DAME's Friendkeeper helps defuse a woman's anxiety over her close pal's transition, and shows a mom how to manage other hypercompetitive parents
A close friend often asks how my child is doing (at school, at soccer, at anything) and I’ve noticed that it’s almost always compared to how her child is doing in the same activities. This makes me uncomfortable, and I’m worried it’ll ruin not only our friendship, but our children’s, too. Help!
I really do think what separates us from the animals is how asinine we get about our kids… and when I say “we” I mean not me… or you. I always recount the story of my friend Nicole whose son wasn’t walking at 15 months old. The other mothers of kids around that age would question her in that way they had and her response would be ‘he doesn’t walk, I don’t know if he doesn’t want to or if he ever will, but he doesn’t!’ I always loved that she came right out and let everyone know she wasn’t going to there. (p.s. her son is now in the New York City Ballet so not only did he walk, but he flew.)
Every parent is faced with this at one point, and there are countless reasons that people feel they need to do this, but the fact is, it’s a form of bullying. Because I’m guessing your friend isn’t asking you how your kid is doing to tell you that hers is failing. I’ve always found the best way to respond is cut it off at the pass.
“How is Jimmy doing in soccer?”
“Great, he was just drafted by Real Madrid.”
“How is Jimmy doing in math?”
“How can he get any math done what with all his pot smoking?!”
My childhood friend is transitioning from female to male, and I am confused, not because of this news. But because for months, I have been referring to my friend as “he,” which was right until I was told it was wrong last week, when I was suddenly and snarkily corrected and told to use “they” even though my friend is using a male name. So now I’m using “they”—but what is that about? I am really trying to get it right. It’s not the concept of transitioning I don’t grasp—we have been close since we were 5, and I was not surprised by the news and I am genuinely happy for my friend. It’s the lexicon, which seems like it’s ever-changing. And the fact that I feel like I am being chastened by my friend and their friends when I don’t get it right, which is unfair. I want to learn, but I worry that asking questions is like stepping on a minefield. It makes me not want to spend time together. But I can’t imagine not being there. I don’t know what to do. I guess maybe I just think space is the best thing? I don’t want they do feel like I’m abandoning my friend, but am I being told to back off? I’m listening, I’m ready.
I Can’t Seem To Say the Right Thing
I recently read these Tips for Allies of Transgender People when I had some questions myself about the correct pronouns. It’s helpful to read through this because some of the things that popped up I hadn’t even thought of. The fact that you are questioning this shows you are not taking this lightly. You obviously love and respect your friend and I have no doubt your friend needs you, and giving them space would not be the right thing to do. What I would do is sit down and say, “I love you, I am proud of you, and I am completely supportive, this is new terrain for me, though so I appreciate any direction you can give me.” I don’t presume to know what your friend is going through, I imagine they feel both physical and mental discomfort in getting to the place that feels right to them, and when I’m uncomfortable, I get crabby and sometimes I lash out at the people I’m closest to, so forgive them if this happens. Remember there is a world of people that are not as thoughtful as you saying inappropriate and even rude things about other transgender people and directly to your friend that they have to deal with.
I know it’s a very different scenario, but when my close friend was very sick and dealing with unimaginable life issues, she would sometimes snap at me and I was almost glad she did, because it meant she felt comfortable enough to let out some of the steam that was building up.
I think the lexicon is something that has gotten a lot of press lately and I agree it’s important, but more significant is what it represents: respect and inclusion. Your learning from your friend will not only make them feel better, but with your understanding you can help educate those around you who may not be experiencing this first hand.
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