Monday, July 5, 2021

The Ref is Called, "Sir" and Other Ways to Avoid Misgendering People


Ryu works the sideline.

Being misgendered can suck. I only have a tiny amount of firsthand experience with this, but it's been over a long period of time. People often think that I am a woman when I am on the phone. It's been going on my whole life. I used to think it was because I was kid, but it still happens. It's only really bothered me a couple times and it doesn't come close to being something that causes me to produce more than an unseen eye roll before I correct the person. In this way, I am privileged. Since I've never had to wrestle with society failing to accept my gender, being mistaken for a woman doesn't have the same effect on me that it can have for other people. 

Assuming a person's gender isn't something I thought much about until a few years ago. For a long time, I was content to go with whatever I picked up from my perception of a person's markers of gender expression. These were cues like hair cuts, clothes and accessories. As I've grown in my understanding of gender and the difference between identity and expression, I know that while they are often linked, expression isn't enough to go on. I saw this with my middle child, who came out as non-binary, but hasn't changed much about their personal style. My oldest, also non-binary, hasn't changed their style much either. Both are often misgendered, but in different ways and with different results. 

Lou hunting a tackle
Most misgendering for my kids comes on the rugby field. Kids play co-ed until middle school, so it's common to have boys and girls and non-binary kids all on teams together. I'll be honest, it can be hard at times to tell who's who. The kids range in age from 7-10 in U10s and from 10-12 in U12 and if you know about kids, you know that the range of sizes and features as kids grow is staggering. Add in the fact that they're all in uniforms and, good luck.  Lou's rugby nickname is "Crash," which removes one more societal marker for gender. Even Lou's real name, being non-anglo and uncommon even for its culture of origin, doesn't provide any help for most people. Lou is sporting a door side-shave that has become a common hair style for people of all genders. So Lou is called a girl about 60/40, and both assumptions are wrong.

Ryu is another story. Being our child, Ryu is very slight of build. Their voice is still child-like, having not yet differentiated. They have grown a beautiful golden mane that they wear in a pony tail when playing or refereeing. When in uniform, this is usually the only typical gender marker that people pick up on. The other thing is that when we ref, we often wear pink, which has become popular for rugby referees in the last decade. I've often had coaches tell me how great it is that my daughter is out officiating games. When I tell them, that's not my daughter, they pivot to how great it is that her parents let her come out with me. 

I need to find a better way to express this concept.

This came to a head a couple weeks when Ryu was working the sideline at a game. I was working the opposite line, so I didn't hear anything about it until later. When we got home, Ryu reported that the coaches on the far sideline spent the entire game referring to Ryu as, "sweetheart." Ew. First off, don't call anyone you're not already in some kind of relationship with, sweetheart. Gross. Second, don't use a diminutive when talking to a match official. Especially a kid and especially if you think they're a girl. I know it may be hard to have to refer to a child in a way that defer's to their authority over you based on the position they have taken in the match, but you still have to do it. Thirdly, don't assume someone's gender. Finally, rugby has already set up a way to avoid this, the referee is called, "sir."

The term, sir is use to address all match officials in the sport. It doesn't matter their age. It doesn't matter their gender. It doesn't matter if they are in the middle of the field or on the sideline. The referee is called, sir. This idea is so ingrained in rugby culture that in parts of the mid-west the word is used not only as a title, but as a noun and a verb. As in, "Are you the sir?" and "Are you sirring for us today?" It essentially replaces the word "referee" in some dialects. When called, ma'am, female referees will sometimes correct it to, sir. Here's what I sent to the coaching staff:

"I'm writing to follow up on one thing and I hope that it comes across in text as being friendly and gentle, which is how I intend it. 

Could you please remind your coaches to refrain from referring to any referee or AR as, "sweetheart?" All match officials, regardless of gender can be addressed as, "sir." I know for sure that there was no offense intended from the staff. I am certain it was an endearment and not an insult. However, we should generally practice not using diminutives with match officials. More specifically because in this case the term used, generally applied to girls, misgendered the AR. The AR wasn't deeply offended, but did feel uncomfortable and didn't feel able to correct the coaches during the match while also attending to their AR duties. 

