I know this. I know it intimately. I’ve lived it.
We’re reading Ramona the Brave when I stop and ask how school is. She’s evasive, she’s of few words, in short, she’s many non Vivian things. She’s uncomfortable.
I ask her if she’s enjoying anything this year, if school is fun. A quiet, tearful nod no. I ask if she feels like she doesn’t fit.
No she whispers
Do you like the boys? The girls?
I like Devon but feel like a third wheel around him and his friends.
You don’t feel like you fit do you?
More silent nodding. More barely held on tears.
Mine this time. Not hers.
We all have the stories of feeling the outsider, whether it was real or perceived. It’s part of growing up, feeling like the kiwi in a pile of apples for at least a little while, until you find your footing.
I remember the feeling well, the itching discomfort of difference. Wolves smell fear, children smell oddness, discrepancy. Little accountants they all are.
What I remember is asking constantly why I had to keep my shirt on in the heat of July. Why I had to wear a dress. Why everything was fucking pink. Why it was ok for boy type people to roll in the dirt but not me.
A slight dissonance. A shift to the left, just a bit unfettered. A ball bearing without the right grease, grinding against the side of the wall. In my own skin I felt it then, and to a lesser degree, I still feel it.
Not quite girl, not boy.
Most of us grow up told gender is a binary. Boy or girl. Period. No variation, no wiggle room. And in the case of my mother, there was especially no room. I would wear pink dresses. I would be quiet and play with dolls. I would be the girl she wanted.
I knew I wasn’t her.
That constant sense of displacement, of not being the person anyone wanted or expected, that sense of failure. It lingers. It sticks with you, underneath your breath. That tiny voice telling you something is off, is wrong. I’ve carried it forever. You grow up with the knowledge that you don’t fit in or up to what others expect, and you start to accept that when you don’t, it means something is wrong with you.
I don’t believe gender is a yes or no anymore than I believe sexuality is. Life is fluid, and dazzling and based on a variety that keeps us fresh. But when you’re 8, and your neighbour likes to touch the girl parts you don’t quite understand and your mother insists that “ladies don’t do X”…..you want to be normal. You want to fit in. All you want is to want the same things the other girls want, the things that make no sense to you.
Not much room for dithering as a child.
I’ve fought myself for years, my internal division, my fence sitting. How can you be a little bit of both in a world that only sees one or the other?
She seems much the same. girlboy in a girl body. Vivid in her disgust with “girl” things, comfortable in jeans and sweaters, itchy and pully in dresses or well placed haircuts.
If she is as I was, if she feels herself more boy than girl, if she is displaced within a body, even a little, there is no shame. There is no failure in my eyes, as there was with my mother. She is who or what she will be.
But she feels it, this arch between, the step to the left she walks around other kids. The girls have their silent camaraderie, the boys their whispered belonging. I watch her and see that she stands astride it, unclear.
It hurts her, and it hurts to watch, and I can do nothing but grimace and remember when.
You’re different I tell her and it’s ok. You’re different and it’s awesome and in a few years, you’ll embrace this, being you, unabashedly you, and it will be ok.
But I won’t lie. It’s gonna suck sometimes too.
Her eyes grow bigger and she just seems to know, somehow, that it’s just how life goes, like wind in trees. She nods and snuggles into me.
I get it darlin. I’ve been you.
I bend over her head.
But don’t you forget, we’re pretty fucking awesome too.