Fatherly Estrangement

I’ve been estranged from my father for over three years now, and somehow I’ve barely written about it at all. I actually just went back and checked, because I know I’ve started to write about this on many, many occasions, and I figured one of those times must have produced something worthy of posting, but beyond one brief reference to the estrangement, it seems I just… haven’t said anything about it here.

Here, where I have processed all of the most difficult things I’ve been through in my life, starting with processing the trauma from my abusive relationship, through the ups and downs of coming out as genderqueer in various contexts, figuring out that I’m demisexual, and most recently divorce.

And I’m thinking about it again now (getting engaged inevitably raised questions about how to handle wedding invitations – my estrangement from my father is complicated by the fact that my parents are still together, and my mother and I still want to have a good relationship with each other (and, somehow, we’ve actually been managing it so far)) and the spectre of familial pressure to reconcile with my father has re-entered my consciousness.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing about the whole mess, the reasons for the estrangement, the specific catalyzing events that caused us to stop speaking to each other, all of the things that have happened since then and the ways in which I have finally drawn a line in the sand and held that line against pressure from various sources.

There’s a lot to say about it, honestly, and I’m really proud of myself. But somehow when I sit down to write about it, I’m just not motivated to get it out. And I’m beginning to think that lack of motivation is a good thing.

I think that the reason I don’t feel the need to get this particular story down in words, to give it concrete form as I have so many other things, is simply that I know I’ve got this. It’s not complicated. I’m not running around in circles in my own head trying to untangle the knots left by his manipulativeness, because, even though I didn’t often write about it directly, I was doing that processing at the same time that I was working through my other experiences of abuse.

My memories and understandings of who my father is, and the way he treats the people close to him, are actually very clear. I don’t find myself doubting any of it. I don’t find myself forgetting or needing to remind myself of the reality of what it’s like to try to have a relationship with him.

I just know that he is toxic. I know that he is incapable of hearing or respecting boundaries. And I know that my mental health has been vastly improved by not having to tend to a relationship with him.

It’s not even difficult. I know it was a good move and I am very comfortable with it.

So, I don’t know. Maybe one day I will share some of the stories relating to this state of affairs. I’m sure it would be interesting to many of you, if not instructive in some ways. But that day is not today.

Because I have mental clarity on this entire situation, and that is just so good.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” A million thoughts about a (not-so-)simple question

One of my mom’s big questions to me after I came out to her as genderqueer was “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

It’s not really a question with an answer. Or at least, it’s not a question with any answers that are going to satisfy the feelings behind the question. Because let’s be honest: my mom’s feelings were hurt by the fact that a couple of years elapsed between me realizing I am genderqueer, and me telling her about it at all.

The only satisfying answer to those hurt feelings that I can see is to go back in time and tell her sooner. Which, even if I could, I don’t want to do.

Because, of course, there are reasons why I didn’t tell her sooner. It wasn’t an arbitrary choice or an oversight. It was something I deliberately and repeatedly put off doing.

I didn’t tell her sooner because I wasn’t ready to.

The thing is, having realized that I am genderqueer was a lot to deal with, in and of itself. It was something I needed time to deal with on my own before I told *anyone*. There was definitely a good six months between the idea passing through my brain, and me doing anything outwardly about it.

The thing is, I knew that coming out to my parents was something that was highly likely to involve a lot of emotional labour on my part, and it wasn’t something I magically felt up to handling immediately.

The thing is, I came out to a lot of much lower-stakes people before I came out to her. Friends that I wouldn’t be heart-broken to lose.

The thing is, I came out to the people I actually interact with on a regular basis before I came out to her. Not because they were more important (though some of them were and are in some ways), but because they were there. Because having them change the pronouns they use for me would have a more immediate and regular impact on my life. Because the benefit of doing the work of coming out to them was greater in that way.

The thing is, I was afraid of what her response might be. I didn’t want to deal with it. I wasn’t ready for it.

The thing is, I was afraid she would try to talk me out of it somehow? I don’t even know what that would look like, to be honest. But I wanted to feel like I had a lot of confidence in myself and my identity before I was ready to face whatever response she might have. I came out to people I was more confident would be in my corner first, so that I would have support to handle potential bad responses from her (or other people).

