*The “You” referenced in this blog, is similar to The Ubiquitous They, not talking about a particular person. The examples are all real. This is not saying that you, the reader are doing these things or saying them. Just identifying that it isn’t cool to do it, even once*
So, I have an assignment to write, and in the fine tradition of procrastination, I need to write this piece first. I have a child, who does not identify within the gender binary. This post does not serve to explain what that means. I can’t explain to you how they know that they are not simply a girl, or absolutely a boy. I am not here to justify, critique or debate their choice to identify as agender, to change their name and to ask for people to change their pronouns to they/them. There are many amazing posts written by people who live that experience, pages which offer answers, indexes of blogs on the experience of being non-binary, explanations of pronouns, discussion boards and much more. This post is not about that. This post is about how it feels to watch your child, the child you love, have to fight and be forced to justify themselves, just to be who they are. And why I would love it if you could never ask certain questions to anyone other than your google search engine.
First, A quick definition.
“‘Sex’ refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. ‘Gender’ refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”
My kid came to me, and told me that they would prefer it if i used they/them pronouns when referring to them. I was devastated, that for 20+years of their life, I got it wrong. Then I was confused, and asked lots of really stupid questions. I ransacked my memory seeking stories that would back up their position. I wondered if they only played with dolls and makeup and clothes because of my gendered expectations. I wondered if they had a different memory of the times we had “girl fun”, like mani’s and hair appointments. I got a little mad at them, for getting mad at me, when I was trying really hard. I tried to educate myself. I slipped up, constantly (I still do). I got confused about what was important to them, about what I should reference them as to people who didn’t know them, I worried about misgendering them, about increasing the already palpable distance between us by handling it wrong. And, I (a little bit) grieved: for my beautiful funny, happy, baby girl. I grieved the name I lovingly picked out while my unborn baby rested beneath my skin, and the nicknames I used as terms of endearment. But, through all of that, I knew I loved them anyway. Not despite, not because. Any way. I love my kids, anyway. Any way they come, any way they go, any way they will accept it.
So then comes the next bit. The bit where I am trying to wrap my head around all this. Changing my frame of reference, working hard to get historical pronouns right, changing the main characters in half the stories I have ever told. And I got to experience the abject privilege of being a cisgender person. The things that people are willing to say, the lengths that people I care about are willing to go to in order to make me slip and accidentally misgender my child, the suggestions that they are attention seeking, being silly and most commonly, the demand that I justify “why does it even matter?” are exhausting!
So here is the thing. My kids gender doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at ALL. They can do anything and everything, and their gender is irrelevant to the choices people make to hire them, hang out with them, like or dislike them. There are much, much more interesting things about my kid than their place in our social construction of normal behaviour. If you don’t know them, it matters not at all. You shouldn’t ever feel the need to ask them if they are a boy or a girl. They really are busy being a student, having relationships, making art, catching a bus or writing a song, and don’t really have time to justify their experience of gender identity to you, and your understanding of gender should never impact on anybody else’s ability to be alive and do whatever they are doing.
Except. It does matter that it is respected. It definitely matters that people who love me, and purport to love my child don’t take this as an opportunity to mock or trivialize them. It matters that we understand that there is more to gender than genitals. It does matter that you take opportunities to ask their preferred pronouns, if you are unsure, and to use them if asked. It does matter that you don’t reduce my kid to their gender. It does matter that we strive to do better.
It doesn’t require your permission, your understanding, your rationale. It matters only in so far as it shouldn’t matter, but somehow, does. It matters that I have to spend hours answering stupid questions like
“But, doesn’t she, I mean “they”, but, doesn’t she still wear makeup?”
And statements like
“But she has Breasts and a vagina! And she wears dresses!”
And tricks like
“Wait, by they do you mean her, or both of them?”
Or demands like
“Well, what happened to make her not want to be a girl anymore?”
And awful personal questions like
“Is her boyfriend okay with that? Or is he gender whatever too?”
“Well, she’s not chopping anything off or sewing anything on, is she?”
And, I tell ya. These are all things I have been asked this week. So if I have to put up with this, imagine what my kid has to tolerate? How does it hurt any of us, at all, to just accept what they are telling us about their life, and go with it? Why should you be allowed to ask personal, private questions about the insides of their underpants, their sexual history, their personal relationships, or their outfit choices? If, as you say, it shouldn’t matter, why is it that it is so hard for people to just go with it?
It matters because one day, you might be sitting in a room, unknowingly making these gross comments to my kid. Or your kid might hear you making them and not be able to tell you their truth. Or might make them to some other kid, who is struggling with their own identity. Or a million other times when it might, just might, matter that you learned how not to make jokes or smart comments about somebody’s difference.
The same exact way that somebody’s race doesn’t matter, and somebody’s sexuality doesn’t matter, and somebody’s age doesn’t matter. None of those things matter, unless we are making them matter by making those things the most important thing about them. Consider these statements, to reflect on why sometimes, things that don’t matter absolutely 100% matter more than anything else.
“I have lots of friends who are black, but, I wouldn’t want my kid to marry one”
“I don’t mind if you’re gay, but don’t rub my face in it”
“I know they have a right to work, but I don’t want them in my neighbourhood, teaching my kids.”
We are better than this. We can do better. We can strive to understand that sometimes, the bit that is important, is the bit where we love our kids. Any way. And every kid is someones kid. So can we maybe just accept them? Any way.