dear callie

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This week, something a bit different. I get lots of messages from folks asking for advice on one thing or another, and I love talking with folks and bouncing ideas off of them and helping them through whatever they’re dealing with. I figured I’d make an episode of it!

Here are the links from Anonymous’ question about evidence for transness:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321258.php

https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

Music by Cloudkicker, used under Creative Commons

Transcript:

Thanks this week to Lee for becoming a new patron. Thank you friend! Love you lots <3

My name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining…

I get lots of messages and emails from folks seeking advice about queer and trans related things. I absolutely love talking to folks and helping them think through their life situations. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been around, and I feel like I’m pretty okay at bouncing ideas around and giving folks things to think about, especially when it comes to queerness and transness. So when I was brainstorming episode topics recently, I thought it might be fun to do a mailbag episode, advice column type thing. A “Dear Callie,” if you will. So that’s what I’m doing this week. I threw it out on social media, and I got a bunch of responses. I apologize in advance for not being able to get to all of them. If this is a thing you want to keep happening, drop me a note and let me know, and maybe send an advice letter of your own, and maybe I’ll answer in a future episode.

And of course I have to start with a disclaimer here. I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not pretending to be one, and any advice I give is not a replacement for mental health treatment or therapy of any kind. I’m just a chick with some life experience and some opinions. That being said, I do hope what I say here is helpful. Not just to the folks who wrote in, but to folks who might be facing similar situations. Before I jump in, please know there’s some difficult stuff in here involving mental health, transphobia, references to eating disorders, and strife in family relationships. As always, take care of yourself…

 let’s get to it shall we?

The first letter comes from Sarah:

On Saturday, our 12yo kiddo came out as a girl.

Nothing has really changed/happened in the few days since though. And I don’t want to seem that I’m pushing things faster than they should go. But what do we do now? Talking to the Psychiatrist we already go to for kiddo’s ADHD is already in the plans, but that’s in like two weeks. I want my baby happy, but I don’t want to push, and there seems to be a lot of uncertainty right now in everyone, including the kiddo. There are doubts in the backs of our heads, wondering if this is real or just a thing. My husband and I aren’t experts, we know that, but being told “I want to be a girl” just sounded odd.

Any advice for some new parents?

And unconditional love and support is already in place. And it always will be, no matter what.

Hey Sarah <3

So, I hesitate to give out parenting advice too freely because I’m not one myself. But I was a kid once and was parented, and as someone who’s done a lot of talking to both parents and kids about this, I do have some thoughts. 

Talking to a professional who knows your kid and you family situation is definitely a great way to start. But in the meantime, The first thing that comes to my mind would be to just get kinda socratic with it. Ask all kinds of questions. Something like “hey there, remember a few days ago when you said you wanted to be a girl, I wanted to talk some more about that.” and you can just ask like, “so what exactly does that mean to you?” Just see where that leads. It sounds like there’s a pretty healthy environment at home. But at 12 I’m guessing there’s a few years of school behind kiddo, and i’m sure they’ve picked up a lot of ideas about gender roles and such just by being in that environment. Its possible your kid just likes stereotypically girly things and thinks that they need to be a girl to like those things. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of that happening. But its also possible your kid is transgender. I think parsing that out is something best left to a professional, so I hesitate to give stronger advice than that.

But I honestly think the healthiest thing you can do is just make sure you’re modeling in your language and your behavior that wherever things land that you’re good to go as parents, regardless. In the experience that I have, kids are going to lead where they need to go as long as they know its safe to follow their path. Chances are if this is something you kid is talking about, its something that’s been brewing in their head for some time. Ask lots of questions, love them to pieces, and give them some time, and you’ll get where you’re meant to.

