coming out

We Are They, Episode 2: Morgan

Welcome to the second episode in the new TIMP Series We Are They, where I interview and profile people who have a range of unique relationships with this pronoun. In Episode 1, I interviewed Helene about her decision to raise her kid, Avery, in a gender-open way that includes using singular they as Avery’s pronoun.

In this episode, we meet Morgan. Morgan is a graduate student and university instructor who identifies as non-binary and uses singular they. Interestingly for TIMP purposes, Morgan is also someone whose gender expression has varied considerably over time.

I begin our conversation with a predictable question: why does Morgan use singular they? “I think that it’s the best way of communicating how I feel about myself outwardly,” they reply. “It’s a way of challenging binary genders and a way of carving out space for people like myself – or unlike myself – who also want to move beyond the pronoun that they were assigned at birth.” Although Morgan identifies a political potential of using singular they, for them it’s mainly personal. “It’s tied to how I understood myself when I was younger,” they explain. Although Morgan was assigned a female gender at birth, they experienced their childhood as fairly gender-neutral, from their given names to clothing to toys to their bedroom walls (yellow) to the activities encouraged by their parents. “It’s not to say that everyone has to follow that ‘I’ve known since I was a child!’ narrative. But there was a piece that I think I’d been trying to make sense of.”

Like me, Morgan uses the term ‘non-binary’ to describe their gender identity. I learned about this term from writing this blog and interacting with younger people on Tumblr, and it still feels new. Morgan tells me that they “came to this identity through a process of elimination. Like ‘I’m realizing I don’t identify with gender A, and I don’t identify with gender B.’ So it wasn’t like ‘I do identify with this thing!’ It was just like ‘I don’t identify with those things.’” This resonates. For me, ‘non-binary’ captures my sense that nothing else fits quite right.

“It’s like a sigh.”

At its most ordinary, being mis-pronouned can feel like bumping shoulders with someone on the sidewalk: an interruption in the flow of your day. Morgan beautifully describes the opposite – someone using their pronoun correctly – as being “like a sigh.” Imagine a long, slow exhale as the body begins to relax. “It’s such a relief to have someone use a word that doesn’t just feel jarring every time. Someone recognizing my pronoun is a sign of mutual understanding. In that simple act, it’s a moment of ‘I see you.’”

“I would absolutely be read as a woman right now.”

Being seen, correctly, as non-binary is uncommon for Morgan. I ask them to describe their gender expression these days. They answer quickly and emphatically: “I would absolutely be read as a woman right now. There’s no question.” This hasn’t always been the case. “There are periods in my life where I think I passed as a man in several instances, and then there are moments where I present what, for me, is high femme…” (Morgan raises a self-effacing eyebrow, making me chuckle) “…which is not actually high femme,” they say with a laugh. “Particularly this summer I was just feeling very drawn to feminine presentations.”

When Morgan’s gender expression has been more masculine, they have experienced harassment and violence. In middle school, this included death threats. “At the tender age of 12, you internalize that. So, not only is presenting as feminine how I have felt valued within my platonic, sexual, and romantic relations, but there’s also so much fear in giving that up.” While the privileges of masculinity are commonly acknowledged in LGBTQ communities, Morgan also feels safety and thus a kind of privilege in presenting as feminine.

But the other side of this privilege coin is not being accurately seen. Morgan says they’re generally unrecognizable as non-binary when presenting as feminine. “In fact, I really find that unless I have short hair there will never be a possible reading of me as other than a woman.” Morgan feels that having a more feminine gender expression makes their pronoun harder for others to accept and consistently use. “Especially when that’s the way you’re being read, to ask for a neutral pronoun to be used, I think that people dismiss it a lot more easily than you say people do with yours,” Morgan says, referring to reflections I shared on being a ‘visually’ or perhaps more obviously non-binary person. As my mum might say, I ‘look like a they’ – whatever that means – whereas Morgan doesn’t, at least not right now.

“I feel unworthy of taking up that space or that time.”

Almost every transgender person has to ask our people to work on changing their language and behaviour in some way. For non-binary folks, feeling entitled to others’ hard work can be an ongoing struggle given that we may not have had a ‘transition’ that the cis-gender world can understand. Although Morgan would “absolutely” be read as a woman these days and my gender is read with ambivalence, we are both non-binary transgender people who choose not to pursue any medical intervention. We wonder together how this may affect some non-binary peoples’ sense that our requests – for other people to work on accommodating us – are legitimate. “I don’t know whether I’d call it guilt, but there is definitely something going on where I feel unworthy of taking up that space or that time,” Morgan muses.

Morgan has experienced this in their own family: that ‘binary’ transition takes less effort for folks to understand. Thinking that their dad may not be able to make the requisite changes, Morgan hasn’t come out to him as non-binary, let alone as a singular they user. However, Morgan (consensually) outed their partner to their dad as a transgender man by talking about the partner’s hysterectomy, which their dad seamlessly accepted. I ask Morgan why this positive reaction doesn’t prompt them to come out, too. “This person is making a binary transition from one gender to another,” Morgan replies. “They are doing it by a medical means, therefore it is legitimate,” or seen to be that way. By contrast, Morgan’s own gender “is too far from that. It’s not even comparable in a lot of ways except that it comes from this feeling of ‘I am not this gender and I want to do something about it.’ You see that all the time: those invalidations that come from not taking that normative transition route.”