I know that you all have your hearts and minds in the right place, I know you're all top notch. I did want to get us all thinking about how we interact with officials and keeping to the same standards even when the officials are children.

I am always happy to have more conversation about this or any other aspect of officiating. Thank you again for coming down and thank you for all of the energy and effort you've put into helping develop referees this season."

The coaches replied and said everything you'd hope one would say in this situation. As time goes on, hopefully the presence of my kids in the league will help bring awareness and maybe even change habits. The thing is, habits are hard to break, even for those of us who think we're thinking about this stuff.

I made a mistake recently that showed me how much work I still need to do. We got a new kid at rugby a couple weeks ago, just coming up to us from U8. Slight build, cool undercut hair style, gender neutral name. The second practice the kid was at, they ended up behind me as I was jogging backward and I bowled them over. Another player asked what happened and I said, "He was behind me and I didn't see him and I knocked him over." That's when the other coach started shout-whispering, "she." It took me couple times to figure out what he was saying. "She. SHE." he shout whispered couple more times. Aw crap, I had just misgendered the new kid in nearly the same way it happens to Lou, and for almost the same reasons. I definitely wanted to dig a hole in the turf and bury myself. 

I did what most people do. I took the available evidence and made what I thought was a reasonable assumption based on how I think the world is ordered. Except, I'm supposed to know better. I really thought I was past using my perception of gender expression and context to assume a person's gender. I'm not. Even after having conversations with my kids and my wife about paling everyone, they until you know for sure, I made this mistake. This was even after another embarrassing moment that happened when I was picking up my kids on the last day at transgender kids summer camp. I signed one of the kids out and said to the counselor, who I'd had some rough patches with during the week, "Thanks, man." I was mortified. I sincerely do not know this person's gender and it doesn't even matter what their gender is, this is the one place where I really needed to be more careful. "Hey, I didn't mean, man like...it's...I say it to everyone. I didn't mean..." The counselor cut me off/saved me, "It's cool. I get it." Thanks, kid. You're very kind. 

So how can you or I or anyone avoid this? Here are my ideas.

-Use people's names if you don't know their gender. Read through this post again, there are places where I use names instead of other pronouns. It takes practice and can feel awkward, but it's a good trick and useful for when you're still getting used to someone's pronouns.

-If you can't smoothly insert their name, or don't know it, use, "they." Yes, for some people, they is their pronoun and for others it isn't and maybe someone who uses something else will take offense. But I think most people will get your intent, see it as a positive and offer you their pronouns. If singular they seems confusing to you, think of the lost item example to see how you probably already use it: "Hey, someone left their sweatshirt here. We should find out who they are and get it back to them." You don't actually say, "Someone left his or her sweatshirt, we should get it back to him or her."

-Normalize including your pronouns. Even if you're cis, let people know your pronouns. It can function as an invitation for others to also disclose their pronouns and know that they're with someone safe. 

-Don't call people, "man." It's reflexive for those of us who grew up wanting to emulate The Fonz, but its time has passed. It's a hard habit to break, but just break it. A lot of people won't care, but I don't want to be the guy who reawakened someone's trauma with an offhand turn of phrase I cold just as well not say.

-Remember that most things you say could be said just as well without a gender tag. "Excuse me, miss." Could just be "Excuse me." "Hello, sweetheart," could just be "Hello." "Your son or daughter," could just be "your child." It's really not hard to just stop talking before you say the gendered part.

Finally, don't let yourself off the hook, but don't beat yourself up. I'm raising these transgender kids, going to workshops, spending time and effort to be the best ally I can be and I still make mistakes. I don't take them lightly. I use each one as an opportunity to remember that I can't be complacent or ever think that I'm done learning and growing. It's OK to be imperfect as long as you keep getting better.

