So, this is going to take a while to explain. I’m trans M2X and my parents are Christians. My dad is a LEAD PASTOR at a church that gets HUNDREDS of visitors each service. My mother knows that I was going by they/them pronouns for a while, and she went and had a chat with me. At the time, I thought I was also pansexual, so my mom now thinks I’m gay since she wouldn’t listen. I’m pretty sure I’m aroace now, though. I feel incredibly uncomfortable with getting called he/him pronouns. Some of my friends still use they/them pronouns, but Fred or whatever it was I called him previously and his sister (who I will now call Jo [fake name]) call me he/him. All of the people who know my mom call me he/him. Everyone except 3 people call me a boy.
I’m soon going to a private Christian middle school for the next two years (public school didn’t work out) where they split the kids into boy/girl groups every morning. I’m also not sure whether or not my dad knows. If my dad does know, he hasn’t acknowledged it, talked about it, or done anything about it. If he doesn’t, I really don’t want to be the one to tell him. He is incredibly protective of me, he banned all websites on my computer, so I have to ask for permission. I can’t watch YouTube, my phone doesn’t have the App Store or a web browser (I currently stole my sister’s phone, which has no restrictions at all.) He also monitors all my accounts, so I had to use my school account (it lets outside messages through, don’t worry) so that he wouldn’t track this.
I’m going to counseling, but the person I’m doing it with knows my mom in person, so I’m afraid to say too much. She also caught me off-guard at the start of counseling and asked if I thought I was trans, and I for some dumb reason blatantly lied and said no. I also would like to talk with her more about things like the fact that I think I might have social anxiety, be bipolar, etc., but she always will talk about that sort of thing for the last 10 minutes of the 45-minute sessions, and lately it’s only been about my sexuality (which I did share with her.) She is also Christian, I might add.
I really don’t know how to get my parents to accept me for who I am, and it’s getting very annoying.
Thanks for the advice,
Xyphon (age 12)
* * *
There are many things going on here, but I will try and stay focused. To begin, at age 12 you are likely just starting puberty. This is a confusing time for anyone, which is grandly reflected in your letter. Here's the thing: you are not obligated to decide right here and now what your sexuality or gender identity are, and you shouldn't pressure yourself to try. For one thing, it's not like you're going to go on dates or have sex, so what does it matter? You yourself say you think you are aro-ace, and the reason for that is not that you actually are but because at 12 years old you should be asexual. You should not be thinking about sex yet, for Pete's sake!
A huge problem with American society is that we put so much pressure on children to decide who they are right now and where they are going to go for the next 50 years of their lives. No wonder Americans are so dang neurotic. You shouldn't be worried about what your job will be or what sex is going to be like or whether you'll marry or have children or live as a hermit in the Himalayas. And, for God's sake, you should not be going to a therapist. You're 12 friggin years old, dammit. You're not old enough to be traumatized (unless you've had a death in the family or were at a school shooting, of course).
Two words: RE. LAX.
Instead of getting all uptight on serious issues, you should be playing! You should be enjoying time with your friends at school, play soccer, play D&D, go camping, and at school, you should be learning about the wonders of the universe (sadly, American schools just make education about tests instead of learning, but do the best you can; sometimes, you might be lucky enough to have a teacher who actually knows how to instill a love of learning in their students).
When it comes to your parents, they are sadly making the same mistake many parents make: instead of spending time with their kids and monitoring what they do online, they just ban or restrict internet and phone use. This is not parenting; this is being a dictator. And the result of such a parental policy is predictable and already occurring: you're indulging in secretive behavior and doing what you were told not to do anyway. What next happens is that you will, eventually, be caught, and this will severely damage the trust between you and your mom and dad.
