I’ve been reading Lori Duron’s Raising my Rainbow for years now. I even bought the book. Her adventures with her now-nine-year-old child have been remarkably similar to my own.
I vividly remember a month of heart-searching, sweating and hyperventilating as my wife and I debated whether or not to show our child Jazz Jennings‘ book, I am Jazz. Eventually, we took the plunge, all the while thinking this is it: this is where our son is deleted and replaced by a daughter. So we sat down with him, and we read it together.
At the end, we asked him what he thought of it and held our collective breath. He pondered for a while and said that it was a brilliant book, and that it was really interesting what Jazz was doing with her life (he loved the pictures of her in the swimming pool with a mermaid tail). He also said that that was not him. He understood what “transgender” meant and he wasn’t that.
We had been sidling up to that moment for years and had reached a point where we decided that we needed to give him the option, regardless of personal cost. And he didn’t take it. I have never, in my whole life, had more of an anticlimax (it was a bigger anticlimax than the ending of the Blair Witch Project).
I have, subsequently, been told that my son is transgender (by a stranger on the internet). I choose to believe my son, to be frank, as he knows himself best. If he changes his mind at some point, we are ready for that. For now, he’s the boy who prefers dresses and long hair, and who knows where his path lies. The future is foggy and indistinct,
And Lori noticed that too. She has a much higher web-profile than I do, so she gets many comments from all around that tell her either that she is a hateful mother for forcing her son to wear girls’ clothes and that she’s making him gay (because being gay is a terrible thing, of course) and she should be locked up, or they tell her that she needs to respect her transgender child by using feminine pronouns and admitting to herself that a full transition is inevitable. Lori, however, is guided by her child. He wishes to be addressed with masculine pronouns, he wishes to be seen as a boy. Lori is respecting his identity by allowing him to pick his own clothes and by addressing him in the manner he has asked to be addressed. He certainly does know what transgender is, and he has a couple of young friends who have transitioned. He does not wish to do so himself, and it is Lori’s tough job to stand not only outside the traditional gender binary, but also to stand outside the cisgender/transgender binary.
Her family, like mine, must stand outside of the boxes that society likes to put us in. In an age where same-sex marriage is a thing and where transgender people are beginning to be accepted for who they are and not simply used as the punchline of a stag-night anecdote. Gay people and transgender people do not defy classification, however. If you have divided the world into neat binary categories, you can incorporate same-sex marriage by tweaking the rules slightly (he likes him, rather than her), and you can incorporate transgender people by tweaking the rules slightly (I thought of her as him before, but now she’s a she). The gay and trans people in this example can be accommodated simply by putting the person into the other box (“likes men”, “is a woman”).
Society seems less able to accommodate people who don’t much like sitting in these neat boxes, though. Bisexual people (hi, there) and gender-nonconforming (or gender creative, or gender awesome) people do not neatly fit into the “likes men” or “likes women” category, or neatly into the “is a boy” or “is a girl” categories. Families like Lori’s and ours are still stuck in the grey areas and still have to address inclusion for our children. Every time they sign up for a new activity or a new club, we get to be educators and have to bring yet another set of people up to speed on the fact that not everybody is a boy, or a girl, or gay or straight or whatever. Legislation in the UK is pretty good with the Equality Act 2010, but even that only caters for people on a binary (man/woman, disabled/able bodied, transgender/cisgender). We find ourselves having to stretch a point or two to claim legal protection under the Act because it wasn’t really written with us in mind. In other places, there is no legal protection at all, and prejudice and discrimination, where not specifically outlawed, seems to be legally acceptable.
Even under the Equality Act, it is lawful for a company to have separate men’s and women’s uniforms. A transgender person can wear the uniform appropriate for their affirmed gender, that is no problem, but a gender nonconforming person is on shaky ground, and a bloke with a beard in a skirt may not be quite the corporate image that any given company wishes to expose to the public.
In the end, we’re all people, of course, and the law, our employers and providers of service really should just take a chill pill and treat us all as such.