Chase started high school in August. Weeks before that, he joined the football team and began training. Our house quickly became a popular hangout spot for Chase and his new friends/teammates – which is what Matt and I have always wanted. (I certainly didn’t buy a Ping-Pong table, pool table and trampoline for my own enjoyment.) We’d rather have all the kids at our house than out who-knows-where doing who-knows-what.
We order pizza, put out sodas and heat up the pool. We welcome anywhere from five to 20 teenagers into our home most Friday nights and often on Saturdays and Sundays, too. They are all great kids. They are really good at using their manners and cleaning up when I ask them to.
All of Chase’s friends have taken to C.J. without hesitation. The guys who come over are impressed by the flips and tricks he can do on the trampoline. The girls who come over teach him cheers, do his makeup and talk with him about RuPaul’s Drag Race.
When Chase gets sick of having his little brother around, C.J. hides under the Ping-Pong table or pool table hoping to go unnoticed while still feeling like he’s part of the action. It works most of the time.
All of these weeks we assumed the teenagers knew C.J. is a boy.
After attending a Halloween party, Chase and a handful of his friends crashed in our living room. As their rides slowly started arriving to shuttle them home the next morning, the boys collected their things. (They never manage to take home all of their things. We officially have a “Lost and Found” by our front door.)
One of Chase’s friends was holding the mask he’d worn to the party the night before and asked, “Does she want my mask?” to no one in particular.
“Yeah, he probably does,” Matt said.
“No, I was asking if SHE wants my mask. If C.J. wants it,” the friend clarified.
“Yeah, he probably does,” Matt said again.
The friend looked confused.
“C.J. is a boy,” Matt said matter-of-factly.
“Eeeeefffffff meeeeeee,” the friend said, putting his hands to his head. “Eff me. I’ve been calling him a ‘her’ and a ‘she’ this whole time! Why didn’t you tell me? I feel so bad!”
Matt told him it was okay.
The friend apologized again before leaving the house and then again a week later when he came over.
We assured again him that it’s fine. We’re fine. C.J. is fine. But the friend wasn’t fine. He felt bad and embarrassed.
We told him we aren’t hung-up on pronouns when it comes to C.J. and he prefers we ignore it when he’s misgendered. And, honestly, we are so used to people mistaking him for a girl that we don’t even notice the misgendering most of the time. None of us ever noticed the friend using the wrong pronouns.
We’d assumed the teens who spend time in our home knew C.J. is a boy. Chase’s friend reminded us that it’s not always evident – and, sometimes, I’m sure it’s downright confusing to newcomers.
Our lackadaisicalness when it comes to C.J.’s pronouns and misgendering caused one of Chase’s friends (and maybe more, who knows) confusion and embarrassment. I felt bad for the friend; he had the best intentions.
How many of Chase’s other friends think his brother is his sister?
We’ve done little things to be clearer that C.J. is a boy. You know, we do awkward things like saying his pronouns louder and referring to him as Chase’s brother more often than necessary. Like when someone isn’t fluent in your language and struggling with comprehension so you increase your volume thinking that will help them understand? Yeah, it’s like that. Super effective.
As much as I feel bad for Chase’s friend, I feel good because we are educating the teens who spend time in our home. They see we are just as fine with boys in dresses playing with dolls as we are with boys in helmets playing football. We don’t get hung up on pronouns, labels or society’s expectations. Everyone is valued, accepted and loved in our home.
I hope they feel that. I help they continue to enjoy our home, our food and, sometimes, our company. If they ever moved on to someone else’s house, I sure would miss their manners and messes and left behind socks.