Next up is a letter from Kendall:

When’s the right time to ask someone to be in a relationship with you? Should you meet someone in person (in the instance of an online relationship) at least once before you put a label on it? Should you already know a whole lot about each other before you decide to be an official “item,” or do you think that’s what the beginning of a relationship is for? I’m really nervous to lose this person I’m talking to and super into, but I don’t want to ask them to be my partner in fear of them saying yes because they feel pressured.

I tend to find these discussions are best handled by asking questions first. Its kind of a theme with me. I think timing is also pretty important, right?

No doubt if you’re in a position where you’re developing feelings for this person, you have some deep and meaningful conversations with them, right? So what I’d do is I’d choose the natural end of one of those conversations to broach the topic. So you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation about one thing or another, and usually in those conversations, there’s a point where it sort of feels like the conversation naturally ends, right? You’re firing messages back and forth with each other, and it just kind of stops for a minute or two. What I could imagine is when that happens, you saying something like “I really love it when we have talks like this. I don’t want you to feel pressure or anything, but I think I’m getting to a point where I’m developing feelings for you that go beyond friendship.” Tell them some specific things you like about them, specific things that make you feel the way you do. And then follow it up with “If you’re not ready for something like that or don’t share those feelings, that’s okay, but I wanted to let you know where I’m at.”

I’m not really sure meeting in person is required before any sort of label is put on the relationship. I think what matters is how you feel, right? I think it also matters what your goals are for that relationship. Are you considering the possibility of this being a long term committed relationship? Or is a “lets just date and see where it happens” kind of situation?

Either way, I don’t think meeting in person is required for a label, but if you see yourself with them long term, I think its something that should be on the agenda for sure. I certainly also think its a good idea to know a lot about someone before making it official, but there’s a fuzzy line between knowing someone well enough or not, right? That’s a hard judgement call to make without specifics. But at this point, it sounds like you know this person well enough to have developed those feelings, and I think that’s enough to take things further if you feel like it makes sense to do. 

I don’t tend to think of relationships in terms of there being this hard indivisible line based between putting a label and not putting a label on it. Celes and I had spent a few hours talking on the phone and one date before we decided to make our relationship official. Our talks got deep pretty fast, but I think its safe to say we didn’t know each other super well when we decided to make things official. And then we began the slow and steady work of getting to know each other better. And obviously, it could’ve ended at any time if either of us found something out about the other we didn’t like or some area we weren’t compatible in. 

Its hard because there’s a lot of psychological significance attached to the label. I think there’s probably an understandable fear about ruining the friendship or making things awkward if you express those feelings and they aren’t reciprocated. I think a good thing to consider there would be what you know about how this person handles their relationships with other people. I’ve expressed romantic attraction to people before who were just matter of fact that they didn’t reciprocate those feelings, and it was hard, and it was maybe a little bit awkward at first, but it didn’t stay that way, and I don’t think it has to. 

So in that scenario I would encourage you to think through that. Imagine that conversation where you express those feelings and that person says definitively they aren’t interested. How do YOU feel, how do YOU react? If you decide its a thing you can handle, then probe your knowledge of the other person’s relationships and see how you think they would handle turning you down. Obviously people can surprise you in any direction, and so I wouldn’t put all your emotional investment into the scenarios you imagine, because you could always be wrong. But it gives you something to go on at least.

And our next letter is from someone who wants to remain Anonymous:

My boyfriend doesn’t exactly support trans people, but he supports me. I’m working with my therapist to get some scientific evidence of our existence since he’s told me he doesn’t want a feelings based argument. He’s very locus minded, his heart is in a good place and I know people will say he’s a jerk which is why I’m doing this privately. If you can think of any evidence or studies I can show him it would be super helpful. 

I’m optimistic that I can change his mind but it will be hard and I’ll have to baby him through it. After all when I came out his immediate response was to breakup with me, but after about 20 mins he changed his mind and told me it was ok with him to do HRT.

Oof this is a hard one. So I think its necessary to build some context here:

In my experience, the people who demand the “facts not feelings” type of evidence aren’t usually interested in actually having their mind changed. They’re setting the bar to a place they know probably can’t be reached. Especially in this situation because oftentimes, being trans literally comes back to how you feel about yourself. It’s literally about feelings. 

