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A new TIMP series! WE ARE THEY, Episode 1: Raising Avery

Since its birth five years ago, TIMP has been devoted to answering questions from gender-neutral pronoun users and allies, and sharing resources. Just like singular they is growing and becoming more common, TIMP is evolving. While I’ll continue to respond to new questions and direct askers to questions already answered, today I’m starting a new series of posts that will profile diverse folks who use singular they.

Each episode in the series WE ARE THEY will be based on an interview with someone who uses singular they, either because it’s their personal pronoun or because they use it consistently in other ways. The series aims to share the diversity of singular they usage and users, and how gender-neutral pronouns are making change in the world around us, every day.

The first episode in WE ARE THEY features Helene, her partner Curtis, and Avery, their toddler. Helene sat down with Lee and shared how she and Curtis are raising Avery in a gender-open way, including using singular they as Avery’s pronoun.


WE ARE THEY, Episode 1. Raising Avery

Usually when a person uses singular they, it’s their own decision. As many of us know, this leads to a lot of hard work: coming out, answering questions, correcting other peoples’ mistakes, and sometimes literally fighting for our right to use our chosen pronoun. However, a small but growing number of (brand new) people are singular they users even before they have any awareness of gender at all, let alone of who they would like to be in the gender department. And it’s their parents who are doing this hard work, at least in the beginning.

“We wanted our child to be able to be who they are from the start.”

When they were getting ready to have Avery, Helene and Curtis made the decision to practice gender-open parenting. To the best of their ability, they would get out of the way and provide an open space for Avery to explore. “We wanted our child to be able to be who they are from the start,” Helene explains. “We just didn’t want to put any boundaries or constraints on them gender-wise so they can identify how they will, and play how they will, and dress how they want to. We just thought, why not let them do this from the beginning?” Helene is clear that this isn’t gender-neutral or ‘genderless’ parenting. “Avery has masculine expressions, feminine expressions, andro expressions and who-gives-a-shit expressions,” she says. Gender is very much a part of Avery’s world, but what that looks like depends on the day (and the weather).

Helene and Curtis’ own identities informed their choice to parent in a gender-open way. They both identify as queer, and Curtis as a transgender man. Helene and Curtis were initially puzzled by people – many queer, some transgender – who share their values but chose their baby’s names and pronouns the old fashioned way: based on external genitalia alone. “People say ‘oh, I’d be very supportive if my child was trans but we’re using this pronoun or assuming this gender and I’ll support them if they tell me differently.” Helene and Curtis feel that keeping gender open means not assigning a binary gender to Avery at all until Avery makes up their own mind. But Helene acknowledges that this decision might be less possible for other parents. “They might experience enough scrutiny on their parenting already as a same-sex couple, or perhaps they live in a place where even boys just playing with dolls is seen as transgressive. These real barriers may make some parents fearful, and we understand that.”

“It’s hard to dress a kid to not signify.”

For these parents, an important part of keeping gender open for Avery is the language they use to refer to them. As one of the world’s youngest singular they users (I’ll wager), Avery goes from bus to day care to park to home with Helene and Curtis trying their hardest to ensure that others use Avery’s pronoun. As an infant, Avery had ‘My Pronoun is They’ patches sewn onto their onesies, and it worked. Babies and toddlers are androgynous anyway, usually registering as male unless they have pink outfits, pierced ears, long hair, or bejewelled elastic bands around their little bald heads. As time goes on, Helene and Curtis try to select Avery’s clothing to help others correctly gender them, but “it’s hard to have Avery present in a way that doesn’t indicate gender. Whether it’s clothes or whether it’s Avery’s face or hair, or whether it’s society, people do gender Avery most of the time. Occasionally I’ll have someone ask if Avery is a boy or a girl but most of the time people just assume based on what they see.” Gender-open parenting involves presenting a child who is neither a girl nor a boy as neither, and as Helene observes, “it’s hard to dress a kid to not signify.” This raises an interesting (and impossible) question about singular they users: what do ‘we’ look like?

When a stranger mis-genders Avery (by using he or she instead of they), Helene usually makes the choice to correct them based on whether Avery will see them again. “If we’re walking down the street and someone says ‘what a pretty girl!’ and they keep walking, I don’t say ‘well, ACTUALLY…’ and stop them!” We laugh, agreeing that this might be a bit much. “But if I’m at my playground and I’m talking with another parent, and we’re getting into a more friendly conversation that’s more than hi/bye, I will say ‘yeah that’s my kid. Actually, we’re raising Avery gender-open so we’re using they and them as pronouns and we’re letting Avery decide.’” Without this intervention, Avery is generally called a mixed bag of pronouns, most of them gendered. Helene wonders if the mixed bag could be having the desired effect of gender openness. It’s certainly easier to accept the mixed bag, she says, but it doesn’t change the world, “which isn’t why we’re doing it, but it’s a good benefit.”