Invalidation vs. non-validation

Interestingly, Morgan shares that coming out as a singular they user can open them to up to more invalidation than just being she’d all the time. They use the term ‘non-validation’ to describe getting she’d by people who just are not aware that the woman-passing person they see might not identify that way. “I consider it a non-validation if I haven’t made that explicit request. Then it’s just like ‘oh yes, this is just the system of gender that we inhabit.’ Versus ‘I have made this specific request, you have dismissed it in some way and are continuing to use the wrong pronoun,’ which is a different feeling. That feels like an invalidation.”

It just might not be worth it to make the ask when invalidation is so much more sticky- and heavy-feeling than non-validation. “When I’m communicating a pronoun, I’m communicating a pretty intimate way that I feel about myself,” Morgan says. “Especially up against my presentation. It’s not readable. This is actually something that has to do with how I feel in my body and how I feel in relation to other people. I’m disclosing a lot.” Perhaps stating a pronoun preference is, at bottom, always going to be more fraught for people who aren’t visually apparent as non-binary. It’s kind of a big reveal, whereas people usually see me (them) coming.

“When is it emotional labour that I can’t do?”

Unsurprisingly, then, Morgan’s decision to ask people to use their pronoun involves a kind of deliberate cost-benefit analysis. “At what points am I going to really assert myself versus when is it not worth it? When is it emotional labour that I can’t do?” Morgan finds an analogy in their own experience of chemical sensitivity. Deciding whether to come out about their pronoun feels like asking someone not to wear a strong perfume. How bad will it be if this person keeps on doing what they’re doing? Will it mean not hanging out with them anymore, or can Morgan just bear it and get by? If Morgan decides to make the ask, “it always starts with an apology. ‘Oh sorry, I use this, I need this.’ And it shouldn’t have to be about making that other person comfortable but so often it is. And if you don’t do that comfort work you’re seen as…” They trail off, and I suggest a word or two. ‘Killjoy’ doesn’t seem to quite fit this feeling, perhaps because ‘killing’ is too strong. Maybe it’s like stubbing someone else’s toe: not life or death, but unpleasant enough to be avoided, if possible.

The always, the no-go, and the fuzzy middle

After we’ve been talking for an hour or so, I observe that Morgan seems to have compartmentalized their gender life into different zones: where they will always ask for their pronoun to be used, where they won’t bother at all, and the fuzzy middle. Morgan emphatically agrees. In queer or transgender community contexts, Morgan will generally make the ask even though they (and others) still see a lot of transphobia there. In predominantly straight and cis contexts, Morgan usually doesn’t bother, even when people there are long-time friends. “I have found it a really difficult process – especially outside of queer circles – to say ‘actually, I use they’.” Morgan offers that this might be unfair. “I’m making a lot of assumptions about how people will respond to things. I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt.”

I push a little, asking Morgan about the reaction that keeps them from doing so. Their answer leads us to another no-go zone: any clinical setting, particularly those related to mental health. “As a mad-identified person, that’s a point of anxiety for me: that people will say ‘you’re weird!’ I’m worried that those two things will tie into each other, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to negotiate that. One of my diagnoses is borderline personality disorder and with that there’s an actual criterion of ‘confusion or uncertainty around sexual orientation or gender identity.’ It’s already pathologized.” The first time Morgan was being screened for BPD, the psychiatrist asked about their gender identity as if it were a symptom and not a part of their life. “That’s always a fear: that people will think ‘you’re weird, you don’t have any sense of self,’ which is not at all what it is. But my fear of it being read that way, I think, prevents me from really asserting needs that I should be asserting.” Morgan says they are working through this fear in relation to friends, but that the aura of stigma and pathology means they never disclose their pronoun preference in any kind of psychiatric or psychological context.

While Morgan’s ‘always’ and ‘no-go’ zones are mainly personal, the fuzzy middle is political. “The fuzzy middle is work places,” they say. “Places where I feel like ‘this is something you should get used to, and I’m going to massage you into it.’” Morgan’s fuzzy middle includes their mom – who works in education – and their professors. All of these people will encounter non-binary students at some point, and from a position of considerable power. Morgan wants to use their own experiences to prepare these people to do right when the time comes.

Teaching in the university as a non-binary person

Interestingly, as a new university instructor this year, Morgan is now also in a position of power. I’m eager to hear how Morgan’s particular experiences of gender inform their teaching. For example, would Morgan initiate a pronoun go-round on the first day of class? “I’ve grappled with this a lot about whether I should initiate that as a common practice. It’s a big decision about when I assert that as something I want someone to know about me. And I want to be in charge of when I do that.” A go-round might take away someone’s choice to disclose, which can have a range of different consequences.

