How Do I (Gently!) Correct A Family Member Who Is (Probably Accidentally!) Misgendering Me?

My father is an immigrant from Africa. I recently reconnected with a cousin on Facebook who is still in the old country and who I have never met in person as he is quite a bit younger than me. I’m really enjoying the connection and I’m I am helping him pay for school. However, I am a masculine Butch woman and though he has seen and commented on my Facebook pictures (including my wedding pictures) he doesn’t seem to realize that I am not a man. How do I tell him without making the situation more awkward than it is? I would like to have an authentic relationship with him, and I am out to everyone in my life but don’t see these particular relatives much.

Not a Man

Dear Not a Man,

Because you mentioned being ‘out’ to everyone in your life, I’m going to assume that you are married to a woman. But for the record, readers: Butch masculine woman  homosexual woman! But I’m assuming from your language that in this case, it does.

How frustrating and upsetting to be entirely yourself everywhere and then to find yourself having to come out of the closet AGAIN. It’s bad enough that we have to be coming out of the closet in small ways every day — we are mistaken for a different gender than we are, or someone assumes we are not what we are and we have to set them . . . straight, as it were. No no I don’t have a husband. No, she’s not my sister. Yes, that’s OUR daughter.

But this one also comes with it more emotional risk than those everyday uncloakings. You’re enjoying the new connection, and you fear that it may be based on an untruth. And since you don’t know that family very well, you may have no idea what his general attitudes are about queers are. And if you’re like me, you assume everyone is homophobic unless proven otherwise. (I also assume they are sexist, racist, and classist. Then people can pleasantly surprise me if they want to!)

You don’t say what makes you think your cousin believes you to be male; I, unlike my readers, have access to your name and I googled it — I can see how your name doesn’t necessarily make this clear, and photos on people’s phones are tiny.

Also, if your cousin is assuming that everyone is homophobic unless proven otherwise like I do, he might not really know but figured mistaking a butch woman married to a woman as a male heterosexual was less risky than the reverse.

I don’t know how vague your acquaintance level is with this cousin, but if he’s a first cousin I’m guessing that he has a pretty good idea of what gender you are, but is unsure enough to just fudge it a bit in case he’s not correct.Or, for all you know he thinks you may be a transsexual.

I’m grasping at straws here — if he were really confused about your gender, and if you have your gender specified on FB, he can just check it. I’m putting my money on him seeing you had a wife and a gender-neutral name and just going with the statistically most likely gender you might be.

I am doing all of this musing to point out that there are many reasons beyond him being stubborn or homophobic or oblivious that he might be using the wrong pronoun with you.

And I’m also wanting to acknowledge that, with family, it’s not just always about how it might be awkward. There is the real possibility of rejection. Of having to deal with hate or confusion or just plain stunned silence when you’d been really enjoying the conversation.

Regardless, my answer for you will be the same: you respond to his comments on your wedding pictures in ways that make it very clear this is a same-sex wedding. You didn’t say which country your father emigrated TO — if it’s the U.S., you can say something about laws changing and allowing you to marry your same-sex partner. If it’s somewhere else, you can use some other excuse to mention that you are a same-sex couple: “with my name, the florist was so surprised to have two women show up at her door!”

And then there’s the good old grab-the-bull-by-the-horns PM: “Hey, cuz! I’m getting the feeling you think I’m a guy. I’m a woman. Glad to clear that up for you! How are things?”

I’m thinking it’s not necessarily ‘awkward’ that you fear, but ‘painful.’ Oh, I hope you’re wrong. And fear of rejection or ridicule by family is a powerful thing.

But as you know probably better than most, there’s nothing more painful than feeling like you can’t be yourself, so get it over with. Speak up. Good luck. I hope it goes well.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on February 25, 2016.

How Do I Deal With ‘Ladies Only’ Baby Showers?

I got invited to a baby shower in honor of soon-to-be parents who recently moved out of town. Yay, I thought, it’ll be so nice to see them and congratulate them.Then I reach the end: “This is a ladies-only event (sorry gentlemen!)”

WTF? The invitation lists both parents names, the registry lists both their names, but only the female friends are invited. I don’t even know if the future father is invited!

I am a cis female, and work in a fully male-dominated field, which means I put up with pretty constant low-level gender crap all day. Little things like people apologizing specifically to me for cursing in a group setting (I curse plenty in group settings, so I feel confident it is my odd gender that makes me singled out, rather than my personality), and similar things that delineate gender roles. It cuts both ways: I recently sat bug-eyed while a (female) executive complained that young men these days are taking 6 weeks of leave after a baby, because c’mon what does the father need to do?