“‘I’m just going to say Avery.’”

A main event in many toddler lives is the shift from parental care to extended family or day care. I was eager to know how Helene and Curtis were managing this recent transition now that Helene has returned to work. They’ve experienced a lot of supportive energy from caregivers, as well as a willingness to learn and ask questions. “But even people who know we’re using they/them/their still use a gendered pronoun a lot.” Helene sometimes thinks this is because caregivers see what kind of genitals Avery has, which is something unique about young children who use singular they: that people will have this knowledge and think they know something as a result. She also attributes mis-gendering to a basic unfamiliarity with singular they, and doesn’t feel like it’s malicious. But resistance can take on a more active form: “some people say ‘I’m not going to use they or them. I’m just going to say Avery.’” Although her family’s pronoun usage has improved over time, Helene jokes that the family’s hard work – both remembering and reminding – might be in vain. By the time everyone gets the hang of singular they, Avery might have chosen a binary pronoun! But if Avery later decides to use a different one, will other caregivers be able to go with it? This is a bigger question, and certainly isn’t unique to gender and pronouns. Do we trust any child to make major life-changing decisions for themselves? And is consistency the best evidence that they’re right?

To my mind, the issues around assigning singular they to a baby aren’t always that different from other issues facing new parents. To illustrate, Helene’s cousin was anxious about making a mistake, and issued a heated declaration: “I don’t want a rule book for how to be with Avery!” But are gender choices any more of a ‘rule book’ than other choices? Helene feels they aren’t, because “with every child there is a sense of a rule book. We’re the parents and we get to decide, and for some people that might be about what the child eats or what toys they play with or what words they use.” For some parents, that means tuna only once a month. For Helene and Curtis, that means singular they.

“‘So have they decided yet?’”

While some things may not be unique about raising a child with singular they, other things certainly are. Helene and I spoke about how the ‘I’ll just use your name’ tactic may feel legitimate because adults presume that a child will choose another pronoun, whereas an adult user is thought to have arrived at their ‘true self.’ Each assumption is problematic in its own way. Bravely, Helene wonders whether her and Curtis’ usual response – that Avery will eventually decide who they are – somehow contributes to this problem. And others are eager to know if ‘eventually’ has arrived. “Even my ten year-old neighbour often asks me ‘so have they decided yet?’ Do they know yet? Do you know?’” When answering children, Helene keeps the question open. “With littler kids especially I say ‘I don’t know! Maybe they’re a girl, maybe they’re a boy, maybe they’re both or neither!’ With older people I just say ‘we don’t know, they haven’t told us yet.’ But I don’t often say ‘we don’t know and maybe they’ll use they for the rest of their life.’” As more parents choose this path, it remains to be seen how the yet/eventually narration of children’s singular they usage will affect broader understandings of why folks choose this pronoun.

“‘I just have the one.’”

While I was delighted to hear that, on the whole, Helene and Curtis have had a positive experience of gender-open parenting, it seems like pronouns remain a major hurdle. Sometimes singular they can be funny when it goes wrong. When talking to strangers on the phone, Helene is consistently called on to deny that she has twins. “Early on when I would book a doctor’s appointment, I might say ‘they have a cold’ and the receptionist would reply ‘oh, both of them?’ No. I just have the one.” Starting a phone call with a brief explanation has proven effective over time. Sometimes, though, singular they is just one hurdle too many. When facing things more stressful than the common cold, when their family needs support or access to resources – this is when singular they can become just too heavy to bear. “And at those points sometimes I would just pick a gendered pronoun. Because I couldn’t or didn’t want to deal and so I said ‘forget it – I’m just going to use whatever’ because I needed that help.” And sometimes pronouns just don’t seem to matter at all. “For passports and travel I just do the genitals because that’s already so complicated,” she says.

“It’s so different if a child asks for it themself.”