As a student or an instructor, Morgan tends to come out more often in gender or sexuality studies contexts than in other disciplines. “For example, when I started teaching, in my gender studies syllabus I listed my pronoun but didn’t do that for my other class. It felt safe to do it in the context of people who are familiar with this usage.” As two junior academics, we then recoil together in (silly) horror at the prospect of being mis-gendered by an anonymous student in a horrible end-of-year teaching evaluation. “The idea of being doubly injured in that moment – I just can’t do it. It’s going to be too much!” Through the giggles, I admit to gender-editing student comments in my teaching portfolio as far back as 2011. Neither of us has any idea whether the many professors who write us letters of reference are using our pronoun, let alone using it correctly. The sheer awkwardness of checking makes this impossible to do.

Morgan and I have as many things in common as not, it seems. We’re both white, queer, non-binary, a wee bit silly, and on an academic career path. However, we get very different reactions when we say ‘this is how I identify, and this is the pronoun I use.’ My people are usually awkward but consistently friendly. After all, it’s not like they can’t see it coming (if only in retrospect). But Morgan’s people – even in queer and transgender community – are often in shock. As non-binary transgender people and gender-neutral pronouns continue to emerge and take up space, it’s crucial that policymakers and such don’t use my and other similar experiences as the exemplars to be accommodated. Instead, I hope we can imagine and create a world where anyone’s pronoun is no big deal.

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“But I’m a they!” When your child wants to change their pronoun

Anonyomous asked:

Approximately two months ago, our kindergartner requested that we (their parents) use they/them. Extended family, teachers at school, family friends, etc, have all heard my spouse and I use “they/them” in this context repeatedly, but most have not voluntarily changed their own usage. Do we let these folks know that “they/them” is now the preferred mode, or is this something we should leave up to our child (who is somewhat shy about this issue, but definitely prefers gender-neutral pronouns)?

Hello Anonymous!

First, your child is so very lucky to have you: parents who are willing and able to listen to them, honour their choices, and help them to the best of your abilities.

In response to your question, in my view the decision about whether you should advise others or your child should is something that a) doesn’t have to be set in stone but can change depending on the situation or your/their needs, and b) needs to be an ongoing conversation in which your child makes the decision. It might be useful to talk to your child about how you can support them when they do tell other people. Would they like you to be there, to facilitate or to set up a formal conversation? Would they like you to tell another parent, but let them tell this parent’s child, who could be a new friend? All this is to say, Anonymous, that you have as many tools and options as there are situations in which the need to ‘come out’ will arise.

I’m going to suggest that you check out my posts on coming out as well as resistance, refusal and family. There is a bit of overlap among the tags, but there is a lot there. I also have some posts on practicing singular they that might be helpful for supportive folks who just seem to make mistakes, and one on explaining singular they to someone with little to no knowledge of gender diversity.

And just in case they would be helpful, I’m also going to point out Diane Ehrensaft’s book if you haven’t found it already and the Gender Creative Kids Canada website, as these might be useful.

In the next ten days, I’ll be posting a special post where I interviewed in-depth a parent who is using singular they for their child from birth. Stay tuned!

All the best, and hope this helps,

Lee

On being a non-binary teacher

Anonymous asked:

Hello, I’m sorry if this is only vaguely related to the use of non-gendered pronouns but I’m in a spot of bother with regards to my general gender-based bewilderment. I am trying to train as a primary school teacher and have recently been increasing my preparatory teaching experience. I am somewhat androgynous and use the title Dr so children are intrigued to know if I am m/f. When they ask what I am, I can’t tell them, but know non-binary should be explained. How do I address this?

Hello Dr. Anonymous! (hehe)

First, congratulations on the Dr. situation! I often joke that getting my doctorate was primarily motivated by the gender-neutral title, which I sprinkle with gay abandon on all airline tickets, phone bills and the like.

I work in the field of teacher education, so your question is of great interest to me. In my life, it’s true to say that being a non-binary transgender person has diverted me away from K-12 classroom teaching and into higher education for equity and mental health reasons. There may have been pockets of acceptance around the time when I was thinking of entering a B.Ed. program but by and large K-12 schools have been and continue to be some of the most gender-normalizing places. This was my impetus for getting involved in teacher education practice and research on gender and sexual diversity: to open the doors for people like me to make choices other than the one I made out of concern for my own safety and well-being.

Of course, there are many queer and/or transgender teachers out there (including non-binary ones), and many are rocking it out as best as they can and having all kinds of wonderful impact in the lives of children and youth. However, to my knowledge, the greatest success and longevity in the career still come to those who benefit the most from homonormativity or gender normativity (e.g., a cis-gender woman monogamously married to another cis-gender woman, or a heterosexual transgender man, or people with children they can talk about). This doesn’t mean being a teacher isn’t hard for these folks (it is), just that it’s differently hard given that their life stories are often more intelligible to the wider world. (Intelligibility can, however, be its own curse and mental health risk if what you ‘pass’ as doesn’t match your identity.)

