Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pronouns Are the Hardest Part



Lately there has been a foofaraw about where transgender people go to the bathroom. Some people have this idea that if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, male pedophiles will put on dresses so they can go into women’s restrooms and abuse little girls. At least I think that’s the argument.
Pedophiles have been preying on children forever, and most of them don’t cross-dress to do it. I wonder that there is no horror at the thought of all the non-cross dressing guys who go into public bathrooms trying to pick up boys and young men. You know, like those politicians and preachers who claim to be against homosexuality, and then are caught soliciting homosexual sex.
We have all shared bathrooms with transgender people whether we knew it or not, and come to no harm. Children are more likely to be abused by trusted relatives and friends. This whole bathroom thing is silly, or it would be if some people didn’t take it so seriously.
As it turns out, I learned a little over a year ago that I am related to a transgender person. He is my grandson, formerly my granddaughter. He has been educating me.
It was hard for him to come out as transgender. He was afraid of how people would react. That was a rational fear. Once he did come out, he experienced the freedom of being able to live as his true self instead of, as he says, having to lie all the time.
I was impressed by his friends at school. Most of them, when he told them he was a boy now, said, “Okay,” and went on with their lives.
A few have given him a hard time, but fortunately we live on Vashon Island. Other kids stand up for him, and with him. I don’t know if he would meet such support and solidarity in some communities. I am grateful for his allies and friends.
Transgender children, we are told, are more likely to commit suicide than any other group, but now comes scientific research that says, wait, that is not true for transgender children whose families accept and support them. I am thankful that all my grandson’s family members accept and support him.
I am not transgender so I don’t know, but it seems to me that once someone comes out as transgender, they don’t want to look back. As for family members, even though you do accept and support your transgender child or other family member, you have to go through a process of letting go of the person you thought they were, and all the expectations you had that were tied to the gender you thought that person was. It can be a rough transition for the cisgender family member.*
Someone coming out as transgender is a game changer, all right, but I have to say: we all need to get over it. Our old understanding is no longer valid. Yes, it’s hard to learn a new way of seeing someone, especially someone you’ve known from birth and understood in a way that the person now tells you was completely wrong. Your discomfort at this change is something you need to acknowledge and respect and consider as the price that you pay for loving someone unconditionally. Hard as it might be, it’s easier for you to get over it than it is for your transgender loved one to live a lie.
For me one of the hardest parts has been remembering to use the correct pronoun. Weighted by the habit of years I slip and refer to him by the wrong word, and he corrects me, with more or less exasperation at my mistake. Haven’t I known the truth long enough to get the pronouns right? You’d think, but old ways die hard. It is disrespectful to refer to a transgender person with the wrong pronoun. I know that now. So I try to get it right. Go thou and do likewise.
And don’t give me any attitude for calling you “thou.”

*In case you haven’t run into that word, cisgender means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. It was first used in 1994 by biologist Dana Leland Defosse, and derives from the Latin root “cis” meaning “on this side of."

1 comment:

Susan's Style Book said...

Great essay, Mary. It may be thanks to transgender individuals that we are finally having the conversation that has remained only partially articulated all these decades: "...all the expectations you had that were tied to the gender you thought that person was." Should our gender be engendering all these expectations, after all?