How about the issue of choice, of who chose this path for Avery? After all, Avery didn’t decide to use singular they, or to present as non-binary. “I’ll put my child in whatever they want to wear as long as it’s safe and appropriate for wherever we’re going,” Helene insists, but until Avery chooses their own gender and pronoun, Helene and Curtis don’t have recourse to the argument that they are defending Avery’s autonomy. “It’s so different if a child asks for it themself,” she says. This is what parents of self-identified queer or transgender children can fall back on when their decisions are challenged. But, as Helene says, “it’s my decision right now. I decide what Avery wears. Sometimes I offer Avery a choice, but Avery doesn’t care.” It seems like other kids don’t care either. Avery’s five year-old cousin routinely escorts Avery around to everyone else on the playground, announcing that “this is my cousin and they’re a they.” Helene offers an explanation for this after taking a moment to choose her words. “When kids aren’t being pushed into a box, they can treat gender in a way that’s not heavy.” Whether singular they is a burden on Avery seems to depend on the environment Avery’s adults create. And so far, it doesn’t seem to be a burden at all.

Still, Helene and I wonder out loud whether gender-open parenting and singular they usage will actually matter, in the end. We both grew up in open-minded families and, like almost everyone else, were raised with a binary pronoun and the assumption that we were cis-gender and heterosexual. For countless adult queer and/or transgender people, we are who we are now in spite of and not because of the context in which we grew up. We laugh, though, when Helene admits her worry that this logic will pan out for Avery, too. “Part of using they/them is allowing Avery to be who they are. And that actually does mean that even if who they are is a right-wing conservative I still have to find a way to respect who they are.” And that’s that.

Listening to Helene, I think about my own future as a parent who is a non-binary transgender person and singular they user, and who shares values with Helene and Curtis. Will my partner and I use singular they for our children as a contingency – until they make up their own minds? Do we need to do this, if our children will have always known about non-binary gender-ness simply because they’re mine? Would gender-open parenting push them ‘the other way,’ in the end? Do I care? I don’t know. And I feel better not knowing when I remember Helene’s wise words as we began winding down our long conversation. “I think people think you have to have everything figured out if you want to do this, but you don’t.”

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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

‘Meet my offspring!’ What should our parents call us?

neutralnewt asked:

your ask on terms for nonbinary parents got me wondering, what about the opposite? i think about this a lot because my mom is often unsure how to introduce me to others. “child” feels infantilizing and “offspring” is just too weird. any suggestions?

Hello there neutral newt! A great question.

I’m delighted to hear that you and your mom are having very concrete conversations about your needs and how she can meet them. This is really important – that our people in our lives understand what we are asking them, because so often this is new and, well, they don’t have a clue! “Does it mean you’re never coming to a bridal shower again? But your sister’s is around the corner and I can’t make a hundred cucumber sandwiches by myself!” PANIC! But I digress. Please share a high five with your mom, with my compliments!

Here is something I wrote a couple of years ago in a post about helping introverted family members or allies to do ‘pronoun education’ on our behalf:

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.

So, I’m in favour of offspring but only because it works for my dad, and because I’m in favour of a little bit of the ridiculous permeating everyday life. I find that ‘kid’ feels more ageless and less weirdly formal like ‘my child’ can seem. If you have siblings, your mom could say “this is our eldest” or “our youngest” without dropping the kid-bomb at all.
However, another possibility is to work out a ritual that you use with your mom to handle this kind of situation: when she has to introduce you to someone and contextualize your relationship with each other. I suggest that, when this interaction begins (like, someone is waving her down in the supermarket), she greet the person and then you introduce yourself right after saying “Lovely to meet you (etc.) – XYZ is my mom!” Then your relationship is proclaimed AND no one had to use any potentially infantilizing words for you.
So! A bit of gymnastics, but totally do-able with a bit of practice and a conversation.

I hope that helps, and keep coming back!

Warmly,

Lee

When mom says no: Parent refusal, continued

Anonymous asked:

Heyo love your blog by the way. So I asked my mother to use my preferred pronoun they/them, coming home from having my close group of friends use it for an entire semester, and she outright refused. Her reasoning was along the lines of: its too much work to change in her head, and when she talks about me to her friends, she doesn’t want to have to explain about this “whole new gender” as if I had made it up. What should I do?

Why thank you, Anonymous! 🙂

First of all, let me say that the college to home transition can be one of the most challenging moments in the life cycle of anyone on the queer or transgender (or politically radical) spectrum, whether gender-neutral pronoun user or no.

It’s tough for parents to send us off and then have us come back so very different than they remember (or fantasize). Quite often negative parent reactions to things like using your pronoun are about regaining control in a dynamic in which they have felt more or less in control until now.