All this is to say that I hear you loud and clear. And I completely agree: non-binary should be explained to children. Full stop. Moreover, what should be explained to – and modelled for – children is that gender is an all-you-can-eat buffet. You shouldn’t have to be a boy or become a boy to do the things that you’d like to do, unless being a boy is something that you really, really want. Kids in a school with a lot of support for transitioning students (but that only recognize kids who desire a binary transition) and schools where the wonderful, life-giving possibility of binary transition is completely unthinkable – both may be at risk of shutting down many kids’ gender-diverse desires. Let us as teachers throw open the gender gates for every child by, for example, not setting up free-time as a choice between soccer and art, but between clay and painting. Let’s put out different kinds of toys on the carpet depending on the day so that sometimes everyone plays with trucks, and everyone with dolls. Let’s point out how gender is at work in a story about a two-parent, heterosexually-headed family and not just read the Sissy Duckling. And let’s do these things before and regardless of whether any transgender kid ever appears in our particular school or classroom.

Dr. Anonymous, when you say “I can’t tell them” I’d like to know more. I’m lucky to live in Ontario, Canada where we have protection from discrimination on the basis of gender expression and gender identity aka the professional and age-appropriate disclosure of one’s gender identity to a child who asks about it would likely be protected under the law. Someone telling you not to do this would be running afoul of that law. However, it sounds like you might not have any such protection to fall back on.

Even before these laws were passed, however, kids would consistently ask me the question “are you a boy or a girl?” and I would reply ‘neither,’ or ‘I haven’t decided yet today. Will you ask me again later?’ or something else that wasn’t necessarily true (I generally wake up feeling like a non-binary transgender person). The point wasn’t that it was true or false, but that it opened the gates and caused a lot of productive thinking/face-scrunching. It also meant that I didn’t always have to launch into a giant explanation of what ‘non-binary transgender person’ means. This is one route. Or, you could deflect with a question: “why do you need to know about this? What else would you like to know about me? What would it mean if I said I was a girl or a boy? How would that change how you think about me as a teacher? Why do people have to be one or the other?” In other words, this can become a teachable moment, to whatever extent you are comfortable.

Pronouns are another matter, and teaching remains a fairly conservative profession. If you feel comfortable and supported by your program, you could work with your practicum coordinator to find a school with a queer- and trans-positive culture where you could be out and have your preferred gender pronoun respected. Regardless of the law, there could be internal diversity and equity policies in your university that you could cite when arranging a meeting about this, and even a diversity officer whose support you could draw on. If you don’t feel supported in your program, your practice teaching placement could be difficult and require some tough choices. If you bond with your supervising teacher and want to enlist their support, you could access some of my other resources on coming out, particularly this one on explaining preferred pronouns to someone with little knowledge of gender diversity issues.

To close, I’ll say that the problem you are facing is real and that there is a whole constellation of lovely folks working on this, who I’m proud to call my colleagues and friends. The hope driving my academic teaching and research is that questions like yours will become unnecessary, and that the teaching profession can be a gender buffet some day.

Warmly, and write back anytime,

Lee

Gender is ridiculous: On messing up our own pronouns

Anonymous asked:

hi! i recently had big realisation regarding my gender & am slowly shifting to use ‘they’ with friends and some colleagues at work. everyone so far has been very accepting, but i am terrified that -i’m- going to slip up! this seems ridiculous cause ‘they’ just feels so right to me, but it’s also been over 20 years of being ‘she’ and i rarely use third person about myself. i don’t want to make a mistake and invalidate everyone’s opinions of me – is this a common concern?

Hello there Anonymous friend!

First of all, congratulations on making this social transition at work and asking for your needs to be met – this is very brave!

This is a very common concern, but we have to be willing to do our best and acknowledge the ridiculousness of gender when we – WE! – make a mistake due to many years of conditioning.

I was a guest in someone’s class last week and referred to myself as a Debbie Downer, which is a feminizing term that doesn’t fit with my identity at all, but is just so ingrained in North American Standard English. So, I laughed about it, commented on how unconscious these things are, and also commented on how hard is to find alternatives! Some members of the group even tried to help me come up with a gender-neutral version of this old chestnut, which was hilarious. In that particular situation, what was truly helpful and teachable was that gender and pronouns became the thing at-issue and the object of exasperation, not me and my needs around gender.

Gosh, sometimes I even misrecognize my own pronoun! Sometimes I arrive at a party, event, work, wherever and someone says of me “they just got here” and I exclaim “I came by myself!” and it’s hilarious because then I realize that, well, the person is just doing what I want!

So, slip-ups can be okay and even productive sometimes. Your concern is very valid, but a slip-up doesn’t have to invalidate the hard work you’ve been doing to be recognized. It can instead show how ridiculous and arbitrary our language is.

Hope this helps, and write back,

Lee

Why it’s hard sometimes: Resistance to pronoun change can have nothing to do with pronouns

Today I’m not responding to a gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) user or ally question but sharing something from my own recent experiences.

Usually I write this blog from the perspective of a GNP user, albeit one who is genuinely compassionate toward allies and others in GNP users’ lives who must make a tough cognitive and verbal transition. This transition, of course, is changing how we use language when talking about a friend, family member, co-worker, loved one, etc. who has requested that we use a new pronoun for them.