I probably missed somethings here, so please feel free to correct me in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

Ryu goes to the whistle and admonishes Lou for calling them "princess" during a match.


 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Podcast Episode 5: Malik from The Real World 10, 20 Years Later



I'm a child of the 80s who came of age in the 90s, so it goes without saying that I was obsessed with Mtv. Even in the years before we had cable, I was hooked on it. Every time we went to a house that had cable, I wanted to watch music videos and VJs and music news and Remote Control. This was a boon to my mom because if she took me to a grown up dinner party or some other boring thing, she knew there was a chance I'd sit there watching Dire Straits or Duran Duran for hours.

My freshman year of high school, Mtv helped pioneer reality television, airing The Real World in 1991. I watch every episode twice trying to keep up with the network's seemingly random schedule. I loved it. It was weird and contrived but also somehow pure. That lasted about three seasons, before they found ways to push the drama and diminish the reality. Some time after Real World 3 in San Francisco, I stopped watching. Until 2001.

For the tenth anniversary of the show, the production headed back to New York and featured a cast member from Berkeley, Ca, Malik Cooper. Malik is one of my best friends and I'll be honest, I was jealous. I had harbored a dream of being on the show back when I was too young to do it, then given up the dream when the show lost its tenuous grip on "reality." Still, when I heard he was going, I was a little bitter.

Despite that, I watched every episode I could, considering I didn't have cable. My mom taped the episodes and sent them to me in L.A. where I watched them on my 12-inch TV/VCR all-in-one unit. Fast forward to Christmas break 2020, the season for doing cleaning and organizing projects. I decided to take one more pyrrhic stab at organizing the LEGO bricks in Ryu's room, but I wanted something to watch. The only media device there is an upgraded 32-inch TV/VCR all-in-one. I knew what had to be done, a full Real World season 10 re-watch, with Ryu at my side for most of it. 

What I didn't expect when I slid that tape in, is that many of the themes of the show were still relevant today.  In some ways, that season of the show was more relevant in the winter of 2020 than it was at any time since it aired. The central themes are conversations about race, especially as viewed by people who grew up in different parts of the country. Another theme is gender and gender norms. Watching with my mixed race, transgender kid brought up a lot of interesting questions and conversations. The more I watched, the more I knew I wanted to talk to Malik about what he remembers and what's changed or stayed immutable over the last twenty years. 

So I called him up and we recorded this episode of the podcast. In it, we talk about race, class, gender and The Miz. We talk about his new life as a dad and how to manage all these damn LEGO bricks. We also get to the bottom of an old controversy, what exactly did Malik say about being the only one to go to college?

Monday, September 7, 2020

Renaming Berkeley Schools with a Local Focus: A Case for "Carolyn Adams Elementary"


We are in a period of national awakening. I don't need to recap the state of the world for you right now. If you're reading this, you know how to spell "interdisciplinary," so I trust that you're up on current events. OK, just incase, heres the scoop: COVID-19, Democracy on the precipice, California on fire and the most widespread movement for social justice since the 1960s. Welcome to 2020. 

I wasn't alive in the '60s. I grew up listening to my mom's stories of her adolescence in Berkeley, at the center of the free speech movement. I spent a good part of middle school listening to her old psychedelic rock LPs and studying the civil rights movement, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers, feeling like I had missed out on an period of change so monumental, we'd never see or need its like again. Through the incremental ebb and flow of the '80s and '90s, it seemed like the slow arc of the universe was indeed bending towards justice. 

Then there was Ferguson. Then it was 2016. You know the rest. Hate crimes on the rise. Extreme division between Right and Left with a nearly as wide chasm between Left and Far Left. Then George Floyd. 

I won't say that anything good comes from murder. Martyrs are good for history, but martyrdom sucks for the martyr and their friends, family and community. George Floyd's murder has led to movements as progressive as defunding the police, ripping down of confederate monuments and widespread moves to change the names of buildings and institutions that honor slave owners or secessionists. 