I think the first question you need to ask him is what sort of evidence he could possibly be presented with that would change his mind. What proof would he accept? In his mind, what is the thing that changes his mind? Because if he’s looking for a genetic scan that reveals a trans gene or something like that, that’s just simply not going to be a standard of evidence you’re going to be able to satisfy, and it shouldn’t be necessary. That’s not even what transness is about.

I would also get some clarity on what he means when he says he’s looking for proof of our existence. It’s only a sort of tongue in cheek response to ask if he believes you exist. You’re trans, and you exist. I’m trans, I exist. My wife is trans, my wife exists, so what exactly does he mean?

My sense when people ask that is that what they actually mean, in most cases, is that they want some sort of proof that transness isn’t a mental illness or a delusion that society is feeding into by allowing and encouraging people to identify themselves in the way that makes sense to them and seek the transition care they need. 

Let’s go ahead and entertain the idea that transness, specifically gender dysphoria is a mental illness or some kind of neurodivergence. The reality is more complicated than that, but let’s just roll with that for a second. What does it change about the conversation? If we’re talking about evidence. The evidence we have clearly shows that almost universally, access to trans related care relieves gender dysphoria, promotes gender euphoria, and improves the overall emotional and psychological well being of the person seeking the treatment. Dissatisfaction has pretty much universally to do with the limitations of available surgical techniques or how difficult our society makes things on trans people. The problem is not us, its not transness, its the shitty transphobic society we live in.

The comparisons we often see are ones to serious mental illnesses like Anorexia, for example. The people who argue this way argue that allowing a trans person to transition is akin to encouraging a person with anorexia to indulge in their aversion to eating. It should be obvious why that’s an awful comparison, but let me be explicit. 

One ends in someone dying. One ends in the person better off in almost every measurable sense, save for the difficulties of living in society as a trans person, of course.

In my opinion, the only standard of evidence that should matter is a single question: does accessing transition related care make trans people better off? All the evidence we have points to that answer being a definitive yes, and if that’s not the right kind of evidence, the person doing the asking has an agenda other than your well being in mind.

I have included some links the in show notes that speak to the quality of life improvements trans folks see when seeking transition related care, since that was your initial question.

And finally I want to address the last bit of the message. You mentioned that when you came out, his immediate response was to break up with you, but in the span of 20 minutes he changed his mind and said it was okay to do HRT. That just seems like a super huge red flag for me. Obviously I don’t know all the details of your relationship and I wasn’t privy to that conversation, but that just gives me a very bad feeling. Please tread carefully and take care of yourself, my friend.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321258.php

https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

Our next letter comes from Logan

I would appreciate advise or even just be pointed in the direction of a good resource that can help me explain to people like my family for instance why slurs and other shitty words are harmful but I’m not good with words or explanations so simplicity is key for me cause I do want to correct people on that shit when it comes up just want to know how to express it to others to say “don’t say that shit” and why. 

Hey Logan. This is so hard. So I’m going to do some exposition here then I’m going to give you the simplicity thing that you asked for.

My first thought is to wonder why the fact that so many people find it hurtful isn’t enough. There’s almost never a time when someone tells me that that I’m going to give any sort of pushback. Obviously there are exceptions, right? especially when we’re talking about punching up at people in positions of privilege. But I would encourage your family to consider why it doesn’t matter to them that people are hurt by those words. Why do they need more than that?

Of course the most common pushback is going to be that people are just too sensitive, right? they need to grow thicker skin, they shouldn’t let words hurt them, etc. And this is where things get difficult. When you boil it down, what we’re talking about is explaining systemic oppression to people who don’t generally experience it. 

