So I went on a really big trip this summer – I visited my brother! I flew into Istanbul, stayed with him there for two nights, and then we rented a car and went up to Sile on the Black Sea, Yalova on the Marmara Sea, the city of Bursa, and Ayvalik on the Aegean Sea. We took a ferry to the Greek island of Lesbos / Midilli. We also saw ancient ruins in Bergama and went to a Turkish bath with natural hot springs in Inegol. We crammed a lot into 10 days! This was my first time overseas since 11th grade, when I took a class trip to England and Scotland. It was the first time I’d seen my brother in three years – it was pretty great to reconnect. We did lots of swimming and hiking and we also went to a Whirling Dervishes festival, which was going on continuously for 114 days of summer.
If you wanna read more, I wrote about this trip, through the lens of someone who is non-binary, here! I wrote about TSA stuff, but more excitingly, I wrote about feeling more comfortable in a “male” role in a way that I am not, in America. I even swam without a shirt on, in front of others – something that I didn’t plan on ever doing!
Traveling Non-Binary: Gender Perceptions in Two Cultures
The website is called Transgender Universe, and I’ve written for them before (this is my 4th piece). I like switching it up with blog writing every now and then.
I don’t go to church, but I made an exception last Sunday for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. My family surprised them there and attended service with them, then we took a drive to the church they were married at to take some photos, and then we went out to a fancy lunch.
It was awesome to see their surprise. And to meet some of the congregation. I realized I never see my grandparents outside of a family context, so it was novel and exciting to see them interacting with their church people and see them being celebrated by the entire church.
One congregant in particular was super outgoing and came over to introduce herself before the service started. She went down the row of where we were in the pew, and we all introduced ourselves. When she got to me, she asked, “Is this a grandson?” And my grandma replied, “Granddaughter,” even though I have told her (and my whole family) how I identify. This lady didn’t seem to catch that or care, and when I told her my name (the name I’m using with family, for now), she heard something different which was fine by me!
She came back after the service and pressed some more. She said,
“I think I’ve met you before! Were you with him [pointing to my uncle] outside of Dick’s Sporting Goods one time? I definitely remember that.”
“No, I don’t think I ever was,” I replied.
We went back and forth a little more until it got cleared up that it was actually my adult male cousin who had been with my uncle. (We look nothing alike, he’s big and has huge muscles and facial hair, but I thought it was pretty awesome!)
It’s strange that these occurrences never seem to fluster my family members (maybe they’re uncomfortable on the inside though) yet they can’t seem to integrate how I identify (and how I’m sometimes seen by others) with how they interact with me. Some of them are trying though – three in particular are consistently using male pronouns while the rest of the family responds with female pronouns. Maybe there will be a critical mass at some point where the tables turn. I hope…
I came across a question and answer from a nationally syndicated advice column the other day. I read this in my local newspaper and got such a kick out of it I brought it home to share with my partner:
My 7-year-old daughter loves playing with her 13-year-old brother’s toys. She has her own toys, but she does not play with them because she said that boys’ toys are “way cooler.” I don’t know what “way cooler” means, but I would prefer my girl to play with her toys. Do you think I am wrong for thinking this way, or should I find “cooler” girl toys for my daughter to play with?
-Daddy’s Little Girl, West Orange, NJ
Your son’s toys will be fascinating to your daughter no matter what they are, because they belong to her big brother. Her desire to play with them shows her interest in connecting with him. Chances are, if you bought her duplicates of all of his toys, she would still choose to play with his. This could be extremely annoying to your teenage son, who is probably doing his best to grow up and be independent.
Suggest to your son that he devote some of his time playing with his sister. Enjoying a bit of her brother’s attention should help her to become less obsessive about his toys. Suggest that your son let her play with one of his toys on a regular basis as long as she agrees that she will not touch any of his other toys without his permission. Negotiating playtime and boundaries should help them to find a comfort zone.
When I read this, it felt like a tiny victory. This parent was, essentially asking what to do about the gender-anxiety-inducing situation of her offspring playing with the wrong type of toys. Should she find cooler girl toys so her daughter will be more drawn to the right ones? She wants her girl to play with girl toys.
Normally, I’d be miffed that the advice columnist didn’t address the question / concerns. But in this case, it’s so refreshing that gendered toys was not touched on whatsoever. Rightly so – seems like a non-issue. Also ignored was the impulse to buy more toys and control the daughter’s desires. Instead, the columnists focused on cultivating a good relationship between the brother and sister based around spending time together and creating boundaries. And also pointing out how the 13-year-old must feel about all of this.
It’s not about girls’ toys and boys’ toys. It’s about family dynamics and finding what’s best for everyone. The columnist gets it! Spread the sentiment!
