parents

‘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

A parent refuses to use they because it is ‘derogatory’

Anonymous asked:

“My dad is refusing to use “They” as my pronoun because he says it’s derogatory in the English language and won’t change his speech patterns. What should I do? I don’t want him referring to me as ‘She.'”

Hmm. There is both a short answer and a long answer, Anonymous.

The short answer is that your dad is completely incorrect. Singular they is not remotely derogatory and is in fact a longtime feature of literary English. This writing blog even conducted a poll showing 70% reader preference for singular they (as opposed to ‘he,’ or even ‘he or she’) in cases of unknown gender. Tom Chivers of the Telegraph newspaper concurs and writes that “One rule of grammar that has, apparently, been in constant use in Standard Written English is: “when the sex of the subject is unknown, it is permissible to use ‘they’ as a genderless singular pronoun”.” He goes on to add that “if someone tells you that singular “they” is wrong, you can firmly tell them to go to hell.” Although this is probably not a useful piece of advice, particularly if the someone is your parent, the short answer is that you could present the case to your dad that he is absolutely wrong using the many sources available on the internet. I’d be happy to help you gather some convincing ones. You could also tell him that someone (me) who is almost finished their PhD and indeed several of my colleagues who are university professors use singular they. Sometimes this move works with parents. You can also send him to me with any questions he has.

The long answer is more complicated. My gut tells me that using an argument based on reason (“you are factually incorrect, and here is the proof from reliable sources”) or authority (“all of these people with PhDs use singular they”) might not work (but might be worth a try). The fact is that people use all kinds of excuses – that sound entirely reasonable and related to things like grammar or rudeness, as in the case of your dad – to avoid doing something that is really just uncomfortable for them. This discomfort is entirely emotional but it sounds smart to make a phoney statement about grammar or politeness instead of saying ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I can’t because it feels weird.’ Today when there is *generally* more acceptance and visibility for queer and trans people (who are more often they users), it’s also increasingly less okay or polite to openly talk about feeling uncomfortable with the kinds of changes needed in order to treat us respectfully. So people unfortunately say ‘it’s not grammatically correct’ or ‘it’s rude’ instead of saying ‘I just really don’t get it’ or ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘it’s wrong to feel like he or she don’t apply to you.’

The fact that your dad says singular they is derogatory might say more about his own feelings regarding the gender implications than a fear of being rude. He might feel it is derogatory because he isn’t comfortable or doesn’t agree with the kind of self-expression you are working towards with this request. For example, we think something is derogatory when we wouldn’t want it used to describe ourselves and most gender-normative (male/masculine or female/feminine) people would be deeply distressed if they thought that someone had to say ‘they went over there’ because their male- or femaleness wasn’t obvious enough to say ‘he went over there’ or ‘she went over there’. It is hard for most people to understand why we would want ‘they’ and even harder for parents sometimes. Asking for ‘they’ might make them feel like they don’t know us as well as they thought they did or that they have less of an idea what our lives are like or will be like in the future. These are all sources of discomfort and often take time and more conversations (providing these can happen safely).

I doubt that I’m saying anything you haven’t thought of, Anonymous. I just want to emphasize that your dad’s refusal might be an indirect (and unhelpful) way of saying that he needs time or support to sort through his thoughts and his feelings about your decision and what it means. My own parents are full of love and good intention, but took time to understand why I made this choice, what it meant and why it was important. They still struggle with everyday usage and have also expressed concerns about grammar, rudeness and social situations (“Do I have to tell Auntie and Uncle XYZ before we go over there for dinner?”).

Next steps for your dad might include accessing some resources or support that aren’t you in order to work through his feelings about your request and what it might mean. This could be other adults in your life who are supportive, online articles, this blog or even PFLAG meetings or similar – contact your local or regional LGBTQ community or resource centre if you can, and once again, I can help you.

Next steps for you could include talking to your dad on a practical level. You could ask him what else he might be comfortable with. Maybe he could just use your name instead of any pronoun at all. This can sound awkward, but you could let him know you’re ok with that. Do you need him to not refer to you as his daughter? How about kid instead? Work with him, if you can, to find alternatives. You could also talk with him about what is behind your request, as long as you feel safe and okay. I also encourage you to try and find spaces where your request is respected and your related needs are met. These could be in-person or online, but if your family life isn’t a place where you can be supported in this way, know that this support can be found elsewhere for as long as you need it.

Only you know whether my suggestions make sense for you and your situation, and whether any of them would make you unsafe. Trust your own judgment and listen to your gut.

I hope this helps, and feel free to write back,

Lee