In their mind, they think using slurs for gay people, trans people, and others is no different than some random person on the street calling you an asshole. They have the luxury of treating each instance of that as an individual incident, mostly unconnected to anything else in life. Its pretty easy to shrug off people being mean in that context, so long as you don’t feel your actual safety is at risk. For queer and trans folks, though, those slurs come with weight that lots of people just don’t have the lived experience to understand. 

When it’s one person in the street calling you name, it might be annoying or inconvenient, but it’s not connected to anything larger than that. When I’m walking down the street, I’m already laboring under the weight of knowing I’m less safe there than the average person. I know I’m likely in the presence of people who’d rather I didn’t exist. I’m probably in the presence of people who’ve exercised their right to vote to deny me civil rights, and that’s a heavy weight to bear all on its own. And so if some random asshole walks by me and throws those slurs in my direction, he’s throwing stones on top of a gigantic weight that already exists. And of course, for trans folks and queer folks, those words are very very often followed up with by physical violence, and so even seeing those words online just brings up a very very uncomfortable reality that we all live with every day. There’s no such thing as a random slur about queerness or transness, (or any ism or phobia) that’s unconnected to the larger reality that we live in a society where we are, at best, not fully welcome, and at worst, actively hated.

So I think if you’re looking for something simple and concise to say, I’d go with something like this:

“Hey you know lots of folks find that language super hurtful. It’s pretty rough to be a trans person, and words like that exist in the context of queer and trans folks facing pretty scary statistics around violence and so on. Having those things heaped on top of them in that context, it just makes it even worse.”

I hope this helped Logan, keep me up to date on how things go!

Our next letter comes from Torn in Tennessee

Dear Callie,

I came out as gay to my very religious parents in my early twenties, and it was not a good experience. After essentially being forced out of their home while I finished college, a woman I worked with at the time and her husband became my godparents for obvious reasons to help me through it, and we formed a very tight bond.

Several years later, I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked since my godparents are, after all, older southern white country folks, that they somewhat unashamedly began supporting Trump. I feel so betrayed and hurt that two people who, having known how hurt I was when my own parents wouldn’t accept me for being gay, would tell me they support me no matter who I am, yet at the same time support an administration who actively fights against my rights everyday.

How do you reconcile having parental figures in your life who once came to your rescue yet suddenly turn their back on you and simply can’t understand why we can’t just agree to disagree on our political differences?

TiT my friend, my heart, oh my heart…

So the truth is lots of us have found out some really heart wrenching truths about people we love in the wake of all this, right? and the context you know these folks under has to make it just that much harder. What makes it difficult is given their station in life I have a hard time thinking of any rhetorical device that would allow them to feel empathy/sympathy or compassion for your situation. I a big fan of proposing hypotheticals, but hypotheticals don’t always cut it when the people you’re talking to have literally no lived experience that would compare to yours in this situation. Of course I don’t know your godparents, maybe they do.

My favorite thing to do is a sort of “well how would you feel if…” conversation with someone. If there is something in these folks lived experience that’s adjacent to losing actual civil rights, maybe there’s hope of triggering some sort of empathy or sympathy in them that would help them understand. 

This is partially an illustration of what allows conservatism to flourish, right? So many of the people arguing from that side of politics are arguing hypotheticals as an academic exercise. They rarely have to live with the consequences of debates about civil rights. So, in their mind, it’s not difficult to say they support him for X, but don’t like what he’s doing with Y. I think, sort of by necessity, the lines have to be drawn a bit more clearly by us. We have literal skin in the game here.

So how would I reconcile it? I’m not entirely sure I can give you a definitive answer. Obviously conversation is important, at least at first. I think trying to make them explain themselves is a good start. You may have already done this. You can list the explicit things he’s done to make life harder for queer folks. Ask them point blank if that’s what they want for your life, and if the answer is no, then why did they vote for him? Tie them directly to the consequences you’re facing. They voted for this. It was part of the package. Even if they say they disagree with it and support him for other reasons, ask why the other stuff was worth it. 

