"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, September 28, 2015

Your Server's Gender is None of Your Business

I'm sure you've all seen the Facebook post written by a transgender waitress that recently went viral. In the post, the waitress applauds her customers, parents of a young girl, for asking her whether she is a boy or a girl, as their daughter wanted to know and they "couldn't tell."

I understand the message here (that the parents wanted to tell their daughter what the waitress refers to herself as and not to speak for her) and am glad that this exchange seems to have been regarded as nothing but positive on all sides. I have to wonder if, in the same situation, I would have made the same parenting decision.

The short answer: Nope.

Here’s why: The waitress’ gender has no bearing on her ability to serve this family lunch. Quite frankly, her gender is none of their business.

Now, I can certainly see the scenario playing out differently, but resulting in the same outcome. For instance, if the waitress approached the table and the young child blurted out “Are you a boy or a girl?” I’m sure most parents of young children have experienced a situation where their child asked an inappropriate question or made an impolite observation. In this case, I might cast an apologetic glance at the waitress and say to my child, “I think a more polite way to get to know someone would be to start by introducing yourself.” Then, if the waitress wanted to share her story, she could, but would be under no pressure to.

Then, privately, I would have a conversation with my child about how some people don’t like to think of themselves as “boy” or “girl” and asking them to pick one or the other might make them feel uncomfortable.

Then, we’d order our lunch and leave a nice tip like usual, because damn: Waitresses have to put up with some seriously annoying shit from their customers.

Maybe I’m a little sensitive about the issue. Maybe it’s because, as the mother of a dress-wearing son, I just want people to be nice and respectful towards each other and not worry so much about the information that exists behind the scenes, so to speak. 

"Are you a boy or a girl?" Max, who is only five, gets asked that question all the time. It doesn’t bother him now, and I hope it never does. It’s other kids who ask him and he handles the conversation with ease and confidence: “I’m a boy, but I wear skirts because I just like to!” I don’t mind it when kids ask him, just as the waitress didn’t seem to mind the young girl's question. Kids are curious. Kids have lots of questions. Grown-ups know this about kids and we can let their social indelicacies slide.

What does bother me though, is nosy grown-ups.

“How did you know he was into princesses and girly stuff?” Um, well, probably the same way you figured out your boy was into Star Wars.

“Do you think he’s gay?” I think he’s five. He can decide who he finds sexually attractive when he’s older.

“Do you think he’s 'trans'?” I don’t know. What I do know is that we will be here to love and support him no matter what. We love our child. We’ll let him figure out who that child will become.

So my bottom line is this: kudos to the parents who make everyone, at every point on the gender spectrum, to feel welcome in their child’s world. Kudos to the parents who teach their children that all people, regardless of color, shape, size, religion, ethnicity, hairstyle, clothing choice, or gender deserve respect and kindness. But everyone deserves to have their privacy respected, as well, and maybe THAT is the lesson worth teaching.

Lesson Learned:
A friend recently told us that her 7-year old asked if Max preferred to be called "Evan's brother" or "Evan's sister." I'm thankful that our friend thought to ask us rather than just assume one or the other. I let her know that Max calls himself "brother," and "boy." He uses masculine pronouns. But that conversation has stuck with me. I wonder if I answered the right way (I had wanted to say, "Max...he's just Max. Let's just all call him MAX!"). I had to wonder if I am doing right by my child. 

Aren't I violating my own children's privacy with every blog post I write? I don't want Max to become someone's teachable moment. I don't want him to become a story exploited for it's uniqueness and diversity in our small town. But I do want our community to know him...to understand him. It's why I write about him. Sometimes I think, by writing about him, I'm creating and sending little warriors of love and protection into the world for him...that people who read this will feel like they know him a little bit and they'll look out for him. (It's happened before...virtual strangers sharing with me Good News stories they've witnessed at school, kids sticking up for Max and for all little boys who love pink.)

And in the larger sense, I really just need this whole world to become more understanding and accepting in time for Max to get to middle school. Is that too much to ask? Is it overly ambitious to want this little blog, my own little corner of the internet, to change the world in the next six years?

This blog will inevitably change. I'm not sure where, when, or how I'll draw the line on sharing, but I'll follow the leads of my kids. I'm already pulling back on what and how much I share about my oldest, who is starting to exert his own ideas about his public and his private lives ("Mom, you can email that picture to Mom Mom and Pop but don't put it on Facebook!"). I ask him before I post. The same will be true with Max. So, in case this is the last time I write about Max's gender-nonconformity, here's a bottom line: Just be nice to each other. Be kind. Be respectful. Everybody's got their something that makes them feel like an outlier. Be an includer.


  1. I, for one, am immensely grateful that you are sharing your journey with all three of your lovely children with us. Having a gender nonconforming child is something of a lonely journey.

    At a local fun-run at the weekend, we spotted a boy in a beautiful Disney princess dress and our hearts soared with excitement that we might have found another boy like ours in the local area. Sadly, in conversation with his mother, it turns out that it was just a fancy dress costume for the day. She asked if my son's dress-wearing worried us, though, so I told her that it used to but not any more. And there the conversation ended.

    D is misgendered more and more with passing time: it doesn't seem to bother him overmuch. He told me this week that he is feeling more and more like he might be transgender after all. He's worn a skirt or a dress to school every day since term began and has been attending Cub Scouts likewise (the Scout leader's daughter told her father that another girl had started at Cubs...).

    I had a meeting with the Cub leaders (at their request) to discuss how best to integrate him into the group. They were very positive and very supportive. I remain eternally grateful to the people who have gone before families like ours and have blazed this trail. They are not far in front of us, but they have made it so much easier for us.

    The reason I don't post pics of my kids is all about privacy. I am hugely grateful that you have chosen to share as much as you have. As I said, it makes life here substantially less lonely. I try to share back with you in your comment box as a way to repay your generosity. Whilst I endorse your right to stop posting about Max whenever you decide to do so, I will miss him and D will miss seeing pictures of another happy boy in a dress.

    Please do drop me a line at gmail.com (ethelthefrog is the bit before the @) - it would be good to make some better contact.


    1. Thank you, Paul. I agree with everything you said and therein lies my dilemma. I LIKE to write about our journey with Max because it does help build connections...even with families who are living with a different set of "complications." Parents of children with autism, Downs Syndrome, behavioral and developmental delays, as well as parents of other gender-nonconforming kids have all contacted me remarking on the similarities of our journeys...the shared fears and concerns we have for our children. There's great comfort there. So there's good in this whole blogging thing. I was just so struck by my adversion to the lack of respect and privacy demonstrated in the news piece that I had to take a careful look at myself and my own family. I don't know what the right answer is for us right now. But thank you for sending your contact info. It is certainly nice to connect with other families In It with us.