IS THAT A HE OR A SHE?

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Submitted Date 02/17/2019
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I am not a parent, but if I were, I’d hope to do as good a job of parenting as my friend, Ella.* Her engaging Facebook posts often include proud parenting moments and I was especially impressed by a story she shared recently:

“My ten-year-old daughter and I were at a restaurant tonight, and our server was transgender. I overheard our neighboring table (sitting behind my daughter) making remarks about our server…’What is that? Can you tell?’ I felt myself turning red and was hoping [my daughter] wasn’t listening.

But I guess she was, because as soon as one of them said ‘What am I supposed to call it?’ She turned around and said ‘I’ve been calling her ‘ma’am’ and she seems OK with it. But if you aren’t sure, you can just ask what she prefers.’

After stunning our neighbors into silence, she turned back to me, and rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner. I told her how proud I was of her for being brave and speaking up. She shrugged and asked if we could leave a bigger tip than usual, because ‘I think her job is probably harder than most servers.’”

Ella never mentions the age of the people sitting next to them, but I’m assuming they weren’t children. Just adults acting badly. From time to time, I’m shocked to realize that people still behave this way; that there’s still stigma and racism and sexism. Then again, I tend to surround myself with like-minded people who don’t behave like bigots. And then there’s the fact that I’m not transgender. I think it’s safe to assume that people who are must be keenly aware of the prejudices of other people.

I’m not immune to sexist, racist, or bigoted thoughts. They pop up in my head from time to time. I’m not perfect at stopping them, but I’m trying. Recently, I went to a protest in town. As the crowd was breaking up, I passed a person who had facial hair. But, after a double-take, I realized it wasn’t hair at all, it was drawn on. Several thoughts ran through my head: was this a woman trying to pass as a man, why didn’t they wear a more convincing beard, maybe they’re not trans at all, but just came from rehearsing a play? I wanted to ask. If they’re trying to pass as male, I could give them some tips, I thought. And then I realized…

Wait a minute. Whatever the gender of this person was, it didn’t matter. Whether they were trying to pass as male or just had a bad makeup job - it wasn’t any of my business. So, I didn’t ask. I just smiled as I passed.

If a ten-year-old can grasp the concept of a transgender server, then why can’t some adults show the same respect? I can only think of a few circumstances in which the gender of another person should make a difference: if I were a healthcare professional who needed to examine them, if they were talking to me about their gender, and if I was interested in having sex with them. After all, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the genitals of my coworkers, fellow grocery shoppers, or the attendant at the gas station. So, why should I suddenly be concerned enough to wonder about the gender of this bearded stranger?

I love it when people introduce themselves and include their preferred pronouns. It’s great because it saves me from awkward assumptions. I also love it when my world view is challenged. It gives me a chance to grow and improve. For a while, I’ll probably continue to have racist, bigoted, and sexist thoughts. I wasn’t raised with prejudices against other people; my parents have never been overtly racist or homophobic. But, I grew up in an age where not many people came out of the closet; where my classmates made jokes about being gay. It’s in my programming; the stereotypes I’ve seen on TV, looking for girls’ toys in the pink aisle, and being curious about other people. But, I try my best not to act on these things. I have learned to stop and examine my thoughts. I think it’s made me a better person, but again, I’m far from perfect. The important thing is that I keep challenging myself to change.

 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

**Trans flag by torbakhopper via Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/)

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  • David Ross Washington Jr 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    it wasn’t any of my business
    This is the most important thing that I think would make the world easier. If we learned to mind our own business, life would be easier. If we'd learn to mind our business and not interrupt what makes someone else happy, their choices, the world would be a much better place. I'm glad that you redirected your thoughts, and understand the real relevance overall.

  • David Ross Washington Jr 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    I love how respectful, well-mannered, and just overall compassionate and humane your daughter is and acted in the situation as you all were out to eat. That's so beautiful and amazing. "After all, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the genitals of my coworkers, fellow grocery shoppers, or the attendant at the gas station. So, why should I suddenly be concerned enough to wonder about the gender of this bearded stranger?" <- I think it's important that when we have these prejudice thoughts to question the legitimacy and relevance of these thoughts like you did. We then learn how to be better humans, and communicate more compassionate and respectful. Love this article and that you shared this. This is definitely necessary to hear (well... read, lol).

    • Jen Parrilli 8 months, 3 weeks ago

      I wanted to convey that I'm not perfect and that you're not an evil person if you aren't automatically thinking the "right" things. What's important is that you challenge yourself and allow yourself to grow. I'm glad you liked the piece!

  • Mary Jaimes-Serrano 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    If a ten-year-old can grasp the concept of a transgender server, then why can’t some adults show the same respect?
    Jen, first of all, thank you for sharing this piece. I think this statement about the 10-year-old is powerful. It shows a lot of where prejudices come from. They come from surroundings and teachings that are not necessarily meant to be wrong. They just sometimes are. As the mother of an openly gay young adult, I find that I am overly sensitive to some of the remarks that are made towards him and his partner. Not because I think the other people do not have a right to their own opinion, I just feel that he has a right to be himself. I think that sex, race, religious beliefs are all things that should be the choice of the person who holds those beliefs. I am not gay, but that does not mean I love my son any less because he is. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It is something our world needs to learn. Have a wonderful week.