Instead of completely banning computer time (or just monitoring it after the fact), what should be done, at least as a first step, is to have family computing time. This is when, with you at the keyboard, you are allowed to explore the internet for school projects or even hobbies and socializing while your parents are there to see what you do. They don't have to be right there next to you, but they should be in the same room as the computer and be able to see the screen. You can start small with an hour of time a day and maybe add time later. One reason why this is important is that you are going to need to learn how to use computers, phones, and the Web in order to function in modern society, so their complete ban of such tech will be harmful to your education. But the other reason is that they need to learn to trust you at the same time you need to trust them that they are trying to protect you. Although you might be aware of the dangers in virtual reality, you don't really know how bad they can be until you actually go online and get exposed to them. There's a lot of bad stuff online, and your parents are not incorrect in their concern about your surfing behavior.
Talk to Mom and Dad. Explain that you will need to use computers in this life and tell them that you will agree to 100% adult supervision so you are able to surf freely but safely. Put the computer in the kitchen or living room or wherever you're parents hang out in plain view. Tell them you understand the internet can be dangerous and that you want them to supervise you and help you.
Pronouns. Okay. I guess I'm an old bear, but when I was in school, and then an office, and also in my house, people called me by my name, Kevin. They didn't say, "Hey, boy." They didn't refer to me in the third person. That's just weird. At school, when I was called on, the teacher was like, "Yes, Kevin. Can you solve the equation on the chalkboard?" When I'm at a party and people are chatting, I don't look at a guest and say in his face: "Does he want a beer?" I say, "Hey, Brian, ya wanna beer?" So, at school, just tell people to refer to you by your first name.
Pronouns will still sometimes come up, of course. Here's a trick you can do. Whenever you find yourself using a pronoun for other people, always use They/Them. Use it all the time. When people around you use male/female pronouns, repeat what they say and substitute they/them. For example, a classmate asks, referring to a student named John: "Do you think we should ask him to join the team?" Then you say, "Yes, I think THEY would like to join the team."
It's my belief that in the future we might stop using he/him/she/her and just use they/them. This is already happening in publishing, and professional grammarians have been converting to this philosophy of using They/Them as a singular pronoun. When I was first working in publishing back in Detroit in the late 1980s and early 1990s, writing text could sound awkward when, if we didn't know the sex or a subject in a text, we would write "he/she" and "him/her." This is very cumbersome. "They/Them," however, was supposed to only be used in the plural sense. Today, though, these pronouns are widely used in the singular sense. So, yeah, just refer to everyone as they/them and you will find that others will learn by osmosis (they will absorb your way of using pronouns) and begin using they/them pronouns all the time, too.
As for being grouped with boys at your new school, just go with it. You're ace anyway (and, even if not, you're not sexually mature yet), so don't worry about it. Schools do stupid crap like that all the time, busily trying to categorize students and fit everyone in neat little boxes. Religious schools are particularly good at this, but all schools do it. Just put up with it because you sure won't get anywhere by defying the rules, and doing so will just cause you a lot of grief.
For the next 2 to 4 years, as you go through puberty, take time to learn about yourself. We are more than just our sexuality. Learn about what interests you in life. Take time to have some fun. Enjoy your childhood because, believe me, it is over sooner than you think and you will become bogged down by college, work, and family soon enough. Meanwhile, allow your sexuality to develop naturally, organically, without pressure. You might be surprised where you end up years from now. And if your parents ask you about it, just say, "I'm not worried about that right now; I'm too busy with school and having fun with my friends (or exploring your faith, if you wish)." It is this bear's opinion that the anxiety or "bipolar" feelings you have are the direct result of your overthinking your sexuality. You're stressing yourself out and need to stop.
And stop sneaking around on school accounts or your sister's phone.
Always remember this: your parents love you and want you to be safe. Be open and honest with them. You'll save them and yourself a lot of grief. Oh, and feel free to share this email with them.
Next time you wonder whether you are gay or bi or trans or ace or whatever, the answer is this: you're a kid. Focus on being a kid. It is a short and precious part of your life. Enjoy it.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.