The thing is, as you see, there are a lot of things that held me back from coming out to her.

But the short answer is still just, “because I wasn’t ready sooner.”

How has your family taken it or how might they take it? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 13

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How has your family taken it or how might they take it?

I find it odd trying to parse my feelings around my family’s response to me coming out to them. The thing is, my immediate nuclear family have all always consistently tried to be good about my queerness, right from when I came out as bisexual a decade ago, to my more recent coming out a couple years ago as genderqueer.

My older brother has been fantastic – I got accidentally outed to him probably a year before I came out to my parents. He for sure doesn’t get it at all, and he continues to be kinda bad at my pronouns (I think, anyway? We don’t live in the same province so it’s hard to really say…), but he has been a major advocate for me with my parents around the whole thing.

I came out to my parents by sending them an email, because I knew this was the sort of coming out that would involve a lot of feels that I figured they might rather have a chance to process before they had to respond to me. I’m quite sure this was the right choice for me, also, because I am terrible at having these kinds of conversations face-to-face.

One of the interesting things about my parents’ response to this email is that even though they really did choose to take a lot of time (and I later learned from my brother, who had to deal with all of their feels (oops)) had a lot of ugly processing stages before I heard anything back from them again, they still criticized me for deciding to come out to them that way rather than in person.

Though that has always been the way with my father at least – whatever method you choose to share bad news with him is always going to be the wrong choice, because that’s one of the ways he can make his feelings into something that’s your fault.

But I digress. My parents have been, mostly, pretty good about the whole thing. The first time I visited home after coming out, my dad insisted on taking me out to lunch one-on-one and said a bunch of reasonably smart stuff that at least indicated he was really trying to understand (and some less great stuff – he specifically chose a restaurant that’s owned by a friend of his, and after his friend popped over to say hi, my dad explained that he hadn’t introduced me to him because he ‘didn’t know what to call me’. Because ‘kid’ is a difficult word to use, you know?) I generally felt ok about it all, though.

Later during that visit, he made it very clear that it had been a struggle for him the entire time not to say terrible things to me about it, and I subsequently learned that the night before I turned up had involved a very ugly shouting match where he said awful stuff and my brother stood up for me in very wonderful ways. More to the point, when my brother was telling me the things he’d said in that ‘conversation’, it became clear that at lunch with my dad he had just repeated verbatim the great stuff my brother had said, so it hadn’t come from him at all.

I haven’t actually spoken to my father at all since that visit (weirdly, for reasons unrelated to the above), so I couldn’t tell you where he’s at with it all now, but I also don’t super care.

My mom, meanwhile, is really doing her best, I think? I’ve seen her a handful of times since the initial coming out, and we have been getting along better than we had been for quite some time. There have been some awkward and occasionally dysphoria-inducing conversations, and she sometimes makes me talk her around the same circle over and over again (which makes me feel like she isn’t listening to me, or that she simply refuses to accept what I’m saying and is trying to trick me into giving her a different answer, though I think she is just really going to need a paradigm shift before she can absorb some of this stuff, and I know that doesn’t come easy.)

My little brother, um, I’m not sure if he knows or not? I haven’t seen him in a long time. I really have no doubt that he’d be just as fiercely in my court as he always has been, in the same way my other brother is, though.

So yeah. My family has its problems, but I don’t think coming out as genderqueer made them any worse, so I guess that means they took it well?

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Moving forward, writing a new story

So, part of the story I was expecting my life to be has changed – a partner I had expected to raise kids with isn’t going to fulfill that role in my life. Which, that’s life, really. It doesn’t ever really do what you’re expecting it to.

It’s been interesting for me, the process of figuring out how to move on from this, how to reorganize my life to still have the things that I want it to have, as much as possible. And figuring out which parts of the old plan are necessary to me, and which ones can be rewritten.

I was surprised, when I started talking and writing openly about the changes in my relationship with my partner-formerly-known-as-spouse-person, as how many people asked me if I had considered/was considering going the single parent route. The truth is, I never really had. The truth is that without giving it too much though, I’ve always thought that would be too difficult, that I was not up for it. My picture of my life has always included at least one other adult in a parental role in the family I want to build.