    • Jen Parrilli 8 months, 3 weeks ago

      I'm happy that you enjoyed my article and I'm glad to see that you're supportive of your son. Hopefully, our society will learn to be more accepting and these stigmas will become a thing of the past.

  • Miranda Fotia 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    I also love it when my world view is challenged. It gives me a chance to grow and improve.
    Love this! The world would be a better place if more people welcomed their world view being challenged and saw it as an opportunity for growth. Great article!

  • Gabriele Russo 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    Thank you for admitting you're not perfect in this regard. It makes me feel slightly better about my own slips. I guess we're probably close in age - I often catch myself with these early 90s thoughts, not mean, but probably not as sensitive as should be. Luckily, while I grew up in a world where this type of thing didn't exist much, I was also taught manners: you don't point, laugh, or purposely make someone uncomfortable in any way whatsoever. Maybe basic manners is what is missing for the people sitting next to you at that restaurant.

    • Jen Parrilli 8 months, 3 weeks ago

      That's definitely a big part of it.

  • Andrea Hope 8 months, 3 weeks ago

    Yes! I think you've reflected on a very simple and profound approach: don't make it matter when it doesn't. After reading a statistic that the rate of suicide for transgender people is 40%, I started watching videos from transgender people to gain some understanding. Your article reminded me of a great point (can't remember where I came across it) if you're not sure what to call a trans person, just call them their name. Although most people who "aren't sure" what to call someone can usually see what gender the person is presenting as, if some folks are uncomfortable switching pronouns or asking, they could simply use the person's name.

    • Andrea Hope 8 months, 3 weeks ago

      I highly recommend this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZPlFULFTpc

    • Jen Parrilli 8 months, 2 weeks ago

      Thanks for the video link! I'm really encouraged to hear from so many supportive readers. Corny as it sounds, it warms my heart to learn so many of you care about the fair treatment of trans folks.

  • Ellen Gibson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

    Thank you so much for writing this. I feel as if so many people think that they have an opinion on what others choose to do with their lives. If a person is not hurting anyone else with their decisions, then who are we to say who they can or cannot be. We do not live their life. As someone who is not transgender, I cannot even begin to imagine how it must feel to be born in the wrong body. So who the hell am I to have an opinion on someone else's struggle? I really understand the part about having prejudice thoughts pop up from time to time. I was born into a conservative christian family and live in the Midwest U.S. If you want to see large groups of bigoted people, visit my hometown. So I was raised with the mindset that these people were sinning, that they had demons, and were going to hell. It took about 20 years for me to challenge this thought process. I now regret how I once spoke out against gay and transgender people. They are just normal people living their life. It may have taken some time, but I fully support them. I even realized that my sexuality isn't even straight. It took some un-bigoted people (dear friends of mine) to show me just how wrong I was in the way I was raised. I am forever grateful for them. And I will forever support people's rights to be who they are. I apologize if my thoughts were all over the place on this, but this piece made me feel something. Again, thank you for writing it. Much love!

    • Jen Parrilli 6 months, 3 weeks ago

      Thank you for sharing. I'm happy that you found a more accepting perspective than the one you were raised with. But it sounds like you probably understand that some people feel gay or trans people ARE somehow hurting them. I guess it helps them justify their blind hatred. When I was a kid, I mimicked the other children when they made fun of "being gay" just generally or teased other kids from different ethnic backgrounds. As I grew older, I was mortified to realize how awful that was of me. It's great when we can learn from our mistakes and come to a better realization. :)

  • Ellen Gibson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

    Thank you so much for writing this. I feel as if so many people think that they have an opinion on what others choose to do with their lives. If a person is not hurting anyone else with their decisions, then who are we to say who they can or cannot be. We do not live their life. As someone who is not transgender, I cannot even begin to imagine how it must feel to be born in the wrong body. So who the hell am I to have an opinion on someone else's struggle? I really understand the part about having prejudice thoughts pop up from time to time. I was born into a conservative christian family and live in the Midwest U.S. If you want to see large groups of bigoted people, visit my hometown. So I was raised with the mindset that these people were sinning, that they had demons, and were going to hell. It took about 20 years for me to challenge this thought process. I now regret how I once spoke out against gay and transgender people. They are just normal people living their life. It may have taken some time, but I fully support them. I even realized that my sexuality isn't even straight. It took some un-bigoted people (dear friends of mine) to show me just how wrong I was in the way I was raised. I am forever grateful for them. And I will forever support people's rights to be who they are. I apologize if my thoughts were all over the place on this, but this piece made me feel something. Again, thank you for writing it. Much love!

  • Kiersten Felch 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    An Important conversation to have.