked with Jeremy, just in case I’d misheard her but he agreed with me. Open discussion on whether being gay is wrong.

“How do you feel about this?” I asked hesitantly.

He shrugged. “It’s okay. If they want to say being gay’s wrong then I’ll just disagree with them.”

I have no idea when this discussion is occurring. I can’t help but hope his teacher either forgets about it or at the very least it goes a lot more positively than I think.

He went to his LGBTQ+ youth group that evening and came home cheerful but quiet.

“What did you do tonight?” I asked.

“We talked,” he replied.

“About?”

“Stuff.”

Yeah, not exactly informative. But he was cheerful and agreed he had a good time. Then came my question.

“Hon, you don’t have to tell me what your sexual orientation is. I’m not fishing about that. I’m just wondering… are you out in your group?”

He looked at me in surprise. “Mom, I’m not out anywhere.”

Apparently he’s consistent. “No one’s asked you there, right?”

He smiled and shook his head, his aqua hair bouncing against his cheeks. “Nope.”

To be fair, I figured that would be the case.

Life with Jeremy

I got a call at work on Tuesday. It was Jeremy’s teacher letting me know he’d been suspended for several days. She started off by informing me that a student in the class had his ipod broken accidentally by another student and Jeremy just would not let go of the situation, even though it had nothing to do with him.

“The ipod belonged to P, didn’t it,” I interjected. Note, this wasn’t a question. P is Jeremy’s best friend. Criticize him and you’re liable to have Jeremy at your throat.

“Yes,” the teacher agreed. Then she moved on to explain that she and the EA were handling the situation when Jeremy jumped in and called them “victim blaming assholes”. So he got sent to the office so the principal could explain the situation to Jeremy. He promptly called him a “victim blaming asshole” too.

Jeremy’s good at defending but really lousy when it comes to tact.

“It’s too bad he picked now to pull this stunt,” the teacher continued. “I have an LGBT group coming in tomorrow for a discussion. I asked them to come in specifically for Jeremy.”

She repeated this five times during the phone call. I didn’t have the heart to tell her neither Jeremy or I cared. In fact I was glad he’d be missing it, especially if the discussion was going to get “controversial” like his sex ed class apparently did, with students arguing that being gay was “wrong”. He doesn’t need definitions and this wasn’t his only opportunity to be around someone from the LGBTQ+ community. He was going to be hanging out with about ten other LGBTQ+ teens in three more hours, when he went to his youth group, and that’s a lot more useful for him.

I told him about the LGBT class discussion almost as soon as I got home. He sighed.

“That’s important for everyone else in the class, not for me. They’re the ones who need to learn.” His comment echoed one my friend had just made.

Yesterday, I went online before dinner. Someone in a forum I frequent had just bought a genetic test and was sharing the results. The first one he shared was a shot of the results stating he’s male. I pointed this out to Jeremy. He leaned closer to the screen, obviously interested.

“Cool,” he replied. “I should get that test.”

“Jeremy,” I said slowly. “You know they’re going by genetics, right? Like if you have an x and y chromosome. They’re not testing to see if you’re trans*. That’s something you need to figure out on your own. There isn’t a test for it.”

He looked disappointed. “Well that stinks,” he replied. “I already know what chromosomes I have.”

“Do you know what gender you are?” I asked and he nodded.

“Mostly male with a bit of female,” he replied promptly.

Over dinner he brought up the group his teacher had invited in.

“It’s someone who’s a friend of the teacher,” he commented. “They’re going to discuss gays, lesbians, and hygiene.”

Well, that was an unusual mash up.

“Wait, they’re discussing gay and lesbian hygiene?” I asked, deliberately misunderstanding. It worked. Jeremy laughed.

“Does it differ from straight hygiene? And what about bisexuals. Do they do gay hygiene half the time and straight the rest or is theirs different?”

“Well,” he drawled, dragging out the word. “You see… bisexuals need aircraft in order to practice hygiene. The plane gets attached by a hose to the toothbrush or washcloth then it gets dragged across the face or teeth.”

“Interesting,” I replied. “Speaking of hygiene. I know you slept in today but you really need to brush your teeth before we go to your counseling appointment. When are you going to brush them?”

“I just need to get that Boeing…” Jeremy’s voice trailed off and he grinned.