Here in Berkeley, the school board has announced that the district will change the names of two schools, Jefferson and Washington Elementary Schools. As a Washington alumnus, I support the move to change the name of the school. We recently changed a school named for  Joseph LeConte, to honor Sylvia Mendez who was instrumental in the movement to integrate schools in California. Before that, we renamed Columbus for Rosa Parks and Garfield Jr High became Martin Luther King. No one here would argue that naming schools for these leaders was a poor choice. Naming buildings and institutions for people whose primary work ended up being on a national or statewide scale is fine. It means we can usually settle on something that most people agree on, and is generally unassailable in the current climate. It's also kind of generic. There are three schools named for Dr. King in the Bay Area. Rosa Parks and almost any nationally recognized figure have schools or other institutions named for them from coast to coast. These are beloved national and state icons, but as we look towards the near future and renaming another school, I would like to propose a different lens through which we select our honoree. 

I am fiercely loyal to my hometown and to the people who live and work here. I was inspired by the decision to rename a portion of Shattuck Ave. after Kala Bagai, a South Asian woman who was driven from her home in South Berkeley by racist neighbors in 1915. Bagai's story resonates with me. My mother was brought to South Berkeley from Pakistan in 1957. My family is also Asian, though unlike Bagai, my grandmother was Nisei, Japanese-American. Also unlike Bagai, my family was only allowed to move to South Berkeley. We have been here in one way or another ever since. What stood out for me about the naming of Kala Bagai Way is summed up well in this Berkeleyside story from July, 2020. 

"[Berkeleyans] have been pushing for Bagai not for the usual reasons — because of what she accomplished in Berkeley, or because she live [sic] here a long time. She wasn’t wealthy or well-known. She didn’t win awards or hold political office — the reasons why most people get streets named after them.

Rather, Bagai was an early immigrant from what is now Pakistan and the racism she experienced at the hands of Berkeley homeowners is a history all residents should know."
Carolyn Miyakawa at Cal

When I heard that the district was planning to rename Washington, I knew who they should name it for: not someone who did their work in another state, not someone who changed lives in Southern California, but someone who lived and worked and changed lives here in Berkeley. That person is Carolyn Adams. Mrs. Adams, a second generation Japanese-American born Carolyn Miyakawa, was living in Sacramento when the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. She was sent, with her family, to the Tule Lake internment camp. After leaving camp for Boulder, Colorado, Mrs. Adams returned to California to attend U.C. Berkeley. She met her husband and became a teacher here in BUSD, where she taught for 31 years at Whittier, Jefferson, and, for most of her career, Washington. When she wasn't teaching, she tutored neighborhood kids, including another famous Washington: Claudell, who would go on to star athletically for Berkeley High and the Oakland A's. 

Honoring Mrs. Adams would fulfill all of the district's published criteria for renaming. Her story of losing her home while being put in camp, then getting out and coming back to California to become a teacher, is inspiring and educational. Her name will endure and stand the test of time. Her name and reputation are pristine. Her story fits perfectly with BUSD's values of equity, inclusion, social justice, and diversity. The name would have strong ties to the community, history, and BUSD. I cannot think of a name that could better exemplify excellence and a right to public education than naming a school for a teacher who taught there and whose kids attended school there. Carolyn Adams is a member of a group that is underrepresented in BUSD. Berkeley does not currently have a school named for an Asian American person. Finally, the name is certainly not widely known or in use elsewhere. 