But, it turns out, lots of people who know me (and who know me well) seem to think that I had what it takes to go it alone. To them, it is an obvious solution to the dilemma I have found myself in. To them, I am strong enough, and the challenge is not too great.

And that is an incredibly flattering thing, in a way. But also, I realized that they’re probably right. And I’ve started taking stock of my life differently, now.

The thing is, my life is really great. There are so many people rooting for me, and ready to go to bat for me in so many ways if I need them to. I am loved, and I am cared for, and I have a really, really strong support system in place.

When I think about what I would want in a co-parent, what it is that makes me think I need such a thing, I realize that I don’t want anything like what I used to. I’m not at all interested in making new romantic love connections right now – I am content and oh-so-very fulfilled with what I have, and I’m not sure I have that much capacity for another relationship of that kind.

My ideal co-parent, if I wind up with one, would just be a really good friend and someone that wanted to share the adventure of parenting. Someone I could live comfortably with, and someone I have solid communication with, but really not anything more than that. And honestly, this just seems like an all-around easier and more stable arrangement than entangling romance with child-rearing. Like, it’s a stressful enough thing without also throwing romantic and sexual needs onto each other in addition to the demands of parenting. So, even if my current romantic situation changes, I still don’t think that I would want that kind of all-in-one relationship anyway.

More importantly, though, I’ve come to terms with the idea that this is definitely not something I can force. Either I will find a relationship like that, or I won’t. Or maybe I will find something I never even imagined and it’ll work in a completely different way. For now, though, I’m choosing to focus on figuring out what I, as an individual, need to do and the things I need to get set up in my life, to feel ready to be a parent, with or without anyone else’s involvement in a parental role.

The thing is, there are plenty of people in my life who will be able to lend me plenty of kinds of support in this, without taking on a parental role. Any child of mine will unavoidably have an awesome networks of aunts and uncles and sparkles and god(less)parents who care about and for them in all kinds of ways.

And what more could I possibly hope for?

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 11

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

Disrupting Gender: A Cisgender Experience | everyone is straight until they’re not. Finding authentic gender expression and sense of self as a cisgender person.

I was fortunate enough to witness several of my friends’ transitions from female to male, and the way they blossomed into happier, more confident, truer versions of themselves is truly inspirational. I feel almost blasphemous for saying this, but I am a little jealous. I remember walking home one night and looking at the stars (I do that a lot when I am contemplating something big), and I thought, What if I am trans? How do I know I am a woman and it’s not just something I do out of habit because that’s what I’ve always been told I am? It was just a passing thought which I immediately dismissed and didn’t speak of out loud until that conversation just before a drag party. But really, how can I achieve that transition into a happier, truer version of myself without the actual act of transitioning my gender?

Let me tell you how.

Gender Talk | Myscape. Being cisgender while also defying gender binarism.

For a long time now I have been struggling to articulate why I feel so certain of being “female” or a “she” despite my genderqueer habits/presentations and my desire to be androgynous and defy gender binarism.

I feel like I am female because 1) I have the expected body, 2) all the people I want to be are female (who I identify with), 3) I do present/perform in some “feminine” ways, and 4) even when I present/perform in “unfeminine” ways that is acceptable. So even though I wish I truly considered myself genderqueer/nonbinary (in the depths of my mind and heart), I feel comfortable being a “female.”

What I mean when I say I am genderqueer | Gender: Awesome.

For me, it began with questions, not answers:

Am I a woman? Do I feel like a woman? How does one ‘feel like’ a woman? Do I feel like a man? Have I ever felt like a man? Have I ever felt like a woman? Do I feel in-between? Do I feel like something else entirely? How do I feel when I am completely alone? Do I have a gender then? Do I have a gender at all? What is gender? Is it my body? Is it my social role? Is it my clothes, my hair, my voice? Does gender even exist? Do I want to have a gender? If I could be any gender, what gender would I be? How do I like to express my gender? Do I express it through appearance, through mannerisms, through roles, through my body?