Lately, I’ve been focused on coming out to more of the people who are in my life, and also reaching out to some family members who have not really been in my life – seeing what’s going on for them, hope that they might respond to what’s going on for me. Mainly, my dad has 4 sisters who all have their own nuclear families, yet I really don’t know much about them and vice versa. So I’m working on composing emails to send to them, and from there, they can forward and/or talk about it with their family members.
Traditionally, I’d see them about once a year, at the holidays (and we’d never really talk about our lives). But this year, I didn’t even see them then. I really can’t say why, except that it feels like there’s a chasm that keeps getting wider and deeper, in the place where my dad might have built a bridge, a long time ago. It seems generally natural that one’s parent would be the link between the child and that parents’ extended family. That is strongly the case with my mom and her side of the family, at least. I never told any of them that I am gay (that’s not really all that accurate), that now I have a partner, that now I’m planning to get married, that now I am married, etc. My mom did all that for me, and then I (and we, my partner and me) just show up to extended family gatherings and feel accepted and included, even if none of this information is directly talked about. I most recently asked my mom to add “please use male pronouns, he doesn’t identify strongly with either gender, and he’ll be glad to answer questions if you’d like to ask,” to that list of stuff she conveys on my behalf to her side of the family. It has been an effective system thusfar, although this newest bit of info might throw some people for a loop. I’ll just have to wait and see…
My dad, however, does things very differently. I’m pretty sure he believes that things that did not happen to him firsthand are not for him to share. But there are definitely exceptions to this, so maybe another part of it is, if he feels awkward about it, it’s not for him to share. And maybe he feels awkward about most things. As far as I’m aware, no one on his side of the family knows that I am gay (although they could easily guess, and again, not accurate!), that I have a partner, that we planned to get married, and that we got married. My partner has never met any of them. Like I said, I’ve been seeing them once a year, but this year my parents went without me, and I think it has quite a bit to do with the fact there is too much unsaid information that’s recently happened and is piling up.
So, I’m going to break this bizarre pattern by telling my aunts and their families everything I’d like them to know about me and ask them about their families, in a grouping of 4 (almost) identical emails, one for each of them. Plus a written card for my grandpa because he doesn’t have an email address. It is psychically difficult. I’ve had this plan vaguely for about 3 months, and more seriously for about one month. And I’ve been putting it off. But this week feels like the week. I may be going to visit my grandpa next Sunday (because I talked to my mom about all of this, and she talked to my dad, and he then told me of when he was next going to visit, to which I replied, “Maybe I’d like to go”), so I wanna get this info out there!
In other news, I’m currently in the process of editing a piece for an anthology called Letters for My Siblings. It’s not a definite at this time, but it’s looking very promising that my piece will be included!!! Which is a huge deal for me. I’ve always seen myself as a writer, and I’m starting to feel like I could make something of that! I’m already on to the next thing even; I’m working on a submission for a magazine called “Iris: New LGBTQ+ Writing for Young Adults.” Check it out! Here’s their call for submissions for the next issue.
A couple of days ago, I decided I was going to be more direct in coming out to some people. I’ve had a tendency in the past, to soft-sell the way I identify and my preference for pronouns (in the situations where I have come out), and I wanna change that. So, the next day, I had a conversation with my parents! Definitely not the first of this nature, but this time I asked them specifically to use male pronouns, and I talked to them about some steps I might or might not take in the near future. My mom was supportive, but I have an idea she will have difficulty remembering to use male pronouns. My dad was evasive. His body language told me he was uncomfortable. He would have stayed silent the whole time if I let him, but instead, I asked him, “Dad, what do you think about this?” And he replied, “It doesn’t matter to me.” Which is so vague as to what he means; in the moment I decided to spin it positively by saying, “Yeah, I mean I am still the same person.” Ultimately, it’s exactly how I expected them to react, and I’m not really phased by what they might think. I would just like to see them try. We’ll see.
I feel like now that that conversation is out of the way, I can plan to spread this news to other relatives. I’m thinking of emailing some aunts and their families in the near future because it might be cool to finally talk about myself, haha. Basically, my dad has 4 sisters, and they all have families, and I don’t know much about them, and they don’t know much about me. Even though I see them all at least once a year. We just don’t talk about our lives. I don’t think they even know I’m married, or that I’ve been in this relationship for the past 7 years. I’ll probably start thinking about it more concretely and drafting an email this week!
Oh, also I told some friends who didn’t yet know, that I’m on testosterone. That was fun! They were super supportive (of course) and also pretty curious. And! I just emailed the volunteer coordinator at the local gay alliance (where I have recently started volunteering in the office) to let her know my pronoun preference and to ask her to help me spread the word if pronouns come up in conversation. I felt like I’d really like her (or just someone) to help me with this because 1. I am very reserved and 2. I don’t see many people during my shift, don’t have many opportunities to bring it up in person. I think that she will be a good person for this – she’s super friendly and outgoing and non-judgemental as far as I can tell.
So far, this is pretty fun!