Content warning: death
Hi friends. Today’s content has been in the queue for a while and I’ve bumped it up due to recent news. Tuesday morning, my wife, Nicole, texted me right before I went into my first meeting of the day (unbeknownst to her). Her grandmother, “Grammy,” passed away that morning. Both Nicole and I were working so we just compartmentalized and put on game faces to get through the work day until we could process together that evening (and the rest of this week and beyond, tbh).
When my wife came out as trans a few years ago, we were worried about the reactions of various family members. We expected a range, and yes, there was a range, but Grammy? Grammy fucking BLEW US AWAY with her amazing reaction.
Grammy was 84(?) years old at the time. She and grandpa spent a lot of time watching television when she wasn’t creating stationery on the computer, writing poems, or online shopping. At least a year, maybe two, before Nicole came out, Grammy had gotten hooked on the reality show, “I Am Jazz” on TLC. “I Am Jazz” is a reality show about Jazz Jennings, a girl who knew from very young that she was trans. You can watch the first episode on YouTube if you’re interested.
Grammy was fully convinced that God had sent her this show so that she would be prepared to welcome her granddaughter Nicole with all the love and acceptance she could muster.
Like I said, we were fucking blown away. Here was Grammy, in her mid-eighties. She had known Nicole for over 30 years with the same name and pronouns and just like that, she switched to the correct name and pronouns. Like changing a sweater. Almost no mistakes (I literally only remember one time at most). Nicole started getting granddaughter themed birthday cards and we’d get granddaughter themed Christmas cards too. This most recent Christmas, we received the sweetest blanket that is totally Grammy’s style but we felt the sentiment right to the bottom of our hearts:
I’m sharing this with you for a number of reasons. First, Grammy is an example of why I no longer accept the following phrases:
“Things were different back then.”
“They’re a product of their time.”
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Utter bullshit, all of it. First of all, if you talk to people from marginalized communities from 60+ years ago I assure you that they will agree that words that are homophobic, racist, etc. now were also considered so back then. Just because the elders in our families weren’t called out on it doesn’t mean it was acceptable or any less awful.
Maybe some people need to work harder at changing than others, but I believe the magic equation is to combine wanting to change with willing to do the work. This isn’t only about respecting trans people. This is about everything. This is the difference between saying, “I am your ally against racism” and posting a black square on social media for solidarity and actually reading the books or whatever resources you’ve asked for. This is your spouse/partner/parent telling you they love you but not actually doing the work to respect your boundaries or cease their abusive patterns.
People can learn. I can learn. You can learn. Your loved ones can learn. But they need to want to and they need to be willing to do the work.
Wanting to be better and actually being better are two different things.
I recently had someone tell me that using singular they/them pronouns for a person was, “Frustrating and confusing.” I replied, “Just because you are frustrated and confused by something doesn’t mean the thing itself is frustrating and confusing. It’s actually really simple to respect how someone needs to be called. Maybe you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.”
And maybe that’s part of it. Maybe a lot of people are making a lot of things more complicated than they actually are or need to be.
The second reason I told you about how Grammy responded to us was because so often we get stuck in our old habits or in a place where we are unwilling to accept that maybe the information we were told decades ago isn’t accurate. (Ever had someone say, “Well that’s what I was taught!” as if it actually is written in stone and ends the argument?) Doing things like this ourselves can hold us back from deepening our relationships with loved ones, being our own authentic selves, learning new things, or striving toward goals and aspirations. As I’ve mentioned before in this newsletter, sometimes all it takes is getting sick of our own bullshit. And sometimes it also takes maintaining our own boundaries and not enabling weak excuses.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Dr. Maya Angelou
I’ll leave you with this for Valentine’s Day:
That’s it for this week! You can shop any books I’ve ever mentioned in this newsletter at The Infophile’s Bookshop and support independent bookstores. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481.
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