Craignez honte. Aimez loyauté.* A family motto fit for today.
What felt like a big deal in the event was not a big deal at all. I had been agonizing over telling them, what I would say, how to get the conversation going, how to bring it up, and had planned to do it on a long drive we had planned together. My wife fuelled my anxiety: “have you researched how to tell them? Have you spoken to your therapist about this?” And, my wife of course didn’t want me to tell them. She also wanted to be there when I did—as if!
I said, “I don’t think it is that big a deal. The only thing that will be a big deal for them is that we’re getting divorced.”
But she is not seeing her own feelings for what theirs might be. Yes, I worry about rejection, but my children are close, in part a reflection of the energy and investment I have given to their lives. I didn’t think they would care.
She was saying, “don’t tell them on the drive, tell them when they can have time to be by themselves, to go to their rooms and process things.” I guess I don’t like being told what to do. My wife was out with friends, so over dinner with the kids, I just told them.
She wanted me to promise I wouldn’t tell them. I said, “no.” My therapist was proud of me. She gave me some beautiful words. “You have an opportunity to show them that shame has no place in life. That will be a good lesson for them to learn, and to see you role model that.”
So, over dinner, I told them I was non-binary. They believed me. “Whoa, you’ve been living in stealth,” one said. That was a good first step. And then they teased me. We all had a good laugh about it as they all ribbed me. And then they began to mix serious questions with the teasing.
“Are you still our father?” Yes, of course I am. I will always be your father.
“What are your pronouns?” I accept any pronouns. But I also think the awareness and conscious use of pronouns is a very important, especially because it is uncomfortable, thing for us to do.
“Yes, really. I don’t care which ones people use, any of them flatter me.”
“What if we call you ‘chair’ or some other neo word? That’s popular at school.”
“Those kinds of pronouns are just people taking the piss.”
I had told them I was non-binary.
“That means Mama is gay. Does Mama know she is a lesbian?” She would not be amused.
“She doesn’t feel that way. She’s quite unhappy about it.”
“She’s very straight.”
“Yes, she is.”
I didn’t feel it was appropriate to speak in depth about her or what she is feeling, and certainly not wishing to tell them of our impending divorce, especially since that is her thing.
“We can’t call you Papa anymore. We’ll have to find something new. Mapa or Pama.” This was the general tone…playful but also serious at the same time.
“Of course, you can call me Papa. Nothing has to change.”
“We prefer to call you Mapa or Pama.” These are new terms to me.
I told them that I wasn’t comfortable not telling them about me. That I wanted them to know that shame and guilt have no place in life, and that by telling them, I hoped that they could understand that and see it and prevent shame from ever taking hold in their own lives.
They wanted to understand it, how long it had been.
“A lifetime, since I was born.”
We talked statistics. They did not understand that non-binary also means transgender. I explained that transgender people are 1% of the population (amazing to think the noise we attract amongst the chattering classes and the politicos who represent them), and that non-binary people are 1% of the 1%. They were astonished it was so few. Non-binary is a subset of transgender, that we simply don’t seek to be either one or the other but see ourselves as a little of both.
We talked about God. This is one thing that my wife agrees on: that God is non-binary. By definition.
“Do you know how many people at school identify as non-binary?”
“A lot of people don’t know what non-binary really means. A lot of people think it means bisexual. But non-binary, the gender we are, has nothing to do with sexuality. Sexuality is about preference.”
“Does that mean you are genderqueer?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Basically, if you are non-binary, no matter who you sleep with, you are gay.”
“Technically you are right. I am what is known as a gynophile. I like women.”
One wanted to know what the characteristics of a non-binary person are.
“What do you mean. Like what?”
“Do non-binary people like certain colours, certain foods,” joke as metaphor.
“So, what is different?”
I explained dysphoria and feeling comfortable or not in one’s own body. I asked whether they had ever wondered about their own gender, even just once. The answer came back a chorus of ‘no’s’.
“Okay, there is a big difference. There hasn’t been a day of my life where I have not been able to just take my gender for granted. Can you imagine what it is like to wake up every day and think your body is wrong, not that it is too fat or too skinny or not tall enough or too tall, but that it is some big joke? I know that many trans people think they were born in the wrong body, that they ‘came out wrong’. I don’t feel that. I feel that I came out right, but that it is a punishment, a cruel joke.”
In other words, no security about this fundamental sense of identity.
They were amused to know that I am a member of transgender and LGBTQ pride groups in more than one city. “Cool,” was the word used to describe it. They were surprised to learn that some gay people don’t like transgender people. That there is a group of gay people who don’t think we belong under the LGBTQIA umbrella. We talked about politics and how nasty they were. Trans people just need acceptance, just like anyone else.
“Being gay is about sexuality. It wasn’t always easy, but now there is a level of social acceptance, that people’s preferences come in all flavours, and that being gay is just like anything else, and society has begun accepting them. Gender dysphoria is different. There is no reason that a gay person is any more likely to be comfortable with that as a straight CIS person. Struggling with self-identity is hard to understand for anyone. And in a way, they are right—being trans is about our own sense of self and has nothing to do with who we want to sleep with.”
“You must be pretty psyched about pride month.”
“Yes, there is a party tomorrow in the park.”
“Yes, there is, I know, I plan to go.”
“Speaking of pride. I am very proud of you guys for not being bothered by it.”
“That’s what kids are for,” said one, “if you can’t talk to your children, who can you talk to?”
Another child promised to buy me a transgender flag with his/her pocket money. As I headed to bed, I thought about how much more enlightened children are today. Not just in these terms, but also with the environment, social justice, racism. Why is it that the young of today are so woke, when those of our time and before were not? Why do we so need these kids to grow up and take charge? How has our generation, and many before it, failed humanity so spectacularly?
*The family motto above means “Fear shame, love loyalty.” In our small way, last night, we all lived up to that credo.