We got a response from the speech therapist that works with both my stepkids.
It wasn’t good.
By, “it wasn’t good” I mean that it was hostile in a way I was unsurprised by and yet totally unprepared for, threaded through with a kind of viciousness that I find confusing and terrifying.
I am a genderqueer adult with a strong community around me – I have the resources to withstand the invalidations and aggressions. What about the gender non-conforming kids that she works with? The autistic community overlaps with the trans and gender non-conforming community in significant ways – some studies suggest that autistic kids are as much as 8 times more likely than the neurotypical population to be trans.
From the email:
I recognize and am in no way naïve to the fact that gender identity has unfortunately become a political and opinion based forum. We need to be extremely careful that we are not drawing [child’s] IPP and [child’s] progress and [child’s] program delivery about a “hot-off-the-press” issue, into this uncharted reality, when there is long-standing evidence and solid research supporting the ways children (his age culture) with Autism (his ability culture) can and will be expected to participate in elementary school (his peer culture).
What she means is that acknowledging the existence of non-binary gender in speech therapy sessions would be “drawing his program delivery into a ‘hot-off-the-press’ issue” in the “unfortunately political and opinion based” realm of gender.
There is no acknowledgement of the fact that I am non-binary and am in his life. There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that he interacts with non-binary people on a regular basis even beyond his relationship with me.
She refers to me as “currently acting as a step-parent.”
It was… well. It was a thing.
I drew a card before sitting down to try and draft a response.
It was the Five of Pentacles.
I wanted it to be Wands, or Swords. I wanted permission to be sharp, permission to be fiery in my response. I wanted the deck to say “Yes! Attack! Go forth, righteous Social Justice Warrior!”
Instead, the deck said, “it hurts, doesn’t it?”
Instead of unleashing my anger, the deck laid open space for my pain and my grief.
For the loneliness, the isolation, the fear.
For the deep anxiety that pre-dates her sharp “currently acting as,” the knowledge that no matter how much I love these kids, no matter how much I love their dad, my tie to them is tenuous. If something happened to my partner, there is no guarantee I would be able to maintain a relationship with them. Would they remember me once they got old enough to keep in touch with me without facilitation? There are no guarantees. If we broke up, even less so.
Stepparenting is a difficult liminal space to inhabit.
The Five of Pentacles acknowledges that anxiety at the core of my home life.
It acknowledges the pain of invisibility and invalidation. The struggle I have felt ever since I came out as genderqueer – the way my gender identity is not ever legible except to those people who are either informed or are outside the binary with me, and even then, not always.
The Five of Pentacles was not the permission I wanted, but as I process the necessity of responding gently and non-confrontationally, responding to her attacks with a conciliatory and soft tone, I appreciate the gentle validation of how much this hurts. Maybe it is not the time to go forth as a warrior. Maybe it is the time to feel the pain and come up with strategies to move forward as a family unit despite these hostile (and unavoidable – switching providers is not currently an option) professional relationships.
Sometimes you want to fight, but what you actually need is to cry.