Hillary Clinton may have received a standing ovation before the curtain went up on Sunset Boulevard the night I was there, but it was my kid Harry’s friend, drag artist Severely Mame, whom audience members lauded with compliments on our way in and out of the show. Mame had arrived at the theater channeling the play’s faded silent film star Norma Desmond, right down to Ms. Desmond’s exact cigarette case. I felt like I was in the entourage of a celebrity the whole night.
“Did you guys have time to eat before the show?” I asked Harry and Mame as the pre-show Hillary applause died down.
I winced as soon as I said the words “you guys” and wondered if I had just offended the glam duo. I know I say “you guys” all the time when referring to a mixed-gender group or even several girlfriends, but “guys” is clearly a gendered word. It didn’t seem right when staring them in the face, because I know Harry, aka drag artist Amber Alert, and Mame refer to each other as “girl” and use she/her/hers pronouns when together.
I asked Harry later if “you guys” had bothered him. He hadn’t really noticed.
“People say ‘you guys’ all the time, Mom.”
“You guys” became a teachable moment for me. I decided right then to replace it with the more gender neutral, albeit southern, “y’all.”
And as a straight ally for the LGBTQ community, I’m hopeful other allies will also think twice about language used and questions asked. I say this because I have friends who are strong supporters of LGBTQ rights, but whom I’ve heard ask highly insensitive questions, especially as they relate to transgender people.
I was at a party recently talking with a man recently who was telling a lady friend of his and me that his husband was transitioning. She had changed her name and was using female pronouns.
“Is she going to have the surgery?” his girlfriend asked casually.
He paused before replying, “She hasn’t decided.”
I was cringing. I couldn’t believe his friend had asked such a personal question. My mom was big on manners, and had hammered on me from an early about what was polite and what wasn’t. I even had a book on the subject.
So believe me when I say that questions about what’s between the legs of transgender, nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people are just plain inappropriate. Our life experience as humans is so much broader than our anatomy. Being transgender is about gender identity, and has little to do with what’s in someone’s pants. I refer you back to the Genderbread Person, the easiest way to remember the differences among the terms gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, and the sex assigned at birth.
As the mom of a nonbinary kid, I get asked questions, too. Questions of clarification like, “What if I pass someone on the street and can’t determine their gender?” My advice to them is to smile and just keep on walking, for they will have simply experienced the diversity of human experience. And that happenstance is also a good reminder that someone’s gender identity is defined by them, not by society’s preconceived ideas about gender.
And just in case you meet someone and are unsure of their gender, it is totally appropriate to ask them what pronouns they use. I assure you it’s not only an acceptable question, but one that will be welcomed and appreciated as well. In fact LGBTQ youth ask each other that all the time. I’ve even been to events where name badges include pronouns used.
Any questions? I ask because in this ever-evolving worldwide gender revolution of ours, answering questions helps me continue learning, too.
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