Childhood is an interesting time in terms of social development. You’re taught good manners. You’re taught the Golden Rule. You’re taught to share and respect others no matter what they look like. The kids who don’t listen get reprimanded, and you take valuable life lessons from cartoons and storybooks:
That’s Dr. Seuss, and it’s something a lot of kids hear when they’re growing up. There’s a huge significance to it - the idea being that, as a kid, you should do what makes you feel good because the people who care about you won’t bat an eyelash. I clung on to that as a child, and I felt proud of who I was.
But childhood doesn’t last forever. Somewhere along the bridge to adolescence, we leave these lessons behind. We abandon community for cliques. We grow distant from friends and find ourselves acting out. Often, we become cruel as we transition into the teen years.
Somewhere between the innocence of childhood and the harsh realm of early adolescence sits one particularly memorable Halloween.
I was nearing eleven. My elementary school was holding its annual Fall festival. There was apple cider and cookies, pumpkin painting, and, of course, a costume contest. I was determined to win the highly-coveted title of “Funniest Costume.”
I don’t know exactly what my costume was supposed to be. “Old Maid,” maybe? The Grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood? All I know is that I found a grey, curly-haired wig and I wanted so badly to wear it. I borrowed a nightgown and a cardigan from my grandmother and wore big, clunky glasses on my nose. I wore my aunt’s bra over a tank top and stuffed it with socks. I had her put fake wrinkles on my face with makeup, then put on eye-shadow to go the extra mile.
Given the opportunity to dress as the “other” gender at the only time when it was socially acceptable to do so, I felt free. Well before I understood why, I felt careless in the best way. I felt confident in the nature of the costume - a chubby fifth grader dressed in the most bizarre kind of drag. I felt it warranted “Funniest Costume,” if only because it made me smile.
It made other people smile, too. Just not in the way I’d hoped.
A lot of people thought it was great, but the ones who were most vocal about it didn’t seem to think so. Maybe they were sniffing out my already-prominent insecurities, or maybe they just thought it was weird that I seemed to actually enjoy my costume. Either way, the name-calling began, and it extended for months after Halloween was over.
People began to derogatorily refer to me as “Grandma;” something that doesn’t seem so bad until you consider it was a method to put down someone who was just trying to express themselves on a day designated for that.
I began taking mental notes: “Don’t do anything feminine. There will be consequences.”
It took years of repressing my idiosyncrasies, communication style, emotions, and interests for me to unlearn this and to accept myself as a trans/non-binary person. When I came out, I felt much more secure about who I was internally, but I found that I still had trouble outwardly presenting it in a feminine way.
I began taking baby steps: I grew my hair out. I started painting my nails. My cut-offs got shorter and shorter, and eventually I started wearing tights underneath them. I’m still not completely comfortable expressing myself like this, but in a lot of contexts, I feel good about it.
As a trans person, it’s understandable to live in fear of how people perceive you. But in many cases, when you stop worrying about what people think, you’ll find that a lot of people don’t care. At school, I’ve only gotten positive comments about my nails. While my tights cause their fair share of double-takes, I haven’t heard a negative comment yet. I’ve found that if you don’t act like it’s out of the ordinary, no one has a reason to think it is. Many will accept your decisions, even when they don’t understand them.
And if they don’t? Well, if Dr. Seuss is to be trusted, you shouldn’t worry about them. After all, the people who care about you will support you no matter what. If you feel comfortable, and you act confident, others will be drawn to you. The rest gets left behind.
I guess the lesson here is that sometimes it’s beneficial to channel your inner child.
You can live care-free, if just momentarily, and there’s a beautiful and powerful simplicity in that. Besides, there are so many lessons we learn that we end up taking for granted as we get older; treat others how you’d like to be treated. Share with those who don’t have what you do.
And above all, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
We’d all do well to remember that.
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