As I have been writing for over three years on TIMP, this takes work. Work. Work. Hard work.

The thing is, because it takes work, if someone feels like they don’t want to make the necessary effort on behalf of someone else, the change is very hard and slow, and slip-ups can be many. This is because, in my view, making the effort to change pronouns is kind of like making the effort to no longer tell that ‘funny story’ about someone or use their childhood nickname when they have asked you not to, or to stop talking about/using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc. around someone who has just begun their recovery from addiction. Of course these things are different in their content (what they are about). But I don’t believe they are too different in form. They all require that we devote more energy to someone.

All this is to say that I believe that often a persistent resistance to using someone’s new GNP (or new name) can have much less to do with gender/pronouns and much more to do with the relationship in which the request to use new pronouns is made. In several posts (most notably this one) I’ve talked about how there may be other reasons for refusal and resistance to changing pronouns when asked to do so.

Basically, one’s unconscious might be saying “why would I work hard at doing this for you when you never did XYZ for me / weren’t there for me / have been irritating or mean / etc. etc. etc.” at the same time as one’s mouth is she-ing or he-ing someone for whom those pronouns are unwelcome and/or painful.

So, with that preamble, today I’m writing from the perspective of someone trying to change the pronouns I use for someone else. A very dear friend of mine recently came out about a shift in their gender identity, made a pronoun switch, and put this request out to their friends.

The thing is, for many and varied reasons, we had fallen out of touch. I had a lot of sour and sad feelings about our friendship and how our friend dynamic had devolved into one where I offered listening/care and got little to nothing in return. I felt like my own pretty large struggles at the time were unimportant to my friend because they were consumed in what they were going through and unable to give me any air time in our conversations. I had been taking my distance for a year and feeling progressively more down about this strategy because, well, I love my friend I know they were going through a rough time. I wanted to be compassionate but I had run out of energy and was getting, well, just mad.

So when the pronoun request came down…for a good two weeks I did a very, very bad job and mis-pronouned them consistently (never in their presence – we live in different cities). I had mad and sad feelings about the time I had already devoted to this person’s care and well-being and this was – given how I was feeling – the cherry on the sundae. My unconscious was certainly saying “why would I work hard at doing this for you when you never did XYZ for me / weren’t there for me / have been irritating or mean / etc. etc. etc.” while my face was saying the wrong pronoun.

Then I had a birthday, which has always been a special time in our friendship. And I began to miss my friend a lot. I decided I was going to communicate my feelings as kindly and compassionately – but openly and honestly – as I could, and explain why I had drifted away.

So I did. And they were magnificent: so open to how I was feeling and so grateful for the feedback, and articulating all kinds of wonderful things like authentic regret, responsibility, love for me and our history together. It was tough but the best conversation we had had in years.

The minute I put down the phone, I went to share the good news with my partner.

And the change was seamless. I haven’t used the wrong pronoun since.

This is just my own experience, for sure. And I’m sure there are many reasons, including that it’s just plain hard or weird to talk about one person as if they’re two people (re. singular they). But so many people who struggle with a pronoun change are people who GET IT: who have a kind of worldview that is friendly to trans-ness and queerness, and who really, really want to do this right. Who have the tools. And still it doesn’t work. I mean, I write an entire blog on this and, well, I was totally screwing it up.

So this is a call to people who have the know-how or desire but still find themselves unable or unwilling to make the change. Reflect on your relationship with the asker and tend to it as best you can.

Pronouns might be the icing on the poop-cake (sorry), and something pushing you even farther away from a person who you have loved and want to have in your life for a long time to come.

ARTICLE: Slate on the gender-neutral pronoun fight at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Slate Magazine has a really good critical and journalistic response to the ridiculous controversy at Knoxville – one of the 20 most LGBT-unfriendly in the United States (see article for link) – in response to the LGBT centre hosting an information site on gender-neutral pronouns. I like this quote:

“Both Cross and Kae White, […] nonbinary-identified student[s] who spoke with me for this article, decided to stop requesting that their teachers use gender-neutral pronouns, because they tended to lead to uncomfortable, often lengthy conversations.”

Yes. Awkwardness and discomfort keep people away from having their needs met. These small things have extremely large, cumulative effects.

“Both Cross and White agreed that feeling respected and having others do their best to remember to use their preferred pronouns was the goal, not perfect compliance, and White acknowledged that in a very large class, it would be impractical for a professor to ask every students about their pronoun preference.”

Yes, of course it is. This is why using they for everyone or learning and using peoples’ names is a tempting solution, even if everything or something about a person’s body/gender expression/voice, etc. seems to point in one direction. While this isn’t necessarily something for everyone to do, it is in my opinion certainly something to practice for those in the health, education and social services. Being able to stay comfortably in these places means life, health and well-being. This is where front-line contact is most critical.

Take it down to brass tacks: Connecting “I’m non-binary” and “this is what this means for you”

actualtransjaymerrick asked:

I’m 13 and I want to come out to my family/friends as non binary. My friends I know will be more accepting, but I’m not too sure about my family. My mom tells me that I’m too young to decide my gender/sexuality. It stresses me out..

