My mom worked at Disney for 41 years, retiring a couple of years ago. She has felt rather useless since, applying here and there for server jobs, but when they see how she teeters while walking, they tell her “Thanks, but no thanks.” This inevitably leads to tears, my comforting her that she is not worthless and she will find something. Something that helps others, not just herself.
As we know, on June 12, 2016, the horrific slaughter happened at Pulse Nightclub here in Orlando. As dawn presented herself on that Sunday morning, the LGBT Center opened its doors as hoards of terrified and in-shock community members flooded in for companionship in their grief.
I’d called my mom about 3am and we watched as the terror unfolded, sick to our stomachs and our hearts breaking more with each passing moment.
When we heard The Center had opened, she got herself dressed and headed over. She spent the next twelve hours, holding, crying and touching hands with complete strangers, yet precious hurting humans. While mama isn’t on the LGBTQ spectrum herself, I am a Dyke, my niece a lesbian and one of my daughters is bi. She felt these people in front of her were, quite literally, family.
Over the next three weeks, she went to The Center several times, not sure what she could do, but always finding someone needing her grandmotherly love and attention. I could not be more proud.
Filling Out the Application
Without telling me, mom applied to volunteer at The Center. When she told me, I am sure I squealed with delight. She said, with tears in her eyes, “I think this is what I have been waiting for, to be with the LGBT community.” I beamed a smile and said I absolutely agreed.
She didn’t hear from them for several days, but she kept going down there anyway. She mentioned they hadn’t called and I thought it kind of odd, so asked what she’d said on the application. She said when it asked, “Why do you want to volunteer at The Center?” she answered, “Because I’m bored.” My eyes bugged out of my head. “WHAT?!? Did you, perhaps, mention the number of Dykes in your family?!” Blankly she looked at me and said, “No, should I have?” (Such innocence.)
I marched her down to The Center myself and met with the Volunteer Coordinator who had mom fill out one of the extensive applications as we talked. On the app is a list of skills you can offer The Center. I could see her out of the corner of my eye that she was not having fun with this part. I asked what was going on and she stammered, “I can’t do anything!” I said that was bullshit, that she had so much compassion to offer, just write in capital letters at the bottom: LOVE.
The Volunteer Coordinator said, “You start Monday.”
Inner Work in Progress
The LGBTQ world has shifted a lot in the last decade, and at ever increasing speeds. I’ve found myself, a lifelong Dyke, struggling with my own inner homo/trans-phobia. When I learned about them/they pronouns, I was really unhappy. Angry is a more apt description. My partner of over 2 decades transitioned from female to male, me gritting my teeth the whole time, begrudgingly supportive and gradually dissolving all tenderness about the situation. And the idea that someone could wake up one gender and go to bed another completely baffled me.
I’m not really proud to say these things out loud, but there you have it.
I’m working on it.
It is with this knowledge that I felt I should try and get mom up-to-speed with lingo lest she find herself talking to someone whose gender doesn’t “match” the outside trappings or she constantly discounts that she heard no pronouns at all.
I prefaced the lesson with what I shared above, that it was all confusing even to me, so not to feel she has to learn everything immediately or worry if she makes mistakes or even has to ask for help or clarification several times. I also let her know that definitions can shift depending on who was speaking and that all the words people shared were valid and right.
When it comes to asking personal questions… “What is your birth sex?” “Have you had any surgeries?” “Are you a boy or a girl”… are incredibly invasive and inappropriate. So while I encourage asking questions, there are, most assuredly, some that need to remain unasked.
I, most especially, let her know that I am a neophyte with the Non-Binary community and that these words/concepts I share are a mere outline of the scope of language and identities out there, so to please know I am not the best educator… that those that claim/use the words are the leaders and guides. Once again encouraged her to ask for help and clarifications any time she wanted/needed to.
Genderqueer – gen·der·queer – ˈjendərˌkwi(ə)r/
“a younger generation of self-proclaimed genderqueers explicitly reject ‘transgender’ as an identifier”
Genderfluid – “Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances. Gender fluid people may also identify as multigender, non-binary and/or transgender.”
They/them pronouns – “What is a gender-neutral pronoun? What does English need a new pronoun for, anyway? Many people have expressed the need for a singular gender-neutral third-person pronoun: that is, a pronoun to use when someone’s gender is unknown or when the individual is neither male or female. Such instances occur when addressing transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable being addressed with masculine or feminine pronouns, computers or robots with artificial intelligence, sexless fictional creatures, angels, and the God of many monotheistic religions. ‘He,’ ‘she,’ or ‘it’ won’t do, ‘one’ doesn’t work when speaking of a specific person, e.g. ‘Samus washed one’s dishes,’ and in some cases even a singular ‘they’ just won’t work – specifically when a name is used, e.g. ‘Charlie tied their shoes’ or ‘Sam thought they were late to the party.'”
“Hello, my name is Linda. I use she/her pronouns. What about you?” – I explained this can be tricky, but listening is the first step with figuring out the pronouns one is using. When in doubt, introduce yourself with your preferred pronouns and they will probably follow the introduction with their own.
My mama… a very, very proud… and wonderful… ally.
And I am oh-so-proud of her.