I find my gender is more complex than I ever imagined. My gender is play, performance, lived experience, utter seriousness. My gender is straight-leg jeans and crew-neck t-shirts with a flannel thrown over the top. My gender is short hair and no makeup except when I feel like it. My gender is gentlemanly, shy, loving, opinionated; my gender is baking zucchini bread and chopping wood; my gender would rather wear a suit but is a sucker for a vintage dress; my gender wears nail polish for the hell of it, prefers dressing butch but mostly identifies as femme…

Bravery | It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way. When people call us “brave” simply for existing.

“You’re so brave!”

This is a refrain that many trans people hear with some frequency. I don’t know how to respond when people tell me this.


I am brave the way someone might run through a field of thorny rose bushes to escape a forest fire. I’m just trying to live my life.

Identical (A Slam Poem) | Genderweird. When you’re trans and your identical twin is not.

…the lines blur and we’re still identical, sitting in
identical classrooms until suddenly we’re not—our bodies
are separate but our minds cannot be untwined. We
swapped fifth grade struggles like our friends swapped
Pokémon cards. We thought we were ready for puberty,
that magical time in a girl’s life when I start to understand
maybe I’m not a girl—that maybe I’m in the “wrong room”

The morning of college graduation I changed
from Stephanie Michelle to Brannen Skyler and I watched
your vision blur when you asked me, “Why?” Identical to
how others ask “Why?” when I still sometimes talk about
myself in the first person plural…

Reflections on 2015

This year has felt more like my life is in a process of continual evolution than I have felt in a long time. It’s stressful, because pretty much everything is in flux all of the time, but it’s also exciting, because there are so many possibilities all of the time!

Stuff that’s gone on:

Work-related stuff

  • I started out this year in the midst of a contract doing circulation at a public library. It wasn’t a librarian position, but it was a solid start. It was also in this job that I went ahead and started the process of trying to change my name in the professional context (so I would have references from a relevant job that knew me as Kasey, among other reasons). It turned surprisingly ugly, and escalated to the point of my having to get union backing to threaten a human rights complaint (I’m still astounded that is an actual thing that happened in my life), but I persevered and won!… and then that contract ended.
  • I got a new, extremely part-time (4.5 hrs/wk, srsly) contract at another public library, this time in a supervisory capacity. I was hired under my chosen name, and no one batted an eye when that didn’t match any of the ID I provided. Progress of sorts!
  • In order to actually, y’know, make a living, I have also gone back to my old retail gig. I have yet to get around to telling them that I changed my name (wah-wah). But I have decided I will do so once the legal change comes through – just waiting to hear back on it at this point – so I have a sort of arbitrary but also symbolically relevant thing to kick me out of my complacency. Turns out I don’t mind being called by my birthname unless I’ve told the person doing so that I actually have a different one, though introducing myself that way is really hard – I go all deer-in-the-headlights with every new employee right now.
  • Sneak-peek into 2016: I have an interview for an honest-to-goodness (part-time contract, of course) librarian position this week. Mayhaps I will be holding down three jobs soon.


Creating Stuff

  • Even though I gave myself a December-long hiatus on writing (and I swear I will be getting back to it some day soon, by the way! I have been trying to sit and write lately but keep hitting walls. One of these days I’ll break through it, though, I am confident), I still published 69 posts last year, way up from 2014. I’ve started writing more about my demisexuality and my sexuality in general, and I am maybe a person who sometimes writes poetry now? It remains to be seen. My readership has grown steadily though not speedily, but more importantly I’ve made some genuinely strong connections with other bloggers this year. This gives me much happiness.
  • For the first time ever, I did cross-stitch of my own design, rather than following a pattern. I’m super into it and plan to continue.
  • I also just recently ended an accidental two-year hiatus I’d taken from knitting. I finished the second glove in this pair I started way back when:20151225_012109