Hello there actualtransjaymerrick!

This sounds tough and I’m really glad that you got in touch. I think there are many reasons why a parent can react like your mom did – check this out as it may be helpful. In that post I talk about many reasons for parental reactions, including that parents often have trouble feeling like they don’t know about something we know about, or like they don’t know us as well as they think they do. Sometimes this can make them react in difficult ways when their heart might actually be in a better place than their reaction indicates.

More specifically, I can tell you that if my 13 year-old kid told me that they identify as non-binary and want to come out to friends and family, I would probably respond like this: “I am 100% here for you and support you however you would like to live and be recognized by others. Now, I can support you until the cows come home, but let’s talk about your concrete needs in relation to your gender identity. What kind of changes do you want to make / have others make to reflect this? What do you need from me (name, pronoun, do I call you my daughter/son/kid and to whom does this matter for you, do you have new or different clothing, hair, grooming or other gender expression needs)? What do you need from family members (everyone to know and to shift their practices around, or only the people you see often/at all)? Are there some family activities/traditions/etc. that are hard for you or that you don’t want to participate in because they are gendered?What do you need from your school (a big one – see this post for an idea of how gender can play out at school)? Do you want me to talk to your teachers or help you to talk to them, or talk to the front office to have your name/gender changed on the school record? Do you feel like your school is a place for you to be ok? Where might it be unsafe to be out, and what can we do about that? Do you need other supports outside of me and friends, like access to similarly-identified peers?” Yada yada!

I offer this laundry list/monologue because, actualtransjaymerrick, I want to emphasize that most parents have absolutely NO IDEA what non-binary means. Like, ZERO. I do, so I know that this kind of gender shift means very concrete things like clothing, who can/needs to know, whether the teacher or principal needs to have a visit from me, etc. Most people do not. So I strongly suggest that you bring it down to very basic real-life things that you are asking for, and that you prepare for a conversation with your mom by listing the ones that are most and least important to you so that you can give her concrete ideas of what you need from her and from others: what is non-negotiable and what is more flexible.

Lastly, I would also say this to my kid: “I know that, if I turned around some day and said ‘well, I actually feel more like X (insert whatever) these days and less like a genderqueer non-binary trans spectrum person who uses singular they as my pronoun’ that you would do your best to go there with me and accept that people grow and change. And so, I want you to know that I support regardless of whether you feel this way for now or forever.” This is not the same thing as saying “you’re too young” but does recognize that we can and do change. The most powerful and important authority on you and what’s going on with you is YOU yourself. And I think that there is a lot to be said for understanding ourselves as ALWAYS in progress and changing and growing everyday. This most certainly applies to me and I’m 32 soon and some kind of doctor.

I hope this helps, friend. Write back if you need to.

Lee

‘They’re my main squeeze!’ Telling people about your non-binary lover

thy-page said:

“Hey I really want to ask just out of curiosity do people who use they have a word they get called when in a relationship eg with the biranry gernders boyfriend girlfriend. Is there something like they for people who use they?”

Hi there thy-page!

An excellent question. I think the most common word is ‘partner’ but this can be quite a heavy-duty term implying a primary if not monogamous relationship as well as a particular duration and intent (spouse is similar).

I see queer and/or trans* people around me overwhelmingly using partner language, but I also hear some straight cis-gender (non-trans) people using partner language, too. This has the nice effect of opening up the possibility that their (absent and referred-to ‘partner’) could be of any gender, and makes a little crack in the inevitability of heterosexuality. I often encourage my straight students to try referring to their partners with singular they and partner language in conversation with strangers, and to see what happens. Give it a try, interwebs!

But I digress.

‘Partner’ and ‘spouse’ certainly don’t reflect all ways in which people approach their relationships, particularly more casual, less primary or less durational ones. I’ve heard people use the following:

date

lover

crush

significant other

sweetheart

sweetie

new friend

main squeeze

Of course, some of these can sound pretty cheesey, and might have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality to them. They also may be a bit awkward to use when introducing your person to others: “This is my main squeeze!” or “Meet my crush!” However, I’m a big proponent of embracing and surviving awkwardness as best as we can; but I’m also an extrovert and someone who actively studies awkwardness as a teaching tool…

So another and perhaps more socially seamless option is to use gerunds (-ing words) in the style of ‘person-first’ language popularized by some disability rights advocates. Here are some examples:

“This is Matt, the person I’m dating.”

“This is Phoenix. We’ve been seeing each other for about a month.”

“Juniper and I have been spending a lot of time together recently.”

This is nice because you don’t need a label at all.

So, thanks again thy-page for a great question! Keep asking.

**

Happy new year from TIMP, everyone! Thank you for your many questions, both private and public. Thank you also for your patience with me as I caught up to my new post-Ph.D. defence life and had a big TIMP time-lag this fall.