Mrs. Adams with family at their home in Berkeley 
 I'll digress to tell my Carolyn Adams story. When I came back to Washington for third grade, I registered late and didn't have a classroom assignment. I don't know what was going on behind the scenes; maybe no one wanted me. I know that I paced the hallway outside the main office for three days. It has to be the most bored I've ever been in my life. Some time on that third day, Mrs. Adams noticed me. I remember her walking by because she seemed really tall for an Asian woman. My mom was 5'2" and my grandmother was shorter than that. I don't know how tall Mrs. Adams is, but she seemed like a superhero-sized Japanese woman, and she would become my savior. As I heard it later, she went into the office and asked who that boy was and why he wasn't in class. She asked if I was Japanese. I don't think the people in the office knew, but she insisted that I be placed in her class right away. I don't know if the part about her asking if I was Japanese is true, or something my grandmother added in. I don't think it mattered: I think she would have taken me anyway. One thing that may have played into the question is that the class that year included a kid from Japan who didn't speak much English and another kid whose family had moved from Japan a few years earlier. The three of us became fast friends, and after he moved back to Japan, Mineo and I kept up a pen pal relationship for many years.  

I wasn't an easy kid, but Mrs. Adams never let me know that. I know it now because I'm an adult, and I'm me. I carry the scars of my life and can see myself with greater perspective now. When I was a student and a person still growing into who I would become, Mrs. Adams meant everything to me. She never made me feel like anything other than strong and capable and smart. She was the first person outside my family who made me feel like she truly believed in me. She was the first person in the school district who made me feel seen and valued. She had the same expectations for every student. Even as tracking and shifting standards and expectations wound their way through each iteration of the curriculum, she always believed that every kid could succeed and meet those standards if you gave them a chance and met them where they were. Whenever I felt like I couldn't make it through BUSD, I thought about how good I felt in her class and I'd remember that I could be successful. 

Mrs. Adams came to my wedding even though we hadn't been in touch for years. My wife and I were recently going through things from my mom's memorial and found a card from Mrs. Adams. I don't think these things make me special. I'd be shocked if she hadn't kept up with many students over the years. After retiring, Mrs. Adams stayed dedicated to educating the next generation on speaking tours, teaching kids about Japanese internment during WWII. She worked with the Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League to establish the Carolyn Adams Family Scholarship, given to graduating high school seniors in the Bay Area. She is now living in the East Bay, enjoying time with her son and grandchildren. 

A lot of ink has been spilled this year thanking teachers for their work during the pandemic. For years we have held teachers' appreciation days and given gifts at the end of the year. We both laud and lament the educators who purchase their own supplies and work long hours to make sure kids don't get left behind. Yet how many of our schools or lasting monuments honor the people who do the work within the walls? It's a fine thing to honor well-known activists or historical figures, but how can we say we value teachers and then pass over them when dedicating the buildings in which they teach? Naming a school for one of its most dedicated denizens would be an honor not only for Carolyn Adams, but for all the teachers past and present who have dedicated their lives to teaching us, our kids, and for some of us, our parents. It is time to name a Berkeley school for a Berkeley teacher: for someone who lived here, raised kids here, had an impact here. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

When the time comes, I hope that you will join me in supporting renaming Washington as Carolyn Adams Elementary. 


Six people standing on the beach with the ocean behind them. Front row left to right Mrs. Adams, older Japanese woman. Three young women. Middle aged woman. Behind them, Carolyn's son John Adams
Carolyn Adams with her son John and family.






Sunday, August 16, 2020

Running for Charity: Announcing the Berto 77 At Home Marathon

Berto wearing a blue jersey with a white number 14 on the back running during a rugby match being pursued by opponents in yellow jerseys
I've done most of my running in cleats

I'm not really a runner. I've run as part of my fitness routine over the years, but I'm not a runner. I know this because I've been around runners. T has run several half marathons and one full marathon. Our former roommate, Jay, used to run 50 and 100 mile ultra marathons. I've tried to keep up with them here and there over the years, but they definitely outclass me. I've always been athletic. Heck, now that extreme sports are considered sports, I guess I've always been an athlete thanks to my many years skateboarding. But even when I was running regularly, I've never been a runner. The farthest I've ever run is 13 miles while training for a marathon. On that one, my knee gave out and I had to call T to bring me home.  Right after that, my mom died and I never seriously considered a marathon again, but I also never gave up on the idea. 