  • Romantic-wise, it’s been all over the place. I had a relationship end. I had a relationship go through a radical redefinition (as an update there, by the way: things are really very solid with me and the partner formerly known as spouse-person. I think we’ve refound our centre as a couple (or created a new one, anyway), and our relationship is quite possibly stronger than ever. We haven’t actually moved out of our shared place yet, and part of me is irrationally terrified of that, but it’s for the best for a bunch of reasons, for both of us, so I’m sure it’ll be fine). And I’ve met someone new, who is giving me many squees. I am generally pretty happy.
  • Friendships-wise, I am continually astounded and humbled and just plain delighted to realize that I have a really strong, extensive, and varied support network in my life. I’ve finally figured out the whole making-friends thing, I think? I’ve definitely gotten better at trusting that people actually like me, and stronger connections seem to have resulted. Huzzah!
  • Family-wise: my relationship with my mother is the strongest it’s been since I first came out to my parents as (at the time) bisexual, over a decade ago, and possibly even the strongest ever. We relate to each other as adults, and we are capable of talking about difficult things without anything exploding. My relationships with my father continues to be estranged, and I am extremely comfortable with that. There is some mild pressure on me to try to patch things up, but I am honestly just not going to take responsibility for that shit. The prospect of a relationship with my father still has a pretty terrible potential risk:reward ratio, though I am just about convinced that he is actually a less toxic person now than he was. It’s just not the best place for me to be putting my energy.


Overall, my life is solid and making me happy in the day-to-day. There is much room for growth, but I hope that is always the case, and also there are rumblings of growth already happening, and so I am comfortable for now, and excited to see what happens over the next year.

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 9

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

The author of “this is a gender blog” writes their narrative of coming to a gender variant/androgyne identity:

There isn’t a real narrative in how I came into terms of my gender identity. More than anything else, it was something that grew on its own separate accord – an asset of myself I’m still growing to accept. This was all a result of my influences, social and cultural. Interests weren’t so much of a contributing factor, even though I likened to both typically masculine and feminine parts of Western culture, be it toys, TV shows, comics, what have you.

Even though my gender has a firm definition, I’m technically still exploring myself.

Eliot does some thinking about what sorts of things cause a person to be read as one gender or another. (Of course, it’s never the things that cissexist assholes insist are definitive of gender.)

As someone who lived for a long time as a girl and now dresses quite masculinely, I am most frequently read in public as a butch girl/a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian. Just that I’m not one (and also, not all lesbians wear plaid button-downs and loose jeans.) And this is despite the fact that I can be wearing entirely “men’s” clothing–from underwear and socks out to shirt, pants, sweater, and jacket. When I wear a chest binder, I have a flatter chest than lots of cisgendered men do. When I wear a packer (a prosthetic phallus), I’ve got a bigger dick than most cis men do, and because of the way men’s pants fit on people with exaggerated hips, it’s also more prominent than a lot of cis guys’ packages. But I still get read as a woman. Similarly, my trans sisters can wear all kinds of makeup, pink dresses and hose and high-heeled shoes, and still get treated as a “man”.

The pros and cons of using traditional versus gender neutral/otherwise alternative parent titles:

Now my biggest issue with the current set of gender neutral titles is that society doesn’t understand and recognise alternative family structures. At the time we were having this discussion, neither of us had the language for describing ourselves in terms of genderqueer or non binary, which resulted in us framing our family in the most socially obvious framework. Lesbian parents. We chose to use mommy (me) and mama (spouse) as these words have a societally weighted meaning. The relationship of mommy or mama to child is obvious and doesn’t require explanation. Using those terms becomes shorthand for “we are a family, these are our kids” without having to educate people on our family structure.

In hindsight I am disappointed that I bought into the heteronormative structuring of family. I feel awkward that I put so much weighting on the opinion of society to give validity to our little family unit. Why do we have to be a mommy and a mama to ensure credibility in our roles as parents?

Reflections on femme identity through a gaming lens:

In real life, I plan my outfits before going out, and when I put them on, I have memories about my previous experiences. A certain dress will be the one I wore when my friend said I love you. My bunny rabbit flats are often complimented for being cute—and cute is what I aim for, so I keep on wearing them. When a random dude on the street harasses me with some transphobic bullshit, wearing cute shoes, a cute dress, having freshly shaven legs, and knowing my makeup is at least half-decent all give me a fairly good armor score, so I can be bothered a lot less.