I love writing this blog, but my only regret is that I don’t usually get to have ongoing conversations with anyone. Please feel free to comment far and wide on my posts, whether you agree or disagree with what I have offered. I would love to hear other points of view, which can only be helpful to people asking questions. I will get back to you, I promise.

My warmest wishes for a gender-inclusive (if not wholly gender-neutral) 2015,

Lee

We love introverts: Making ‘pronoun education’ easier for shy allies

storysummers asked:

“I identify as agender, and I’m having a hard time asking people to use they/them/their. My family is very introverted, and I always feel bad asking them to be in educator mode when they talk about me to strangers, or to switch back and forth (ex. I’m not totally out to my grandparents, so my family would have to remember to change to “she” around them.) Is it asking too much to put my family in perpetual educator mode for my sake?”

Hello storysummers!

I’m really glad you asked this question – I don’t come from an introverted family of origin by any stretch, but I’m lucky to have many introverts among my choice family and friends. I also wrote a post a while ago with tips on training yourself to change pronouns (for readers who are not GNP users); I began with the observation that, because we don’t usually refer to ourselves in the third person, a pronoun change can more greatly impact our friends and loved ones where everyday language use is concerned. So, I think you are being extremely kind and understanding.

First of all, I think it’s certainly not too much to ask because it’s something you need in order to feel how you want to feel, and your family presumably wants you to feel comfortable around them. However, pronoun change is awkward, and awkward things have a way of feeling like they are too much to ask. But that’s just the awkwardness talking. So, awkwardness aside, it is absolutely not too much to ask.

Readers share so much with me, and I like to share what I can in return. My family members have an unspoken free pass on doing pronoun work with people I don’t see very often (which includes, for me, my extended family and family friends who I don’t see very often on account of living far away). This is because I’ve made a degree of peace with the fact that I can’t make people do things when I’m not around, and moreover that it’s what happens to my face that makes me feel either whole or hollow. But this is just what works for me. I’m also helped by the fact that my name change though hard at first is now almost universally accepted, and I’m hardly ever gendered female/feminine by anyone (in non-pronoun ways), even by those who I know struggle with my pronoun when I’m not around.

What you might want to do is offer your close family members a few strategies that are introvert-friendly but still honour your needs. You could help them to practice using names instead of pronouns in sentences, which eliminates the need for gendered personal pronouns. It may also be helpful to give them some ways to refer to you in conversation with others  that are respectful of you but less jarring for people who are not used to hearing gender-neutral language. My dad calls me ‘my kid’ or ‘our youngest kid’ when he introduces me to people, for example, and I’ve never seen anyone bat an eyelash at this descriptor. Sometimes he calls me ‘my offspring’ but he’s an extrovert and a joker so this fits with his persona.

However, this doesn’t get at whether you want the people your family interacts with to change their language. If you do want your family to do the education, then perhaps reflect on and then talk to them about who it matters with, or, draw ‘the circle’ within which you need peoples’ language to change. Who do you need them to talk to about your pronouns (e.g., maybe their omnipresent best friend) and who can they let slide by (e.g., maybe the postal worker or a great-aunt you haven’t seen in ten years, etc.)? Sometimes having a sense of where the task ends (for the moment) can make people feel more of a sense of accomplishment, which makes them more likely to participate (teacher talking here). Also, once you have a sense of who it matters with, for you, you might even give your parents a few draft sentences to integrate into emails or other messages. Often peoples’ terror of saying ‘the wrong thing’ is more of an inhibition than the topic itself, so having ‘the right thing’ on hand and written by you could be both helpful and much-appreciated.

Overall, and speaking more broadly to the interwebs now, the degree to which we want or need our family to do pronoun education varies for each of us, but we are each entitled to ask for our particular threshold to be met by those we love. Reflecting on who is in ‘the circle’ drawn by this threshold can provide some practical tools for family members.

I hope this is helpful, and happy new year! Keep on asking.

Lee

No family, please: Tips on leaving your gender (chosen name, pronoun, identity) at school

Anonymous asked:

“Hey there! So I’ve been identifying as bi/pan for the past three years, and recently I realized that I’m also genderqueer. I’m 15, in HS and live at home. I have no intention of ever telling my mom or the rest of my family as they proved that it really isn’t worth it when I came out as bisexual. But I want to tell my friends. I want to be out to the people I interact with in school. I hate my “real name” and I don’t want to be referred to with the wrong pronouns at school anymore. What do I do?”

Hello Anonymous,

I’m very sorry to hear that you had a difficult experience with a sexuality-related coming out to your family. I can certainly understand why you don’t want to go there again with gender. If you’re interested in keeping your genderqueerness, pronoun preference and chosen name a secret from your family, this introduces another level of consideration beyond how to tell friends. I have a few prior posts that might be helpful on my mirror WordPress site under the tag ‘coming out’ but these don’t get at the secret aspect, which I will focus on here.

If keeping your gender (which I’ll use throughout as a shorthand term for your identity, pronoun and name) a school-only thing is your goal, you will have to make decisions around who to tell and what to tell them. Will you tell in-school adults (teachers, counsellors, etc.) and/or classmates, or only your friends?