Why were you acceptable collateral damage? 

There was no argument pre-election for ignorance around what would happen to queer folks if he were to become president, and there’s certainly not an argument for ignorance now. The specific things he’s done to hurt you are plain to see in black and white. Ask them point blank why that’s not over the line for them?

But most of all, before you undertake this conversation, I’d steel myself for being heartbroken by their answers, to be honest. It doesn’t mean to not give them the chance to surprise you or say the right things. But you have to go into the conversation understanding there’s a possibility  that what they say is going to be heart wrenching to you. Its something I’ve been through. ITs something lots of us have been through, so its an eventuality you have to prepare for. But it’s not inevitable. Some people are reachable, some aren’t. 

At some point, I think its reasonable to ask whether or not relationships are more heartache then they’re worth. Obviously cutting them out of your life would be heartbreaking. Continuing your relationship with them given their Trump support will also be heartbreaking. As shitty as it is, if you don’t think they’re reachable, you kind of have to make the calculation about which of those situations hurts less than the other.

It’s so unfair that people we love put us in positions like this sometimes, and I’m so so sorry its something you’re going through right now. I do hope you can find peace somehow in all this, whatever you decide to do. And keep me up to date, yeah?

 Our last letter comes from Alex…

just unfriended another acquaintance of mine for posting anti-trans stuff. I considered posting a response to it, but figured it wouldn’t be worth my time (or hers).

How do you find the right balance between stepping out, advocating, and educating . . . and knowing when to leave shitty people to their own shitty devices? I’d love to help people understand where trans people are coming from (I’m MtF), but I’m not the best at picking my battles.

Hey Alex!

This is another hard one.

So the first and most important principle in this is that you’re under no overriding moral obligation to engage with these folks, especially being that you’re trans yourself. You’re not a bad activist for checking out of those discussions. It can be super emotionally difficult to constantly argue your humanity with other people. Opting out is always okay. But let’s say you do want to engage if you think it’ll be worth it. As I see it, there are really only two things to consider here…

I think the first thing we have to figure out with people is if they’re arguing in good faith. There really are people who are genuinely innocently ignorant, and just don’t know this stuff. We all had to learn this stuff at some point, none of us were born perfect social justice warriors. And so I think its really important to afford others the chance to grow as well.

But they can’t grow if they don’t want to. When you’re arguing with this person, are they listening to and actually taking in the things you’re saying? Are they being combative and mean and dismissive? All of these things are signs that someone isn’t really interested in having an honest discussion. I wouldn’t feel bad about checking out of those arguments pretty quickly. The block button is your friend and will save you lots of anxiety.

The second thing to keep in mind is that even if it seems you’re reaching someone, their mind isn’t likely to change right away. This sort of thing can take time. If you get the sense someone is really trying and failing despite their best efforts, I think its okay to afford that person some grace and let things go and continue at a later time if that’s something you’re up for doing.

I think this is why the support of allies who are culturally competent is so vitally important. I’ve literally seen a shitshow of a conversation happening, saw someone I trusted handling it, and been able to move on guilt free because I knew shit was being handled. It’s a relief and it’s why those folks can be so valuable.

I do think its important for us to be in those fights and conversations if we can be, but I do think it’s important to set rules of engagement for yourself. Your well being is top priority. You’re not a bad activist for checking out. 

Well that’s it for our first Dear Callie mailbag advice episode. I gotta come up with some better branding than that. Thank you to my good friend Steve Shives for reading the letters for me, and thank you for listening friend.

If you liked this episode and want to hear more like it, shoot me an email at Callie@queersplaining.com with your advice questions and I’ll do another in in the near future.

If you want to help keep this thing going, please consider heading to patreon.com/queersplaining and making a donation to support the show. Every bit helps!

Before I go I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared, if you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you, cares for you, knows that you’re capable of amazing things and that you are worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out. Until next time friend, my name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining