I Accidentally Almost Outed My Teen’s Transgender Friend
This is part of our Blue Woman in a Red State column
Let me ask you something, before all you judge-y judgertons start giving me grief for this title. Do you have a newly discovered trans kid? Or, even simpler, do you have a young teenager in your house? I am a mother to two teenage kids – one of which is possibly gay and the other has pronouns he/they. To be a mother of teen cis girls would be pretty hard enough and something I have been dreading since potty training. But now, throw a rainbow in the mix.
I have always had an issue with names. I don’t have a huge family. Two (then) girls and a husband and a dog. I would still call my oldest kid by my sister’s name and my dog my husband’s name and vice versa. We got a second dog, a lizard and a bunch of Guinea Pigs, and they ALL have names that are juxtaposed.
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I am Filipino, and in Tagalog, there is no gender assigned to pronouns. “Siya” means her/him – “sila” means “them.” I don’t speak Tagalog well, but I hear Tagalog all the time and can understand as if I were not transitioning languages from English to Tagalog.
So, this being said, in the last two years the gendering has been a little bit difficult for me. My oldest kid insists it is not difficult, and then my youngest one, who wants to be referred to as he/they is so very patient with me. My husband, is surprisingly good at it.
Anyway, there’s that issue. When moving to the South, we thought we had to keep this in the closet until the kids were a little bit older for safety reasons. Turns out, there is a crap-ton of trans kids and gay kids in school nowadays. Those kids are mostly not out but at least my kids have a community where they feel they will belong.
Instead of calling their given name, the “dead name” (it still hurts a little to me) – we call it their school name (the name they use on their paperwork at school because they are not out). I don’t think the infrastructure is quite up to date for non-gendered students yet. My difficulty, as always, lies on other kids’ parents. The burden of being “safe” is that I have to navigate between he/her to they/them when asking if their (birth/school name) wants to go to the roller rink with my kids’ school name.
My kids tell me everything about themselves, but not about their friends. So I need to actively ask before I speak to the other parents. My kids do not want to be outed until they can “trust” the adults. This is their choice, not mine.
This happened when I ALMOST outed my 7th grader’s friend. Her friend goes by “Aries” and their school name is Erin, and he was a female at birth. Sarah is friends with my oldest daughter, and Sarah is Aries’s older sister.
Unbeknownst to me, Aries was Erin to his father. I had to ask if Sarah and her little brother (Aries) were able to go to the roller rink with my “daughters.”
He texted back – both my kids are girls.
I said out loud, “Hey my dudes, is Aries a dude?”
My kids are like, “Dudeeeee yes, but his parents don’t know.”
A couple of phone flashes, and some nimble fingers, and my return text, “Oh man, I have been so tired. I am sorry. I have never met your girls before and I thought Sarah had a younger brother. Dunno what I was thinking.”
Long pause, and then a seemingly reluctant thumbs up from the dad.
But a 14-year-old sigh from my eldest saying she and Sarah had to do some damage control. But I did my best to cover up that little girl’s invisible penis (to their parents).
Y’all, this is exhausting.
I didn’t get in too much trouble with my kids because I didn’t actually out Aries. Mistakes were made all around. My kids didn’t tell me what was going on and neither did Aries. Normally, I wear the proverbial pants as their mother; but I am not as comfortable as I can be yet with properly dealing with gendering kids, especially ones I don’t know. I have to keep track of kids whose parents are safe and whose are not. It doesn’t help that I am living in Eastern Tennessee, an environment that doesn’t necessarily support the LGBTQ+ community quite yet.
My saving grace is the kids. Literally, the kids teach me how to avoid pitfalls by doing things like, letting the other parent talk so I can figure out their kid’s gender, and asking parents the names of their kids first and then going by what they say. It is one hard adjustment to take from someone who is normally pretty straightforward – in the South, they call it “blunt”– but let’s just say there’s no Southern damsel in distress here. I ask and tell people what I need and they usually are pretty good about it.
It’s also hard, because there are A LOT of friends that are trans. I need my kids’ help on this, and they are doing wonderfully. I promise to try to do my best. My kids (horrified, but patiently) adopted my inside-voice, for family only lingo, like, “They’re a boy but they have a vagina right now” to help me to learn. But they also promised to warn me that “so and so is trans” etc.
About 90 percent of who my kids hang with are gay, pansexual, trans, or non-binary. I think it’s cool that they have this gang of kids that are allies or part of the LGBTQ+ community. They support each other, and they are a large group. It gives me peace of mind knowing that they’re part of a bigger thing, and aren’t as isolated as so many have been in the past, and still are today. No matter who they are now or in the future, I am an ally and have an open door for them, as long as they have been good to my kids.
I was very surprised to find all this in Eastern Tennessee. We have come a long way to making trans visibility and acceptance part of the norm, as it should be. We also have a long way still to go but it’s planting its roots.