In Splatoon, the more you wear any given accessory, the more abilities you unlock. I’ve seen similar mechanics in other games, but never something that seems to so directly work as an analogue for the way I experience clothing as powerful items that gain in power with more use and care. Sure, you can use a snail shell as a shortcut, but can’t you say the same about sewing on a patch or adding rivets, bedazzling, or so on? Nobody in the Splatoon universe tells you how cute you look, but nothing needs be said.

And reflections on gender neutral identity through Pokemon

I never had outlets for my gender identity or expression growing up, and most of the avenues I did find were highly monitored or criticised, either by my family or my peers at school. Instead I buried myself in books and gaming, with Harry Potter and Pokémon becoming my main forms of self-expression and validation.

Ralts represented in the Pokémon world everything that I unconsciously felt about my own body and gender: that it was completely ambiguous and devoid of gendered presumptions.

A sort of emotional paradox

I came out to my parents (about being genderqueer) last spring. I sent them a long email, both so that I could be certain I was saying all that I wanted to say, and also to protect myself from their more immediate reactions, which I knew would certainly be complicated and contain various kinds of badness.

I have been very lucky in the aftermath that they have directed most of their confusion and various feelings at my older brother (he had already known for quite some time, and I suggested to them that it might be helpful for them to talk to him about it). He’s been coming through for me in a big way ever since. It’s sort of funny, because he is genuinely pretty terrible about my pronouns, and has only recently really started working on fixing that stuff, but at the same time he has been incredibly on-point and tirelessly supportive of me in dealing with my parents. I am incredibly grateful, because he’s been doing an awful lot of the heavy lifting, not because he even really gets it, but just because I’m his sibling and he loves me. I have been reduced almost to tears of gratitude a few times, really.

But that’s not what this post is about. Over the holidays, my mom seems to have undergone a sea change in her acceptance of me, and particularly of my new name, which had been a major sticking point for her.

When we were first in contact again after my initial coming-out, one of the things that happened was that I reassured her that I wouldn’t ever be upset by being called by my birth name. In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about the fact that I meant I wouldn’t be upset by her *accidentally* calling me by my birth name. But, live and learn.

It’s actually not a giant deal for me either way, because we aren’t exactly in frequent contact. We primarily communicate via email, mostly because I’m not comfortable phoning home these days (drama with my father which I will not be getting into), and she doesn’t phone me, so.

Anyway, when I got an email from her in November addressed, like all of her previous emails, to my birth name, I included a quick note in my response about how I would appreciate it if she could put in the extra effort to at least call me Kasey in email format, since in writing she has the time to go back and edit in the way that is harder to do when talking.

The next email I got from her was not addressed to me by any name. Which, I mean, that’s fine. I accepted that at least she had received the message and was making a compromise that fit within her comfort levels. I appreciated the thought, to some extent, at least?

More importantly, though, is that this halfway phase appears to have passed very quickly. My xmas care package from home was addressed to me and my husband by our chosen names (he also changed his name a few years ago), including our new shared last name. And the card and etc were addressed to her “beloved child” etc. It was lovely, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more heart-warming (though the chocolate-covered Oreos she sent were also pretty wonderful).

Which is a thing that is weird, really. Because of course in general, if someone were to respond to being informed of someone changing their name, if they decided that the appropriate response was to stop calling that person anything at all, that would be kind of fucked up. It is, in fact, more than a little bit fucked up, in the general case. It’s downright awful, even. It is a pretty fundamental component of respect to call someone by what they tell you they prefer to be called. And not doing so is not ok.

And yet, I was perfectly willing to accept that from my mother. Because when it comes right down to it, I know her well enough to have a really good idea of the kinds of feelings she has been (and still is) having about my gender and about my name change. I was, to her, her only daughter. And now she has no daughters. And the name she and my father gave me is a very meaningful one, albeit through connections to my father’s family. There is, after all, a reason I’ve kept it. It is really more fitting as my last name anyway – it was my grandmother’s last name before she got married.