IN-SCHOOL ADULTS

The more people who know, the greater the risk that your family will find out. This is particularly true of teachers who may not understand how parental rights/authority do not always trump your confidentiality, safety and well-being. In different jurisdications your teachers are legally required to disclose particular things about you to your parents, and although gender identity/pronoun/name do not generally fall into that category (unless you are the target of homophobic or other bullying as is the case in Ontario), many teachers are ill-equipped with knowledge about these fine lines: what they are and are not obligated to disclose to parents. However, what is legally required depends on where you live.

My advice is to contact a local youth hotline – try Kids Help Phone, which in Canada is awesome about gender and sexuality issues and has a lovely online forum in addition to a toll free phone number you may be able to access internationally. You can ask about your right to privacy vs. your teachers’ or other schools adults’ duty to report in the state or province where you go to school. There is also the Trans Lifeline (now available in Canada as well as in the US) which is staffed by trans* volunteers. Even if the people who pick up don’t have the exact answers to your questions, they will be able to refer you to other sources of information.

If you’re in the US, you could also get in touch with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and ask your questions or for a resource with local information. You should also check out your school board or district’s website, or Google things like your school district’s name and ‘diversity’ or ‘equity’ or ‘anti-homophobia’ (the term with which everything gets lumped together, for better or worse). Often school boards and districts have dedicated personnel who can answer particular questions about confidentiality and school practices: for example, including your chosen name on attendance lists but not on your permanent school record. Odds are other students have been here before.

With more information about whether your need for confidentiality can be respected where you go to school, you can make a decision around letting one or more teachers or other in-school adults know about your gender. If there is a teacher who supervises a Gay Straight Alliance or similar student organization, this may be a good place to start. You might ask them or another obvious ally teacher about which adults in your school are safe, or have demonstrated knowledge about gender and sexual diversity, and the ability and willingness to respect student needs and wishes.

When you have decided on a particular in-school adult to share your needs with in confidence, be ready for them to have questions about when you want them to start referring to you by your chosen name and pronoun. Will you talk about it to other students first? Do you want them to only do it when you are around, or all the time? If students are confused or have questions, should the adult refer them to you or answer the questions as best they can? You can, of course, refer anyone to this blog, but face-to-face is often more helpful.

As above regarding attendance lists, you’ll want to think about whether you do want anything to become part of the school’s written record. When things are written down and centralized (like attendance), the administration will probably know as will all of your teachers, for better or for worse. This will be a critical consideration in terms of whether you feel like you can trust all of your teachers to respect your confidentiality in relation to your family.

FRIENDS ONLY

In this section, I’ll presume that you are only telling friends and not in-school adults. With friends, though, be ready to answer similar questions as with adults: will you tell other people? What if people overhear or have questions? Are there times and places where they should not use your preferred pronoun and name? It would be a good idea to think through this conversation in your head and listen to your gut. If saying ‘yes you can call me my chosen name in class’ makes you feel queasy, trust your instincts and think about why. Overall, the friend(s) you tell need to understand and be respectful of why this cannot go home with you. If or when you are hanging out together around your family, your friend(s) need to work hard not to make a mistake. People have been doing this ‘code-switching’ for many many years to keep safe trans* and genderqueer friends; it can definitely be done but just needs some trust and mindfulness.

OTHER THINGS…

It is pretty tough to change your pronoun as an adult – even a queer or trans* adult living in a queer or trans* community, only because pronouns are so deeply ingrained and automatic. I make mistakes sometimes and I write this blog! In my experience and in what I have heard from others, pronoun change generally happens differently across all areas of our lives. At home and among friends, I am they. At work, a few colleagues know and struggle with they, but mostly I am she. I make a lot of choices around where and when I request that my pronoun preference and gender be respected, and these choices are often mostly about fatigue and not safety, as in: do I need or want to spend energy and time doing the educational work? Do I need this, from them, here and now? My dream is that someday both safety AND fatigue will not be obstacles to gender recognition, and this is one reason I have this blog.

However, it’s important to note that I can choose to avoid ‘doing the educational work’ because, for whatever reason, my own perch on the cis-trans spectrum enables this choice. This might not be the case for you, or for other readers. I suppose what I’m doing is flagging that just because one is able to make choices around whether 100% of people need to use one’s preferred gender pronoun, etc. this does not mean that one’s gender needs or desires are less real or less legitimate (they are just different, with different stakes in different times and places).

I’m sharing these thoughts – genderqueer to genderqueer – because I want to encourage you to think about whether you need everyone at school to use your pronoun and chosen name right now. It might be safer and easier to have a few people in the know at first and see whether that makes things okay enough for you to get by. It might not, and that makes perfect sense. But I find that it can be really sustaining to have a *few* people I love who either never screw up or (better yet sometimes) do screw up but say sorry and correct themselves. If this can work for you, you have a better chance of squeaking through high school and pre-adulthood without your family finding out. However, you might decide that being completely open with your name, pronouns and gender is what you need, and I say rock on.

I hope this has been helpful. Write again whenever you like!

Warmly,

Lee