My point is, it is near and dear to my heart that our society NOT accept these precise gender instructions, and morally repugnant to me to explicitly forbid one gender. It’s a baby shower: I don’t think we’ll be using our vaginas for anything at the party.

My question is: what should I do? If the friend were still in town, or if I knew the person throwing the shower, I could casually joke about it in a way that they might gather was a real objection; I manage this all the time for ladies lunches and the like. But here I’m not sure what to do. Not go and not say anything? Bring my husband along and feign ignorance so they have to tell him to his face? Not fair to him, not his fight. Write scathing commentary on the evite? I don’t want to taint a friend’s party. Suck it up, say nothing, and be part of the silent majority, which is to say, part of the problem? I don’t like any of my options.

The Work of Babies Isn’t Just for “Ladies”

Dear WBIJL,

First, I really wish people would put more thought into milestones and parties like this instead of just doing things the way they are always done. It puts people like you, who actually think things through, in the awkward position of being the Angry Feminist Who Ruins Everyone’s Fun.

Nobody gives a crap that they ruined YOUR fun. And they don’t have to care or think about it, because they are Doing What Everyone Always Does. Also Stop Being So Uptight, ‘Lady.’

Now. Before I answer your question, I want to talk to the person who just read your letter and rolled her eyes. Or the man who said to his pregnant wife: “PLEASE don’t invite me to the shower. Ugh. All that pink and cooing over baby booties. NO thank you.”

It seems fairly harmless that a thing like a baby shower would be all women.Tradition! Games men wouldn’t like! It’s always been done this way! This is really just harmless ‘girl’s’ fun! Why is she making such a big deal out of nothing? Men don’t like that stuff anyway. Who makes a big deal over a PARTY?

But do you see how much attitudes like this materially affect parents? A female executive was huffing about men who take 6 weeks of paternal leave at her company, when under the Family and Medical Leave Act, both parents are entitled to 12 (unpaid, and only at certain employers goddammit) weeks.  You can bet bosses remember which parents are so obsessed with fatherhood that they take half the legally-allowed leave and abandon their careers to just sit around at home doing nothing (because apparently it’s impossible for men to feed, change, bathe, or care for infants so what could they be DOING) when promotion time comes!

In addition, the vast majority of fathers are raising babies with a woman.When they feel pressured to take less parental leave, their coparents get more of the work of baby raising, and have to spend more time alone during the really exhausting first few months, and lose more earning potential.That’s bad for all parents, regardless of gender.

Not to mention the big huge fat lie that society perpetuates about how mothering is REAL parenting and fathering is just sort of sitting around goofing off and adorably screwing up the laundry. See? Men need to get paid more because they’re good for nothing but working at a job. Women should stay home and take care of babies because that’s what we naturally do better. Tradition! It’s what girls like anyway!

All of this is a steaming pile of patriarchal crap that keeps women down and screws over fathers as well.

So that’s why someone like this letter writer cannot just take a deep breath and show up at the shower and take bets on the size of the mother’s belly and play the baby food game with a tight smile on her face and a sick feeling in her gut, setting aside the fact that she is contributing to the very sexism she deals with every damn day in her male-dominated job.

Okay. Now, for you, WBIJL: you politely decline the invitation and you write a note to your friends saying that you’d LOVE to attend anything that includes all of the genders who actually take care of children in real life, and that you wish them both well in their JOINT PARENTING ADVENTURE, and then you buy them some crap from their registry and call it a day.

Rigidly gender normative showers are pretty awful anyway. You won’t be missing much.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on February 11, 2016.

How Does a Girl with Resting B*tch Face Make Friends?

I’m a generally nice person. I don’t take a lot of crap and I don’t like people, but I’m not mean. I’m interesting and smart and I’m not totally unfortunate looking- but I have RBF- resting bitch face. Constantly, but worse when I’m tired, which is all the time. It has led to some awkward social situations– which honestly, all social situations are awkward for me.

When I say I don’t like people, I should clarify. I like persons and individuals just fine, but people as a whole aren’t my thing. I am more than willing and eager to make individual friends, but in order to do that, you have to deal with people, and my RBF makes me not approachable. Also, my social awkwardness doesn’t help. I think I’ve missed out on friendships because of it, but I’m not sure how to approach the problem. I don’t do bubbly and I’m generally serious. Half the time, I’m more than thrilled to just play Dr. Mario by myself rather than go to a Girls Night Out, but I wonder if maybe that’s not healthy.