My suggestion is that you take it down to brass tacks with your mother and tell her exactly what you do and do not need her to do: which friends and family members do you care about in terms of knowing your gender? How should she refer to you when you are at the grocery store and run into someone she knows? In my experience, most parents’ worries are about exactly these kinds of practical things and we can help by making our needs very practical. Of course, this is also a way to ‘call their bluff’ and get them to stop hiding behind the practical once their practical concerns have been addressed. At this point, I suggest cultivating another same-age adult in your life who you feel respected by and who might be able to be a safe person for your mother to talk to.

Failing that, you can always send her to TIMP! 🙂

Warmly, and write back if you need to,

Lee

Gender-neutral parenting: Part One

Anonymous asked:

Heya Lee! Love your stuff! My partner and I recently had a kid and we’re using they/them as pronouns until our kid wants to be known by a different pronoun (if they ever do). Lots of our friends are totally on board and make a great effort to use they/them, however family is completely different. They chose to constantly use gendered pronouns and gendered stereotypes. I’ve tried explaining it to them, but they just shout, get angry and transphobic. What can I do?

Hi Anonymous!

Thank you so much for your message and question. Many folks are choosing this route and, I think, encountering similar obstacles. It takes an incredible amount of work and persistence to parent in this way and I have a tremendous respect for you and others who are doing this.

I’m afraid so say that the simple answer is the hardest one: boundaries and consequences. Because you are in a position of parental authority and can advocate for your parenting choices and child’s right, as long as you are not beholden to family members for resources or child care you can enforce boundaries and consequences. People are welcome to ask questions and ask for resources, but if they persist in this behaviour they will not be spending time with your child. It is harsh and heart-breaking, but if you need it to be a (temporary) deal-breaker, perhaps it needs to be. This choice deserves as much respect as the choice to, say, raise your child without eating meat or processed foods. Family members can gripe all they want, but this is not their choice.

Other options are similar to those for GNP users ourselves: engage a go-between or same-age/status ally to field questions and concerns from family members on your behalf to share the load and perhaps be present when you can’t be (e.g., at family gatherings).
I’m looking into the possibility of a guest post with a parent – stay tuned!

Thanks so much,

Lee

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

Beyond mummy or daddy: Names for non-binary parents

shecallsmethey asked:

“Question that came about after telling my brother I’m Genderqueer (It still amazes me how well he’s handled all of my coming out moments): Is there a word for parents who go by they/them? Is it up to the parent?”

Hello shecallsmethey!

So glad that your brother is amazing you and is amazing! It’s always lovely to hear about people who are taking things in stride and asking really compelling, thoughtful questions like this one.

There seem to be two secondary questions here: the first is what word can be used to describe someone who parents but who is non-binary, and the second is what can children call their non-binary (or genderqueer, etc.) parent? For the first, I think the word parent is the fairly easy answer, and works here just like partner or spouse (check this out). The much harder question is the second question. What children call their parents (e.g., Mum, Dad, etc.) is of course up to the parent, but getting others onboard if one chooses something out of the ordinary and/or non-gendered will be challenging.

This question is very timely in my own life as I’m getting ever closer to the decision to have children as a non-binary transgender person. What would my kids call me? What might the repercussions be if I am not called Mum, Dad, etc. particularly when my children are little and unable to explain the nuances of my identity to people who are unsure of who I am in relation to my child? Obviously, I imagine strange, awkward or otherwise sad-making situations where my little one is upset because they learn that other people think me, them and our family structure is/are weird. Or, when they learn that other people think I’m not their real parent or something because they don’t call me Mummy or Daddy. I try to move past these things in order to find something my children can call me that I love and they can say, and not just something that would pacify the imaginary chorus of others. It’s tough.

While I don’t have an answer yet, my partner and I have talked about two approaches that feel good to us:

1) Instead of saying “you have a Mum (my partner’s choice) and a TBA” we would say “you have two parents and one is called Mum and one is called TBA,” so making our titles personal and less tied to a particular role. This would require much repetition over time.

2) Getting rid of titles altogether and using our names with our children until something organically arises from their own efforts with language and sticks around long enough to become a nickname. This is how I came by the lovely little name that my nieces and nephew call me: Wizzie (for real).

Both of these will provoke interesting and challenging situations for us and our children, but they feel better than the alternative.

If you are a GNP user or non-binary-identified person or someone who for any reason doesn’t use Mum, Dad, etc. with your children, please let TIMP know whether in comments below or on Tumblr (via non-anonymous or anonymous comments)!

Thanks for the question, shecallsmethey!

Be well,

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

‘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