‘You’re being disrespectful’ – Are negative parent reactions to GNP always ‘about’ gender?

lavender–salt asked:

“Hi there ; v ; In the past couple days recently, I’ve come out to close friends and family that I am agender / non-binary and all seemed to be fine with it, except my mom. When I first told her, she seemed okay with it but then tonight when I told her that I dont feel very good with female pronouns, she got upset and said that it wasn’t my choice to decide what people could call me, and that I was being disrespectful. It made me really sad because I feel discouraged and dont know what to do. :c”

Dear lavender–salt,

My heart hurts for you and the trouble you’re having. I want to say right away that your mom is absolutely wrong in that this is absolutely your choice. Also, the bare fact of asking for a different kind of recognition is not disrespectful.

However, for reasons that might not be known to me or even to you, perhaps, your mom might feel as though your choice to make this request is disrespectful in some way. Sometimes changing pronouns requires a lot of correction of people, and this can feel disrespectful in the way that some parents would find any child’s correction of them – regardless of content – to be disrespectful (for example, ‘back talking’ them or similar). I don’t know anything about your mom’s parenting style or your relationship, but are there ways in which you could be ‘violating’ her expectations of your behaviour? In other words, is this all/only about gender? Could it be about authority too?

Your mom could also be bewildered regarding the implications of your request and of your identifying as agender. Do you have a highly gendered family dynamic? Could she be confused about the roles or events you will be involved in down the road? Do you or she or your family have traditions that are segregated by gender (even if it’s as basic or unspoken as women organically talking over here and men organically talking over there at family functions)? How do you yourself foresee these changes playing out? Do you feel comfortable giving these some thought and then communicating this to your mom, perhaps in a few days or later on? In other words, people often don’t understand how gender shapes everything until something changes. She might need some help and guidance, whether from you or…

…it sounds like you have had some degree of supportive response from other family members. I’m going to give you a suggestion that I often bring up in these situations, which is that you approach someone who is close to you and your mom – who you both trust – and who is supportive of your identity/pronouns (or who is determined to be supportive once they get the hang of it). Ask this person to talk to your mom, or better yet, to listen to her as non-judgmentally as possible. Your mom needs a place to go with her questions, concerns and fears, and it’s often best for this to be someone who is not you, if possible. You can also send her here.

Just a few last thoughts. Sometimes people ‘seem okay with it’ at the first introduction because they are hoping that it might go away, or that it’s not a big deal. Maybe when you brought it up the second time (no female pronouns, please), she had to confront that this is real and a big deal, all at once. The first reaction is not the best sign of how things will go, and I hope that since you wrote things have been at least incrementally different.

Finally, this takes time. While your mom is adjusting (I’m hopeful, for no reason other than I believe people are generally nice and often don’t understand their own bad reactions to things and often feel helpless because they can’t help but alienate others over things they don’t understand and and and) make sure you are okay. Prepare for her company, and prepare for the aftermath. Can you make a truce for the moment? That she use only your name and no pronouns? That you agree to correct her in a particular way that feels better? (I used to make a horrible honking noise like a buzzer when I got frustrated…didn’t work so well. What has worked is time and my family being immersed among my friends and partner who are seamless users of my pronouns.) But overall, prioritize your own self-care and, if you live with your mom, make sure you have somewhere you can go that is safe if you need a break. Breaks don’t have to be about crisis. They can be about fatigue.

Hope this helps, and sending you good thoughts,

Lee

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