Thickening of the Skin, Strengthening of the Spine

I had the first real heartbreaking conversation with my 8 year old daughter. The kind where she was sad and confused. The kind that began her story with friendships, fitting in, and feeling left out. The kind that makes me want to take her away to some island where her and I can just be together and safe and happy and free of hurt.

I knew it wouldn’t be long. I’ve predicted this conversation for at least 3 years. Most parents have to have these conversations in some variation, of course, but I knew ours would come a bit prematurely because my child doesn’t fit those traditional molds specific to her gender.

She does well with the one-on-one play. She has school friends, she has her neighborhood friends, but activities like recess and any type of party scenario, she tends to be a bit…awkward. Kids aren’t mean to her, they’re not bullying, and I certainly hope it stays that way, but, she struggles, internally.

A few nights ago, our community had their fall block party. There were probably 30 children there and I noticed that my child had been adopted by an older girl, an 11 year old, that just so happens to be on the autism spectrum. Their friendship seemed to happen quick and easy, despite their age difference. I observed them and it seemed to just make sense to both of them that they’re natural friends. I couldn’t help but feel and think that this was the coming together of two unique spirits, of sorts.

After this sweet girl left, my daughter wanted to leave, too. But I wasn’t quite ready, since I only socialize twice a year, and so I said to her, “why don’t you go play with one of the 30 other kids here? I’m sure you can find something to do with one or a few of them”.

She reluctantly took my advice and I continued to observe, noticing it wasn’t going so well. The boys tossed the football to her a couple times but then quickly divert to boys that could sustain more of an aggressive game. One thing my child is not is physically aggressive in sports. She’s not a tomboy.

The girls really don’t have anything in common with my daughter, being that they were in a group doing gymnastics and braiding one another’s hair, nothing my child would have any interest in, so that just left…my daughter.

As I put her to bed that evening, she said, “Mom, I wanted to leave the party tonight because I don’t fit in with anyone. The same reason why I hardly ever play with anyone at recess. No one is like me. I feel different than everyone”.

Ouch. Stab.

Open, gaping wound.

Blood spilled out of my heart.

Now. I don’t believe my child is immune to being dramatic, and she’s certainly bossy at times so I recognize that some of this falls on her because she wants to play what she wants to play, when she wants to play it. And I realize that many children feel like they don’t fit in for many reasons. But. That doesn’t negate the feelings of being different, feeling left out,…because she is, indeed, different.

It’s an awful feeling, at any age, to feel like you don’t belong. I’ve struggled with it more in my adult life than I did in my school years. We all just want to feel accepted and loved.

I could certainly go into the amazing wisdom I feel like I imparted on my child, how I told her that’s she’s incredible and unique and that because of that, she’s going to have to work a little bit harder to find her tribe. I could go on about how I told her that when someone dares to be different, and someone dares to live outside of “normalcy”, you should never compromise and your people will find you, like the sweet 11 year old found her. I could rehash how I stressed the importance of having that one really good soul that “gets” you rather than 25 fake friends that don’t really get you at all, won’t be there for you in the long run and highlighted all of the amazing friends she does have.

But here’s where I want to swing this into a selfish story:

Yes. I cheer-leaded for her last night. The first time of many, I’m assuming. I told her all of those amazing things about herself and how it makes her who she is, etc. but after I shut her door behind me, after our good, long talk, I cried. A lot.

Because this shit is hard.

We can say all day long that every child struggles, every child goes through the proverbial growing pains, and that’s very true, but I cannot ignore, for my daughter, that this is about her gender identity struggles.

30% of kids that struggle with gender identity attempt suicide and 42% engage in self harm and the stats for depression and anxiety are even more staggering. And between 5-10% of all LBGTQ youth attempt suicide. This is scary. Like, fucking terrifying, knowing this is the reason why she’s different. It is and there’s no reason to sugarcoat that fact.

She’s realizing she’s different, she’s realizing she’s not like anyone else. It’s getting harder for her. The confusion is just beginning.

And this shit is hard as a parent.

I feel it, as a mom. I feel the struggle. My friendships have changed since it’s been apparent who my child is and especially since I have written about this topic. Not all friendships, but some. I feel the distance. I feel the chatter behind my back. It’s palpable. Its like a thick cloud sometimes. It’s tangible.

I don’t have many local friends anymore, in this small, conservative area. I notice the lack of Facebook friend engagements. I notice the lack of invites to social events. It’s not in my head. It’s real. The distance is there.

