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March 5, 2018 | by  | in Features Splash | [ssba]

Doors & Windows

Last month, in a shopping store, I corrected my mother on my twin’s pronouns, and she waved a hand dismissively.

“Look, I’m just not doing it. A mother’s got privileges,” she said. She wasn’t looking at me, but not out of guilt. She was distracted by the lace on a dressing gown. After she finished speaking, she put the gown back on the hanger and went right on browsing, like that ended the conversation that we’d been having on and off for the last four years.

As she got distracted by a dressing gown with a different pattern, I took the time to compose myself against saying all the old things. The most prominent one was how dare you. How dare you brush this off like it’s nothing? We’ve told you why this matters, why don’t you understand, why don’t you try harder, why don’t you get it?

I kept my words behind my teeth. I didn’t want to start what would spiral into a shouting match in a store. When she headed into a dressing room and told me about flooding her flat, I made interested noises, and tried not to  think about what she had said.

The way she had said “I’m just not doing it” was so casual. She hadn’t seen it as a quiet betrayal to both her kids. She thought we were too sensitive. She’d hoped my twin’s gender was a phase, and now that she realized it wasn’t, she decided not to participate. To her, it was as simple as that.

Later, I walked with my dad down to the supermarket. We stuck to the sunlit side of the street, and I told him about the shopping trip I’d just had with mum.

I told him how frustrated I was with the idea that my twin would have to come back home every Christmas, and put up with not only mum, but a tirade of relatives at dinner calling them a pronoun and a name they had long since realized wasn’t right. They would have to do it every year. Very few of our relatives were changing how they spoke when it came to my twin. In the family hive mind, my twin was the same person as they always were, but now their presence came with a level of discomfort.

My dad was quiet for a while. Then he said, “Well. I guess she-”


“They have two choices. Either they keep correcting people and put up with the fights that happen because of it, or they keep quiet and put up with getting called the wrong thing all the time”.

Both options made me angry. On the tail end of the anger came an unimaginable weariness.

“Option A is shit,” I told him. “Option B also is also shit”.

“Yep,” he said. “But what are you gonna do?”Doors and Windows

There wasn’t a particular catalyst to me figuring out I was queer. It was a process. Mostly there were quizzes taken under an incognito browser, and diary entries I crossed out in case someone found them.

Both my twin and I discovered ourselves in our teens, with me realizing I was queer at 14, and them realizing they were transgender a few years later. We hadn’t been given the information to figure it out any younger than either of us did. As far as we knew back then, there weren’t other options. We knew, vaguely, about other kinds of people, but it was a mysterious and unclear kind of knowledge that didn’t get talked about unless you were making fun of someone. Other kinds of people existed, sure, but they were very much Other Kinds of People and not Us. When it came to people who weren’t Us, we knew nothing of their inner lives, or why they were, or even the reality of what they were, because nothing was explained. Instead of explanations we got bad jokes during sitcoms that both of us laughed at. We didn’t know there were options outside what was “normal”, i.e. straight and cis.

But we learned.

None of this learning happened in schools. Any discussion of trans or queer people during school was rare and purely hypothetical, even though the class sizes meant that statistically, some of the students had to fit the criteria. This learning, the discovering, happened accidentally at first. We stumbled into it. We’d gleam something in a conversation and a light would blink on in our heads, or we’d come across a term while scrolling through Twitter which would feel confrontational in a way we weren’t comfortable with.

My confession to my twin happened in a bunk bed during a sleepover. They had been surprised, to say the least.

“I just never expected this from you,” they kept saying.

My twin’s discovery was slower and murkier. There are less resources for trans people than there are for people questioning their sexuality. Their confession to me came at a bus stop while we were waiting for friends. They followed it up with, “Please don’t mention this to anyone”, and I agreed readily. Their coming out seemed to carry a lot more danger than mine did.

I didn’t say I never expected this from you. Partly because it had been an illuminating few years since my own coming out, but mostly because I kept up to date on their personal blog. Their posts had been hinting towards this outcome for a while.

In both cases we kept it quiet from our parents for a long time after telling each other.

We confuse our parents. My twin and I have had to explain our orientations to both of them several times over. Whenever we think they get it, really get it, they’ll say something that throws us and we’d have to explain again. After the first few years we tend to put up with misconceptions unless they’re particularly outrageous.

At the start of our separate outings they told us they were supportive. In practice it turned out to be more complicated. Despite this, they have more of a handle on my queerness than my twin’s gender, or lack thereof. Gayness is a concept they understand to a point. They understand less about sexualities between and beyond gay and straight, but they mostly try to smile and nod politely about it.

When it comes to my twin’s transness, they’re less polite about it.  Their smiles are either forced or nonexistent. My dad tries to avoid the subject, but he amends his language when either of us correct him on it. My mother is another story.

“I just don’t see why it’s a big deal that I call you they,” is our mother’s constant refrain. To her, my twin’s pronouns are an annoyance. She did try at the start, but three years into it she barely bothers anymore, as if she’s trying to pretend it never happened. This keeps up with how much we correct her on it: at the start, we’d interject ‘they’ whenever she used the wrong term. Nowadays we shut up about it. Whenever we try to correct her it blows into a screaming match where she’s trying, it’s just difficult, she’s still getting used to it, and when we point out that it’s been three years she just glares.

If the pronouns are an annoyance, my twin changing their name is an insult.