I know that it is hard for her. I that she is experiencing a great deal of loss. And I know that can’t be helped, really. More importantly, I know that it would be unreasonable to suggest that she could or should feel any other way about it. I also know that she is doing the right thing in that she has not dumped much of her pain on my back. She is getting support elsewhere, and while she has asked me questions about my gender and the ways I express it, she has done so respectfully and listened to my responses. And so she gets a sort of rhetorical space and compassion around these things that most people wouldn’t merit. We are, right now, both doing all kinds of work to make sure we continue to have a good relationship, and we are, really, much closer now than we have been in many years, because I am no longer hiding myself from her.

It is, however, endlessly strange to think about the fact that what I accept with a huge amount of gratitude from my mother is something I would consider to be the most basic human decency from a random stranger. There is something about being transgender in the world as it works today that flips these kinds of expectations on their head when it comes to certain kinds of close relationships. It’s hard to reconcile, but at the same time I know that it is right, and that this is the best way that things can be right now, in this world.

Curiouser and curiouser: Family relationships, language, and gender

One of the aspects of language around genderqueerness that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot (at least compared to the amount of attention that pronouns get) is the other inherently gendered words we use to talk about people. The thing is, if someone is talking about me, it’s probably going to be because they have some sort of relationship with me (even if it’s just “this blogger I follow”). And sometimes describing this relationship can become a bit of a gender minefield.

In particular, today I have been thinking about the words we use to describe familial relationships, and how some of those are more easily translatable into non-gendered forms than other.

Here’s a brief over-view:

  • Father/Mother = Parent
  • Daughter/Son = Child
  • Sister/Brother = Sibling
  • Wife/Husband = Spouse (or Partner)
  • Niece/Nephew = … well, there isn’t a “real” word for this, but “Nibling” is a more than adequate solution here.
  • Aunt/Uncle = I really have no good answer to this one. It’s… I just don’t know how to refer to a non-binary person who is someone’s parent’s sibling.
  • Cousin = Cousin. Conversely, the English language actually doesn’t have gendered terms for someone’s parent’s sibling’s kids. I find this amusing and fascinating, especially in juxtaposition with the uncle/aunt dilemma.

I have a lot of theories about these discrepancies in the way we deal with implicitly talk about gender with respect to familial relationships. Having gender neutral terms for relationships that are sometimes described in terms of mixed-sex groups is simply more efficient. (Talking about your “siblings” and instead of your “brothers and sisters”, and your “children” instead of your “sons and daughters” is just easier.) But if efficiency was key, we should have an actual word to talk about “nieces and nephews,” shouldn’t we?

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that we don’t really talk about our nieces and nephews as much in groups – like, maybe we will brag about the achievement of an individual nibling, but they’re simply not central enough to most people’s lives to make the inefficiency of referring to them much of a problem, I guess.

Alternatively, it could be that gender neutral terms became more common for the kinds of relationships that are legally defined, and have legal implications. For instance, we mostly only hear the term “spouse” in legalistic or other formal contexts. Having non-gendered terms reduces some of the wordiness of legalese, and has the added benefit of making laws equally applicable to both (or rather, all) genders, which is nice.

This would explain why terms for nieces/nephews, and uncles/aunts never developed. But it still leaves the mystery of “cousin” entirely untouched.

I kind of want to make some sort of theory about this that somehow relates to taboos and customs around cousins marrying one another. Something about how it is important to be clear when one refers to one’s closer family members what your relative genders/sexes are, so that people can evaluate whether your relationship has an appropriate level of intimacy. But if that is less of a concern for cousin-relationships, because cousin-sex was considered unproblematic (as I believe it was for a good deal of (Anglo) human history [citation and/or refutation needed]), then this might somehow explain why gendered forms of the word never developed.

All of this, of course, ignores the potential influence of taboos against close same-sex relationships. And I really am not an anthropologist, so I don’t know how strongly these various forces, customs, and taboos I am discussing may have influenced this kind of thing.

So, I don’t know. Maybe this is a lot of navel-gazing. Can you help me come up with a Grand Unified Theory on the Gendered Nature of the Language around Familial Relationships (GUTGNLFR)? Or even just a better name for my theory?

Also, there is a high probability that I will have a nibling within the next couple of years, and I currently have no idea what said nibling will call me? IS there anyone out there who can solve the uncle/aunt conundrum?