For a long time, my idea was to go down to the local high school track around my birthday some year with a bunch of water and try to run it there. The thing is, that also always seemed like too much effort. I never know when the track is open or available. I definitely don't want to do it with people there watching. Yikes, no thank you. So, it never happened. 

And then...2020.

So it's been a crap year for everyone. We were getting through it OK until I lost my steady job. So now I'm home a lot more hoping to pick up freelance work. In the meantime, I may as well chase a dream.

I started running with Yo a couple months ago to distract xir from causing a ruckus while T tried to attend virtual church. Xe is a surprisingly enthusiastic runner for a five-year-old. Xe recently did 2+ miles with me, going around and around our block. I'd taken to running around the block some mornings before work and I knew that once around was almost exactly .34 miles. I did some quick math and figured that if I ran around my block 77 times, I'd complete a marathon.

77 times seems doable. For one, I'll have a great support system right there in front of my house. The kids can set me up with water and there's a bathroom that I know and trust. Second, I'll have a cheering section rooting my on every 1/3 of a mile. They can even join me on the course for a lap or two. Best of all, I'll never be more than .17 miles from home. I could blow out my knee and still crawl home if I had to. Or maybe Yo could pull me back home in the Radio Flyer. The thing is, I think I can do it. There's no time limit, I can't get kicked off the course, I'm not trying to qualify for anything. I just want to get it done so I can say I did it. 

Then I had another thought...

Of course I was going to hype this up on the blog and social media. It's a fun, quirky idea. Maybe people will get a kick out of it. If I'm going to write about it and Tweet about it, why not try to make it bigger than myself? So I decided to do this for charity. T and the kids jumped on board and now we're all going to be running some part of it. Each member of the family has picked a cause they want to raise money for. While I am committing to running all 77 laps, the others will do as much as they can (or want). We're going to livestream the event to create engagement and so donors can track our progress in real time. So with that, the #B77AtHome Marathon has come to be. We will run on September 27th, 2020, starting at 8:00am. You can find all the details on how to pledge on the Berto 77 At Home Marathon home page.

I will be running in support of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. This is the charity most often suggested by my followers on social media. Food banks are being heavily utilized during the pandemic as people struggle with finding steady income. I wanted to raise money for a place that would have an immediate impact on people's lives. T has chosen the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which works in the East Bay "to break the cycles of incarceration and poverty once and for all." Buddy will be running for Camp Indigo, a summer camp for transgender and gender diverse youth. Lou will be supporting Berkeley Humane, where we adopted our dog, Saracen. Yo will harken back to xir preschool walk-a-thon days in support of the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (CEID), where Yo attended day care. 

So if you can donate an amount per lap (each lap is about .34 miles), please do. Or, if you'd like to come by to cheer, drive by to cheer, or maybe even join us for a socially distanced lap, please do. There will be more info at the blog An Interdisciplinary Life, on Twitter: @bertoinpublic, and on IG: @aninterdisciplinarylife. We will try to live stream the day as much as possible through the event website and on Facebook Live so you can see us go.

Thanks!
-Berto

A couple pics from when we ran Bay to Breakers

Monday, August 3, 2020

Talking to Teachers About Social Justice and Returning to School During Covid-19


We are all concerned about what the fall semester is going to look like. We are concerned about our kids and their educational and social development. We are also worried that if kids don't go back to school, we can't go back to work. Then what? Foreclosure? Eviction? Who knows. What is clear, is that it isn't safe to reopen schools. We've already seen that camps and schools that have gone back to "normal" have seen outbreaks and re-closures.

What we sometimes forget, is that teachers working from home also have kids who will be there with them. For teachers who have young kids, this means trying to work with our kids and their own. So what do teachers want, fear and expect for the coming semester?

In this episode, I talk to three teachers about going back to school in a time of social upheaval and Covid-19. Berkeley Unified School District teachers, Leah Alcala, Michael Hammond and Shoshana O'Keefe share a unique set of perspectives, in that they teach and have kids in the same school district they themselves attended. They share their thoughts on teaching and parenting during this period of social justice awareness and Covid-19 that are applicable to parents and educators across the country.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Social Awareness: How much? How Soon? Too Much?