“Your name is something I gave to you. And you’re rejecting it,” is something she likes to bring up, as if my twin is doing it to spite her, like all of it is.

Still, she loves us. My twin and I were a last-ditch effort at the end of a 15-year attempt for kids that ended her chances for more. She wanted us so badly, but in the past few years we’ve started to get the feeling that she got more than she bargained for. She had an image of children in her mind that we’ve long since grown out of.

They don’t cover “what to do when your child is queer” in parenting classes, because it’s just assumed they won’t be. It’s the same way soon-to-be parents aren’t taught what to do if their child has a disability or disorder: everyone assumes their child will be “normal”.

Any deviation from “normal” is something parents never signed up for. From there, it’s a gamble: either they understand or they don’t, and if they don’t understand, then hopefully they’re willing to listen. And if they listen and still don’t understand, if they never do, that’s another story, one shared by too many queer people.

It’s a story that would never have been told fifty years ago, sometimes even twenty. Nowadays when queer people are not understood by parents, more of them are comforted with the knowledge that, even if their parents don’t understand, there are countless people out there — online or at school or down the street — who do.

There’s a vivid memory of my mother from when I was twelve and researching Ellen Degeneres for a school project. I told my mother about it, and how Ms. Degeneres seemed cool, and then I leaned close.

“But she’s a lesbian,” I whispered.

My mother looked at me and said, “So?”

Then she walked off. My parents had been the kind who thought that sure, being gay was fine, and because it was fine they didn’t need to tell their kids about it. This led to their kids making up their own assumptions, and the things I picked up — from TV, from kids at school, from playground jokes — didn’t paint queerness in a positive light.

I remember the cool shock washing over me as she disappeared down the hall. Nowadays I think that if she’d stuck around to tell me about gay people, and how they weren’t strange or dirty, she could’ve saved me a few confusing years. She could’ve told me something that neither her, nor dad, nor any adult in my entire childhood, ever mentioned — that being gay wasn’t just a thing for other people on the fringes of society to do. How it wasn’t just for distant cousins you never saw, or the best friends in movies whose main personality traits were “Gay” and “Hilarious Due To Gayness”. You, too, could be gay. You could even be other identities that didn’t get covered in the black and white descriptions of Gay and Straight.

In reality, my mother couldn’t have told me half of those things. Even if she sat me down at age 11 and told me everything she knew about queer people, it would still just be a stepping stone to me figuring out what I was. Because my mother, like so many other people her age, like so many people my age and any age, hadn’t been given the right information. It was never offered and she didn’t think to ask.

Nowadays she does have that information. She doesn’t understand it and doesn’t accept some of it, but it’s there. And even if she doesn’t understand, there are more and more kids growing up with easier access to information that would’ve saved me a lot of trouble. People are talking about LGBT kids less as a hypothetical and more as a reality.

We are a reality. People are coming out younger than they ever have before. In 2010, Stonewall, an organization in the UK, conducted a poll claiming that “in 1991, the average coming-out age was 25. [Nowadays, the age] is 16 years old”. The internet, among other things, has provided us with widespread tools that we can use to figure out a name for what we are. We can find definitions, information, solace, community, all with a few touches on a keyboard.

While my cousin was telling me how different primary school is now than it was back in her day, she paused in the middle of telling me about the NZ sign language her child is being taught, and said, “oh, and there’s a gay kid in her class! Everyone loves him, he’s so smart, but not in a smarmy way. He’s eight and he’s adorable”.

I agreed that it was great, and as my cousin switched back to talking about sign language, I tried to parse if she would have been born before or after homosexuality was decriminalized in New Zealand. When I asked, she said she had been born in 1987.

“So, one year after it was legal to be gay here,” I told her.

She blinked. “What? That can’t be right. In New Zealand?”

“Yep, before 1986 it was illegal to be gay here.”

“Jeeee-zus. That’s crazy. That’s such a short amount of time ago.”

And it is. I think about that fact a lot, that you could get legally punished for being gay in my parent’s lifetime. I’ll walk down the street and guess people’s ages, and everyone over the age of 31 was alive during a period where being myself would have been a criminal offense.

But here we are in a period where I can sit on my cousin’s carpet and talk with her about the gay eight year old that goes to school with her kid. This eight year old, just the concept of him, and the knowledge that he’s a reality, has me hopeful. It’s a powerful balm knowing that he not only realized he was queer so young, but he had people around him who enabled him to understand that it was an option. That it was an option, and that it was okay.

Thirty years ago — ten, even — he could’ve been eight years old and confused. Or eight and not even thinking about any of it yet, just assuming he liked girls because that’s what boys did. He could’ve grown up thinking he was wrong, or grown up and realized his queerness and hid it. His parents might not have known to let him know it was okay, or otherwise didn’t think it was okay in the first place.

But it isn’t thirty years ago, or even ten. This kid was given the tools, and he used them to uncover himself.

My twin lives in a five bedroom flat and everyone there is some type of queer. When I told our friend about it, she laughed.

“That sounds like a great sitcom idea,” she said.

On the walk home I thought up a sitcom full of people with identities that parents are afraid to talk to their children about. They are the main characters instead of punchlines. When someone says what they are — I am bi, I am agender, I am nonbinary, I am demisexual — they don’t get a confused look, or someone quickly changing the subject. They get a nod of understanding before the show heads towards a joke that doesn’t have anything to do with people outside the confines of “normal”.

It’s probably far off. Still, it feels closer than ever.


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