Years ago I became friends with the first openly trans person I had ever known. I am ashamed to admit, now, that in hindsight I asked her all the classic questions, and basically made her shoulder the burden of my learning about what it means to be trans.
And, you know, I meant well. I wanted to help. I wanted to save her from the trauma she was dealing with. But the sheer arrogance of thinking that I had any useful contribution to make appalls me now. I knew, quite soon afterwards, that I had behaved badly. But I don’t think I really understood.
And now, 25 years later, here I am with a non-binary child. And I value with all of my heart the friends who listen. The friends who ask what it’s like. Who want to know how they can help. And above all, the friends who pass on what they have learned to their loved ones.
What exhausts me, beyond measure, are the people who “want to help”, by which I really mean, whether they know it or not, the people who want my child’s non-binaryness to go away.
The friends who ask whether we are pandering to a whim that will disappear over time, or helping our child make choices they will come to regret.
The people who say they are sure that gender is binary, non-binary is not a thing, and can we please explain to them what it means, and how it can be real?
The people who doubt.
So this is my message to you, if you doubt. Or if you can’t understand the issue when people say things that trans & gender diverse people find hurtful.
Don’t ask trans and non-binary people to explain themselves to you. Don’t ask their parents to prove it to you.
Do some reading. Read things by trans and gender diverse people – the internet is full of them! (And please, please don’t ask us to find them for you – start at a reputable trans support organisation and work outwards. It’s really not difficult.)
One of my friends recently questioned why I was so upset about JK Rowling’s comments. She couldn’t see what the problem was. And after a bit of back and forth, I was really touched when she apologised. She had realised, she said, that she had been doing her learning out loud, and that in such a traumatic context, that was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
I love that she did the learning, and came to understand the issue, and I am grateful to her for crystallising my learning, and articulating what was troubling me, that I had not fully understood: That every person who puts their doubt on my shoulders – or, far worse, on my child’s shoulders! – imposes an extra burden on shoulders already bearing more weight than they should. More weight than you can imagine.
So if you encounter a trans, or gender diverse person – or anyone else dealing with issues you don’t understand! – listen to anything they have to tell you, but spare them your doubt. Go and do your learning in the privacy of your own head, and keep the burden of your ignorance away from people who experience far too much of the world’s ignorance, and cruelty, every day.