People think this is my doing, that this my choice. That I want this for my child. That being out of the ordinary is my thing and I thrive on it. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: no one wants their child to struggle, ever. For any reason. Being deemed “normal” or more “mainstreamed” would be much easier, yes? A parent would not choose this.

And even if these people know that this is who my child is, they want my silence. They don’t want me to make a deal out of this. They don’t want me to talk about it. They say it’s because they worry how my daughter will feel about these writings someday when she’s older, but I call bullshit. It makes them uncomfortable. They don’t say these things to my face, but they don’t have to.

And sometimes it’s painful. I’m slowing giving away my fucks, little by little, one by one. But sometimes it stings.

Then, little things happen. Just a nudge to remind me that my voice matters.

Just yesterday, my daughter and her dad went to get her hair cut. One of my friends from high school, whose son goes to my daughter’s school was there, too. I received this text from my friend:

Hi there. Just wanted to let you know that my son and I were waiting to get his hair cut here at the Great Clips. Your daughter was getting her haircut. First of all I have to tell you, she is the most beautiful little girl or handsome boy- whichever she prefers. Well, when she and her dad left, the older gentleman next to me said to the stylist- ‘was that a girl or a boy, I sure hope with that haircut it wasn’t a little girl!’ The stylist QUICKLY said. ‘Her name is in our system as a female name and she is a just a kid being who she wants to and obviously has supportive parents’. He just looked like he’d been hit in the face with a bag of bricks. I just looked over and said, ‘yes, she is my friend’s daughter and likes to associate as a boy, but I don’t believe that makes or breaks who she is as a child’. He just gave me a blank look. It was very eye opening to see what you and Lily have to deal with first hand probably on a day to day basis. It really opened my eyes to how cruel some people can be and especially regarding a child! So I truly admire you and all that you do for your daughter!”

Validation. It exists.

This text validated that, yes, people do spew their unsolicited, hateful opinions behind my back, whether they’re strangers, friends, or even family, but more importantly, someone else was able to see how hard this can be. And also? How incredible was that stylist that shut that man right up?

I was so thankful for this text, for this moment. I cried happy tears that people can open their minds if they so choose.

We see the pendulum swinging a bit in terms of LBGTQ acceptance, for sure. Just yesterday, the first openly trans political officials were elected (way to go, Virginia and Minnesota!!). And amazing as that is, the absolute HATE I read spewing online today because of those election results was so fucking depressing and made me realize how much work we still have to put in.

We’re are headed in the right direction, but it’s just awful to see so much hate, so much division over this topic, still. All because people want to live within their ignorance. They want to deny the science behind this discussion, they want to pretend it isn’t real…because it makes them uncomfortable. It’s much easier to call people “freaks” than to open their minds to other possibilities.

The take away here is: there is far more hope right now than hate.

And at the end of the day, my spine is stronger, my skin is thicker, because of raising this child of mine, thereby allowing me to teach her that she is a badass.

My child will only know how to stand tall and take no shit, letting no one talk her out of who she is. She will rise above the hate, she will look down on the ignorance. She will only know self confidence and never apologize for who she is. Her skin will be so thick that she will feel sorry for the idiots that believe that her lifestyle is a choice, whatever that ends up to be. She will be firmly planted in her truth and have no problem telling someone to “fuck off”.

We’re getting somewhere, one political office, one high school friend, and one hair stylist at a time. So, my child and I stand tall, and sometimes we will stand alone, and that’s totally ok by me. I’m more than up to the challenge and, more so, the privilege of being her mom.

3 thoughts on “Thickening of the Skin, Strengthening of the Spine

  1. Thank you for this post. It touches me, tears rise up in me, I wonder if I should pass it on to my daughter or will reading your words waken yet more fear for the journey ahead? And, of course, community is one huge antidote to this. We must all share, educate, take comfort in small things, and celebrate wherever possible. Our children are changing the world, and so are we. Thank you for creating a window into your world for me to look through. Thank you for your guts, tenacity and ferocious love. It bodes well, it bodes well for your precious child.

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    1. Thank you, Anna. I, of course, know there are far more challenging things in life but damn, this is tough! Thank you for reading. I’m sending light and love to you and you daughter. We are in this together.

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  2. I am another mother who feels as you do – thank you for writing what is in our hearts, as we try to protect our kids from hate. Courageous kids are changing the world so the least we can do is be unapologetic in our unconditional support – thanks for the encouragement to keep going. hugs from Charlie’s mom. (charliecanada.com)

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