A friend of mine came to watch my oldest kiddo play in her Little League game recently. I watched my friend walk across the park, scan the crowd to look for me, and then spot me and wave.
“Thank god you’re here. Everyone looks the same except you,” she said. 15 years of friendship lets you be completely honest.
I knew exactly what she meant. I was not surprised, offended, or disappointed by her statement. It’s true. I don’t look like your average sports parent. When you imagine a soccer mom or the dad who coaches their kid’s baseball team, you don’t conjure my image. Because of my short hair and masculine appearance and presentation, I don’t look like other moms. I look more like the dads, but my build is smaller and a bit curvier. And I have much less facial hair than the dudes here in Vermont. I am constantly caught between the two groups. I am always my own party of one: a queer, gender-nonconforming, gender-fluid person who feels both male and female.
Stay with me, because the next part is important.
Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with what feels like my inability to fit in at school functions, with mom groups, or around dad banter. But this is mostly based on my own feelings of frustration at the heteronormative walls I am constantly running into. For the most part I fit in just fine. I am outgoing, confident, and well-versed in a lot of topics. I can hang with anyone. However, I also know my identity and looks confuse some people. My differences, and my need for others to understand and respect those differences, can cause some to be uncomfortable.
It puts me in the position of having to pick and choose battles that feel small in the grand scheme of things.
When someone refers to me using a strictly feminine word like lady, or girlie, or chick, it bothers me. Yes, I am female, but I am male too. I don’t like the idea of being referred to in the binary, in a way that forces me to feel like just one thing. I feel this too when my kids’ teachers address a class as “boys and girls.” Calling a group of children “boys and girls” excludes the kids who don’t feel like their assigned gender. It excludes kids who are like me, who might feel like both or neither. It’s not fair to make them choose. And it’s not necessary for their education. If anything it hurts their ability to focus and learn.
Gendered language hurts me too. Yet I hesitate to speak up because doing so feels like a distraction to the big issues facing LGBTQ folks. I worry that the micro aggressions that bug me will make others roll their eyes or tell me that I shouldn’t make such a big deal out of innocent mistakes or old habits. I don’t want my complaints or moments of flinching to take away from the big picture of bullying, suicide, and mental health concerns for the queer community.
I am always asking myself if my discomfort with the language people use is worth the risk of making them feel embarrassed or defensive or annoyed. But when someone feminizes me, I cringe. When someone uses male pronouns, I feel like I am deceiving them. Because when they realize I have breasts, they look at me as if I unfairly tricked them. They trip over themselves to “correct” their language.
I recognize not everyone knows to ask or is comfortable asking another person about their preferred pronouns. So the biggest and most important correction I want to see is not in trying to select the “right” pronoun all of the time—it is in the letting go of them. It’s okay to not label everyone with a gender. You don’t need to know how someone identifies to know they are someone who deserves kindness.
When I feel uncomfortable, I tell myself that a less confident adult or a scared kid will be too. So I allow myself to speak up. I become okay with you feeling uncomfortable, because I am not okay with feeling prickly all of the time. I am not okay with other queer people feeling this way either. Why should I or others sacrifice our feelings all of the time so the majority can be oblivious to how comfortable it is to live in and fit into a heteronormative world?
So I speak up. I ask for inclusive language to be used when I am addressed and when kids in class are addressed. It is so easy to say Hi friends! Hey folks! Good morning, team. Listen up, first graders. Pleased to meet you, distinguished guest. Labeling a child or person with gender is not necessary when talking to them. Use their name or a gender neutral term.
I put a lot of thought into what is the best way to get what I and others need. I send all of my kids’ teachers a list of books that include LGBTQ themes and families. I tell them I will happily come in and read those books. I will buy the books myself if their budget doesn’t allow for it, though I make sure to mention that the budget should always allow room for inclusion. All kids — not just mine — need to see families with two moms, two dads, transgender kids, and transgender parents. Not just as a way to educate, but these stories are needed so we can normalize diversity and the spectrum of gender identity.
Kids need to see feminine boys and men and masculine girls and women. If there are going to be books about straight and cisgender mom and dad families, there should be ones that represent queer families and individuals that break gender stereotypes.
The representation of families on TV, in the movies, in pregnancy and baby books, in parenting guides and story books often does not include queer families. I am constantly fighting for families like mine to be seen. I am confident in who I am and comfortable in myself and not shy in that regard, but sometimes I am shy to tell you that it makes me feel uncomfortable to be relegated to the margins of society.
While living in the outskirts of my community, I am usually accepted, but I want to be seen too. Really seen. So I choose to fight these little battles. I choose to make points that are important to me. My discomfort in being addressed as a lady, in reading yet another book with a mom and dad family, and in hearing another teacher address kids with gendered language motivates me to take you out of your comfort zone. Bottom line: Your discomfort is not my problem. The LGBTQ community has been uncomfortable, hurting, or dying for too long because of some people’s discomfort with our “lifestyle.”
If you feel a bit uneasy about me asking you to change a few words in your vocabulary to make me and others feel respected, then that is your problem. I am not responsible for those feelings. But I do feel a sense of responsibility to help you learn. Your need to be informed is my problem.
I am okay with you not understanding my experience as a queer person, but I am happy to work with you to be a better ally if you are willing to put in the work too.
I do my best to be kind and approachable so people can be teachable. I acknowledge that mistakes will be made. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect change. The discomfort we all feel will lead to necessary changes in our world for acceptance of LGBTQ+ people.