I've been reading through old posts of mine on the topics of social justice and taking action. I grew up going to protests and being politically active. My parents talked to me about the world, or at least that's what I remember. When I was in first grade, my friend and I woke up early one Saturday and hand made as many flyers as we could with a six-year-old's attention span. Then we put 8.5 x 11 "Ronald Reagan Sucks" leaflets in all the mailboxes on our block. As an adult, I would refer to this as "canvassing for Mondale."

When I reached 5th grade, I really was canvassing. I spent two years working on the GE boycott with I.N.F.A.C.T. I spent two years setting up an ironing board, selling buttons, collecting signatures. I even flew out to a GE shareholders meeting in Milwaukee for a direct action. I spoke to the city council about making Oakland a nuclear free zone. I joined an environmental group that held a lot of meetings and a couple retreats and ended up hosting an arts event for kids in San Francisco, but I'm not sure we did anything for the environment.

By the time I got to high school, I was burnt out on political movements. I became a typical Gen X cynic. I marched against the first Iraq war and Prop 187, but if I'm being honest, I was just happy to be ditching class. Rodney King, OJ, I stayed home. I voted. I kept myself abreast of what was going on in the world, but I didn't get involved outside of going to a couple protests against police brutality in 2002 where I got hit by a rubber bullet and faced down police that charged the crowd on horseback. I'll admit, that felt pretty badass.

When we had kids we half made a decision to not shield them from the world or our lives. The other half is that I think we just can't help ourselves. T and I are not the quiet, reserved, stoic type of people. We talk a lot. Like, a lot. People used to remark that our kids were "so verbal." Well yeah, mom and dad never shut up so they hear a lot of words, and a great many of those words are about politics.
I've always struggled with finding the line between making sure my kids know about the world and about our lives so they won't be surprised by things that happen, and telling them more than their developing minds are ready to process. I don't know what the bigger trauma could be, the shock of having things happen without warning, or the anxiety of knowing too many possibilities.

Lou, 2015
We took the kids to Obama's second inauguration in 2013. We thought it was an important moment. Buddy was four, Lou was two. Neither of them remember it. The next year, we went to Ferguson. Buddy was five, Lou was three. They don't remember that either. In 2015, it was the Million Moms March in D.C. Each of these included conversations about why we were going, the precipitating events and the desired outcomes. We talked about race. We talked about policing. I taught them the things I had been taught about how to survive encounters with law enforcement, even after I realized that their inherited genetic whiteness would make these lessons moot.

Then came the 2016 election and the beginning of years of having to explain new uncomfortable things to the kids about racism and sexism and homophobia and hate crimes. There were marches for women and pride and detention centers. During this, maybe bolstered by it and our discussions of marriage equality, Lou came out as transgender. If this is the one benefit of over sharing with the kids, it'll all be worth it.

Now it's 2020 and we're in the middle of a pandemic and a period of civil unrest. T is back to taking to the streets every night to protest. Lou is back to making protest signs. Xe has a strong sense of right and wrong and all xe wants in the world is for people to be fair. Xe thirsts for justice, which makes sense as xir survival depends on a just and fair world. So we've talked about George Floyd. Just like we talked about Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castille and so many others. Lou was excited to be able to ride in the Oakland Car Caravan protest. Everything seemed fine until that night. After the kids were in bed, T commented that maybe we've told them too much. She said that Lou and Yo now hated the police and were afraid of them and were afraid for us. They were afraid the police would kill us. They were worried about T going out to protest. Not long after, Lou emerged from xir bedroom unable to sleep, wracked with anxiety over police brutality. A few weeks later, a Black Lives Matter protest passed by the busy cross street near our house. The kids wanted to go down to the corner to hold signs and show support. As the main body of the march drew closer, police officers positioned themselves to block cross traffic ahead of the marchers. They were keeping the marchers safe. When Lou saw the police blocking our street on either side of the route, xe turned pale and started to retreat back to our house. Xe was convinced the police were there to hurt people. 