So what do I do?

RBF

Dear RBF,

Let’s put one thing to rest right now: it is PERFECTLY healthy to prefer staying home and playing Dr. Mario by yourself rather than go to a Girls Night Out. Anyone who says otherwise is an Extrovert Propogandist who thinks extroversion = healthy and introversion = unhealthy, and that person is WRONG. Also an oblivious asshole, but that might be for another column.

The only way I see this as a problem is that while it’s perfectly healthy to stay home and game, it’s probably not the best way to make friends (unless it’s a multiplayer game. People who game together online can be friends.Meatspace is not the only friendspace.) So let’s address that.

First, I want to debunk some other assumptions you’re making here that I think are incorrect, as well, such as the idea that in order to make individual friendships you need to deal with ‘people,’ as you define them: people in groups.

I myself have many friends. Many good, close friends. I do not think I have ever in my entire life been on something called a ‘Girls Night Out.’ Honestly the idea of it makes me very very very nervous. So, number one: you can make friends without ever going to a Girl’s Night Out! I promise.

I want to address something else you said: that you are always tired. Why are you always tired? This is a serious question and it affects friendships. If a person is feeling overwhelmed by her life, or sleep deprived, or just exhausted (especially if groups of people exhaust you and you’re forcing yourself to go out into them?), it’s very hard to start and maintain friendships. I know it’s easy for me to say ‘take care of yourself before you assist others’ and whenever someone blithely suggests that this overworked insomniac ‘get more sleep,’ I want to punch them. But I think you should maybe spend some time thinking about what it is that makes you tired all the time and address it — not necessarily for the RBF, but for the ‘being in a good place to start friendships’ area. One quick fix: if you are under the impression that being out with ‘People’ with a capital P is something you should force yourself to do because it’s ‘healthier’ than staying at home, and it exhausts you — stop it. Good lord. Friendships should be sustaining, not draining.

You also gave me some other information that seems to be getting in the way of you seeing yourself as friendship material: that you are not ‘totally unfortunate’ looking, that you don’t do bubbly and you’re usually serious; that you’re socially awkward.

You do not have to be socially adept, gorgeous, and bubbly to make friends. If this were a requirement, most of us would not have friends. (Plus I’d want no friends because bubbly sets my teeth on edge, and serious makes me lean in.) Because while it’s not entirely true that there is someone for everyone, many many people value seriousness, introversion, and thoughtfulness in their friends.

So. I hope I have convinced you that you are perfectly healthy for being a serious introvert (even a socially awkward one; some of us find that very charming), and that you are good friend material.

Now I’m going to say something that you don’t want to hear: if you don’t like being in groups of people, if you look somewhat formidable (isn’t that better than RBF? “Somewhat Formidable?” I like that better), and you are socially awkward, you are going to have to make the first move.

I know this idea can be somewhat terrifying for socially awkward people, but hear me out: people you meet in your everyday life that seem interesting? If you find walking up to them and saying hi excruciating, especially in a group situation, you can contact them electronically and ask them if they’d like to get a drink/have lunch/come over and play Dr. Mario. That takes a lot of pressure off of both of you.

I have made several really great friendships with quiet, shy people this way: they approached me on FB or in an email after having met me somewhere (other parents of kids my age, writing retreats, we’re both members of the same online community) and asked me if I wanted to grab lunch. And we did, and we’re still friends years later.

Many, many people prefer one-on-one time with friends rather than large groups getting together. Giving someone one-on-one time is a wonderful gift. Although I like groups just fine, even this raving extrovert prefers one-on-one time with a dear friend.

Is there someone you know through your faith community you’ve always thought sounded interesting? A parent group? A hobby group? Work? (It’s okay to be friends with coworkers! It is!) A neighbor? Drop them an email or FB message. Do it! You can start some wonderful friendships that way.

You can also have good, sustaining friendships online. I have several friends whom I would consider my nearest and dearest whom I see maybe once a year. Some of them, I have never actually met IRL, or haven’t seen in decades. That does not make them any less dear to me. And, if the idea of gaming did not make me want to go join a hippy commune that has no electricity or running water, I’d be able to game while texting or emailing them, from my own home, in bliss.

There are all kinds of ways to make and sustain friendships. Don’t buy whatever narrative someone fed you about bubbly groups of women out on the town. Make your friendships and your friendship style fit your life, your hobbies, and your joy.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on February 4, 2016.