THOSE People, Case 2: Non-Binary v. Binary Gender Assumptions

THOSE People, Case 2: Non-Binary v. Binary Gender Assumptions

Joseph and Ren Meet today’s diametrically opposed duad: Ren and Joseph. Like last week, our brave participants were taught the principles and format of healthy conflict conversations as demonstrated for us by George and Rana. (See previous blogshere.)

Your job: As you read, look for the common threads that will help Joseph and Ren start to see the other person as a real person, instead of as a stereotype.
The things they don’t say to each other Like last week’s heroes, I asked each of them separately about how they feel about THOSE people, as represented by the other participant in the conversation.
Ren - (Pronouns: They/Them/Their) Ren is a 23-year-old gender-fluid person of Filipino descent. Ren has faced a tremendous amount of pain in their lives. When they were young, they always felt “squishy” when referred to by the pronouns attached to their gender assigned at birth. The other pronouns didn’t feel quite right either. Something in Ren always felt like part of them was being denied or shamed when gender-specific pronouns were attached to them. They report that they have always felt at least partially invisible, unloved, and unacceptable.
When Ren was about nine years old, they tried to have a conversation with their lola (grandma) about how uncomfortable they felt only being referred to as one gender. It did not go well. Ren’s lola is a devout, conservative Catholic woman who is convinced that Ren needs to repent from their “sin” and ask God to change their heart. She refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns for Ren and their once-warm and loving relationship has been strained ever since.
Ren has faced this kind of rejection and shaming from many people in their lifetime, and notes that it seems to be worse with people who are religiously conservative. Because of that, Ren tends to anticipate harm from people who come at them this way.
“I can’t stand people like that! They always get that cringey look when they see me and ask the rudest questions, like ‘What are you?’”
 What am I? I’m a human being! Why is that so difficult? They won’t use my right pronouns.
 The Christians are the worst. They look at me like I’m some poor pitiful creature and then look down their noses at me and say, ‘I’m praying for you honey.’ I want to scream ‘If your God is anything like you, I don’t want anything to do with him!’”

Joseph - (Pronouns:He/Him/His) Joseph is a 58-year-old, cisgender hetero man of color.
He serves as a Deacon in his church and is a proud father of four and grandfather of two. His kids and his grandkids, (and actually, his wife also) seem like they are always attacking him for saying the wrong thing. Whether they are out in public or watching TV, Joseph’s comments and even honest questions about someone’s gender get met with, “DAD!” or “POP POP!!” of “JOSEPH ANDREW, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??”
“I really don’t understand what the problem is. All of my life, there have been males and females. Now I know good and well that some of those males are gay or bisexual and some of those females are bisexual or lesbian. Some people in my church have a problem with that, but I don’t judge; that’s God’s job. I don’t know why people would choose a life like that, knowing that a lot of people are going to hate them or hurt them, but I don’t have anything against them.
“Now all of the sudden my family, the shows and movies I watch, the news — everyone is talking about there being all of these other genders. I don’t get it.
 I mean, not to be rude but, you either have this junk or that junk. What are they talking about?!?
“And then this pronoun stuff?? Mrs. Felts, (my third grade teacher,) is screaming in my head. That’s not even good grammar!”
The Conversation Just like Marta and Jenny last week, Joseph and Ren were taught the tools mentioned frequently in these blogs and given ground rules. Their first objective was to try to understand the other person, and second to be understood.
Ren as Sender Ren did their best not to assume what Joseph was thinking, but they had to admit it was hard. Just looking at Joseph is triggering for Ren. Some of the people who have hurt them most have been “Good Christians,” and Joseph had “deacon” written all over him. They pushed themselves to take some risks and talk about their experiences as a gender-ambiguous, gender-fluid person that people have continually tried to shove into one box or another, and neither has ever fit.
Ren shared their story about losing that close relationship with their Lola, about being beaten up in school, about being threatened, left out of job opportunities, and about the blatantly rude question that so frequently slapped them in the face:
“What are you??”
“I’m a real live human being, just like you.” Ren sucked their tears in and steeled themselves. “Excuse my language — but why the hell would I choose to be treated like some sort of freak or threat or demon? I didn’t make myself. This is who I am. I can’t be anyone else.”
Joseph as Sender Joseph felt even more uncomfortable sending as he did receiving. He talked about being afraid to use the wrong words, being afraid he was going to offend Ren. Joseph was used to words coming easily to him. This was hard work!
“Ok, pretend for a minute that all of your life, the only vegetables you have ever eaten or heard of come all chopped up in frozen cubes.
Then one day you go to a garden, and the gardener tries to tell you that all of these different things — different shapes, different colors — they’re all vegetables. You’d be like, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
“I do get what you’re saying; I do. But this is gonna take me a minute.”
Common Threads Ok sleuths… what do you see? What are the common threads that can help these two hear each other better?
Here’s what I see.
Check your list against mine:

  • As a middle aged, melanated man, Joseph has most certainly had his share of situations where someone saw him as “less than.” He has very likely faced job discrimination and he has definitely faced systemic discrimination, just for being who he is.
  • Joseph aspires to be a loving, caring man of God. He’s already made it clear that it’s not his place to judge anyone for being different from himself. Now that he sees just how similar Ren’s experiences have been to his own, he’s likely going to be willing to work through his automatic assumptions about “frozen cubes of vegetables.”
  • Joseph is almost as old as Ren’s Lola. Seeing how Joseph was able to push past his religious assumptions and listen to Ren’s story, Ren has restored hope that maybe every older person that comes out of a church won’t treat them like “an abomination.”
  • Ren recognizes that the world has changed way too fast for some people to keep up as our understanding of human experience expands and grows. This is the way the gender has always been for Ren. They understand that it hasn’t been that way for older people like Joseph and Ren’s Lola. They are tired of trying to explain themselves to people like this, but they also recognize that Joseph is probably really tired of being misjudged too.

THOSE People Both Ren and Joseph confirm that they will be holding back on assuming things about others. They both admit that they’ve been stereotyping others in exactly the way they dislike being stereotyped. Both people also want to see a world where all people are respected and treated with dignity, and both realize that they have some work to do in order to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Isn’t it amazing how, once you listen to the experiences of “one of THOSE people” they suddenly become just… people?
I dare you I want to challenge you today to take a fierce internal inventory. Who are the “THOSE people” in your life? In what ways do others see you as one of “THOSE people?”
I dare you to look for the common threads between yourself and each of these people groups.
I’ll see you back in this space soon!

Are you struggling to have healthy conversations with people who don’t understand you? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s make a plan!