I'm wary of most police officers, but I can't bring myself to hate the police as a whole. I spent the spring of 2017 trying to become a police officer. While I acknowledge the systemic problems of policing as a whole, though I have been a victim of police violence, I just can't hate everyone who wears the uniform. This inability to hate doesn't stop me from being wary of any individual officer. I still do all the things I was taught growing up to make sure I get through police encounters alive. I support Black Lives Matter and I'm terrified of the Thin Blue Line crowd. I also don't want my kids, who by the privilege of their complexions will never need to fear a routine stop, to hate the police or fear them to point where they won't ask for help when they need it. I do want them to understand when to call the police and when to just leave things be. I want them to understand everything that calling the police really means and everything that could result. I don't want them to come to me at 25, seeing an unjust world and telling me, "Daddy, did you even know this stuff happens?" And I would have answer, "Yes." Because if I know then why wouldn't I tell them. If not to keep them safe, then to raise conscious, aware white looking secretly Latino-Asian allies?

It took some convincing, but Lou was persuaded to stay on the corner with us. I wanted xir to understand a couple things. First, that the police were not there to hurt people. Second, that there are things are worth standing up for, even when there's danger. I admit, that's a hard line to figure out. Whether to stand in the face of oppressive force, how much and for how long is dependent on so many factors I couldn't begin to try to explain them. I don't want T or the kids to stubbornly allow themselves to be beaten or gassed or worse. I also want them to start developing a sense for when to stay and when to leave. I want them to recognize danger rather than presume it (or on the other side, presume safety when it isn't real). I want them to be brave without being foolish. I want them to be cautious without being afraid. I want them to understand the world so they're not surprised by it. 

The thing I'm still not sure of is how much, how soon?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Five People, Four Sets of Pronouns: Introducing the IDL Podcast



Hello Friends,

Today's post is a short one because I'm hoping you'll give a listen to my first ever podcast episode. It's an interesting one, if for no other reason than because Buddy decides it's time to start using their real name. Many of you have gotten to know me in real life, or in closer online conversations and friendships and know who the kids are. Even for others, the identities of my kids is at best, a loosely guarded secret. After all, once you start doing TV interviews the jig is pretty much up. Still, I have tried to afford them some shred of anonymity so that at least their peers won't find them through lazy googling. Then they signed their names on the information for the protest they organized and things have progressed from there. 

One of the other tipping points, and the reason I decided now was a good time to launch the podcast is that Buddy recently came to us with big news. They came out as being non-binary. It was an emotional night for us, many tears were shed in relief that Buddy was finally living out as the person they really are. As I walked Buddy to bed at the end of the evening, they looked at me and said, "Well this is blog post."

I wasn't sure what to say to that. Did Buddy want it to be, or not? Did I want to write about this? I understood the comment, I write about these kinds of things. But for this, it felt like it wasn't my story to tell. As the kids grow up, they take more ownership of their identities in the world. They'll tell me to post or not post pictures I take. I've started asking them about what I can write about, and what they'd rather keep in the family. I knew I wanted Buddy's story out there. I thought it was important, not just for us, but maybe in the wider conversation on trans issues and the emergence of more trans youths. Still, I didn't feel like it was something for me to write about. Buddy's 11, they can tell this story better than I can. So I asked the kids if they wanted to do it as an interview so they could tell their stories in their own words. They both agreed, and I can't imagine a better way to launch a podcast than to talk to these two wonderful kids about a topic this personal. 

Oh, the title of this post! Right. Buddy is using they/them pronouns. Yo has decided to use xe/xir like Lou. Though we're not sure of Yo's motivation, we're going with it. T and I are using our cis gender pronouns. So we now have five people using four sets of pronouns. We're constantly correcting each other since we're all still getting used to Buddy and Yo's. It feels right. Everyone is happy. 

Thank you as always for reading, and I hope you'll give this a listen.