parents

Let’s talk about the holiday season.

I received a question today that covers some familiar ground for people who either use a gender-neutral pronoun, use a pronoun that other people wouldn’t automatically assume at a glance, or even who use a name that our families aren’t used to. Basically, how can we work toward having our pronouns (and names) used with greater consistency (or at all) in our families of origin?

So many people make a migration ‘back home’ for all or part of the winter holiday season. Some transgender and non-binary folks do, too, of course. Some of us ‘go home’ and our families of origin get it so things are okay (on the gender front anyway). Some of us ‘go home’ and become a little or a lot unrecognizable to ourselves while we’re there. Some of us ‘go home’ and don’t leave the house because the town or neighbourhood we grew up in can’t hold us. Some of us ‘go home’ and immediately leave the house because that space can’t hold us either. Some of us can’t ‘go home.’ And some of us ‘go home’ to a climate somewhere in the middle: where the work is uphill and ongoing.

At this time of year, questions like this one are even more common and more pressing:

wolfenshire asked…

helloo! so I use they/them pronouns and I’m out to my immediate family. but despite my telling them and correcting them on multiple occasions they still say things like “well you’ll always be my little girl!” or “I may never get your pronouns right”. I know that transitioning is difficult for the family of the trans person as well as the trans person themself, but am I being too lenient with my family? every time they use an incorrect pronoun it’s like a punch in the gut. any advice?

In response, here’s a round-up of all the tips I’ve gathered together over the years on going home with your pronoun situation and being as okay as you possibly can.

1. Get ready. Especially now, whether you’re in the US or Canada, this might be terrible. People everywhere are feeling more license to just say ‘nope’ to using our names and pronouns. So first, decide whether you are into/able to get into the conversation about transgender people being a) real, b) having the right to a pronoun others don’t necessarily understand or seamlessly, unthinkingly apply, or c) having the right to ask others to use our pronouns. If you decide you’d like to have that conversation with family members, get some help from the infographics I’ve created for the No Big Deal Campaign and do some other reading so you’re well-armed. If you decide not to have this conversation, that’s more than okay. But draw your line and stick to your guns: you’re not talking about it. Be prepared to reinforce that boundary by, say, leaving a conversation each time someone brings it up until they stop doing it. Passive resistance. And you can always just pretend your phone vibrated if you don’t feel like saying why you’re leaving. Really – just pick it up and pretend there’s someone there (great tip, Ryan Sallans).

2. Try making a genuine connection with people you love who consistently misgender you. Sit down with them alone, take their hands, look them in the eyes, and tell them how much you appreciate, love and/or care for them. Tell them how much you cherish the holiday memories you have of being with them, and the time you spend together. Then tell them that what they are doing is making it less and less possible for you to spend time with them, and that this makes you very sad. Then invite their questions. Because…

3. …if you want people who know and love you to do this thing – to work at it, remind each other and respond well to reminders – they need to be able to ask questions without feeling like you’ll get mad at them. Maybe you are mad because you wish they already knew or because you wish they did some research. Your anger is valid, AND you have a tactical investment in people meeting your need. Have an outlet for your valid anger (Tumblr, text messages, phoning a friend, etc.) AND be prepared for your genuine connection to work and for a space to be opened up that this family member will step into with their thoughts and questions. Think ahead about what you are asking them to do. For example, when do you need them to use this pronoun? At home with relatives, or also in the grocery store  when you head out together for more jellied cranberry sauce and encounter someone from high school or a neighbour you don’t even remember?

4. To give yourself a little break, be ready with some resources and information you can give them right away. You can send them here to TIMP if you like or to the No Big Deal Campaign, or to the other hundreds of wonderful things transgender people and our allies have created for this purpose. You can even do a Google image search of The Gender Book or just download it as a PDF for a donation.

5. Enlist one good ally: someone who is willing to take on the work of (gently, constructively) reminding people when they slip up, and answering some questions. So many people in our lives do this work already because – let’s face it – most often our third-person pronoun (they, ze, hir, etc.) is used when we’re not there. So, officially invite someone on board! Whether it’s a cousin, nibling (niece or nephew alternative), parent, sibling or even a close family friend, get in touch ahead of time and make the big ask. Hook them up with the #nbdcampaign badge online so they can make their allyship known in advance to family and friends on Facebook or other social media. Consider also bringing home your own ally. Often our family members have never even heard other people use our pronoun. I mean, has your family ever heard another person do this and do it right? Maybe not!

6. Consider avoiding whole-family gatherings and do one-on-one hangouts with individual family members instead. In one-on-ones, our own third-person pronouns or names aren’t used that much and misgendering is less likely. You can also more easily remind/correct folks without the added worry that they’ll prioritize face-saving or appearances over hearing you out. Be around early to help your beloved yet serially-misgendering gran or uncle (etc.) with food prep or a grocery run, then clear out for any reason you can think of that will fly. Pretend you might barf. Do what you need to do.

7. It it’ll be cold where you’re going, pack lots of extra warm things (including boring things like sweaters and fun things like mitt or sock warmers or a neoprene balaclava). Put them on. Giggle because you look silly. Go outside. Do something nice. Come back inside after as long as you can stand it and take a long, hot bath with a book. Repeat.

8. Brace for a long game and prioritize self-care over ritual or routine. This is going to take time, and it is a-okay to change how you spend holidays with family. This might mean limiting your exposure, changing what time spent with them looks like (doing activities instead of having mainly meals/conversations), only speaking on the phone right now or, as above, only having one-on-one hangouts.

9. Lastly, anticipate having to tap into resources. Make a check-in pact with a friend who gets you and gets it. Invest in a battery pack for your smartphone so you are never isolated from an online support system. Make trans-positive Tumblr dates with yourself every day for a half hour where you go on a wonderful webquest and read all the things. And ask for help when you need it, including from resources like The Trans Lifeline. Because I need you to live and be okay, and sometimes we aren’t ready for how hard family will be, especially if we think it’ll be okay and then it isn’t.

Now, these suggestions are calibrated for a family context where there is little to no risk of violence. So, here is more excellent practical advice from Ryan Sallans on not ‘going home’ at all if your physical safety isn’t guaranteed there:

Ask a friend if you can spend the holiday with them. Ask the college if you can stay in your residence or another place on campus when some buildings shut down. Ask family members from a different side of the family if you can celebrate the holidays with them. Do anything you can to try to protect yourself from those situations and in the future draw the firm line that the physical attacker does not have access to you or your life. They need to earn the right to have contact with you, and that right cannot be earned unless the violence ends.

Full stop.

With all of this in mind, I hope you have as lovely a winter holiday season as you are able to, that you seize and celebrate the joy that you feel, that you have compassion for yourself and realistic expectations, and that you reach out to say hi if you need to, whether on Tumblr, Twitter or in a comment right here.

Warmly,

Lee

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.

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.”

“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

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