* Troy and Rachel are fictional characters in order to protect the identities of anyone I’ve worked with…although I’m sure we can all see parts of ourselves in their eyes at one point or another.
Troy and Rachel
He walks into my office, arms folded and head down, and sinks into my couch. No hello, no how are you. I quietly shut the door and slowly ease myself into my rocking chair, my eyes on the young man in front of me who is desperately trying to fold into himself in the corner.
His name is Troy. On a good day, he toys with the idea of someday calling himself Amber, but today is not a good day. Today, is a very bad day. One of the many very bad days we’ve spent together in my office. They come and go like many good days and bad days do for the rest of us, but with Troy, the bad days feel more like torture.
Troy is 16. He is short, with dirty-blonde hair, a small bunch of freckles scattered across his nose and green eyes. Beautiful green eyes that shine like emeralds on good days, when we talk about the latest Colbert Report episode, and eyes that look almost lifeless on days such as this. We sit in silence for a little while. A familiar silence that isn’t awkward or uncomfortable. We’ve been working together for over a year now and he has taught me a great deal.
I’ve learned that he feels like he has the wrong body. He actually hates his body. Sometimes, he cuts himself at night, alone in the bathroom, when he wants to crawl out of his own skin. I’ve learned that on very bad days, he often comes in with long-sleeved shirts. I’ve learned that he’s thought about killing himself more often than he has not.
Despite being born male, he feels more female inside. He has no idea why he feels this way, or when it really started to take root. He didn’t even know what he was feeling until the last few years, and until recently, had no idea who to talk to. On these very bad days, Troy’s self-loathing and self-hatred is so apparent and so intense, that he can barely stand to be in the room with me. He avoids my eyes and his hunched shoulders and averted gaze seem to beg, “don’t look at me, I’m horrible”. We sit alone in my office, him staring off into space, and me, holding myself back from going over and wrapping my arms around him.
On days like this, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what “issue” the person across from me is struggling with. I’ve learned that when any human being despises themselves to the extent that Troy does, that simply staying with them in the room and being with them is all I can do–if they’ll let me.
After 10 minutes of silence, I casually say to him, “Justin Timberlake’s new album just dropped this week”. Earlier in our relationship, we talked about obscure Indie rock bands that we liked, educating each other about our “high taste” in music, until he courageously admitted he really liked J.T.
“Me too!” I concurred, and we made a pact to never breathe a word of it to anyone else.
At my comment, Troy gives a half smirk and fleetingly glances at me, as a courtesy, “yeah, I know I bought it off iTunes”. He doesn’t move, but I’ve brought him out of wherever he was into the room with me.
“I’m kind of disappointed in it, to be honest” I lament, “except for “Suit and Tie”. That’s a decent track.”.
Troy ever so subtly shifts on my couch. “Yeah, I’ve listened to it a few times now. Some of his other songs are starting to grow on me. Just give it a few tries”.
I argue a little with him, “I don’t know. “Mirrors”makes me want to gag. It’s just so corny”. He smirks again.
And then I know what will stir him up, and despite the almost sacrilege of it, I say it anyway. “Well, I’d rather listen to him than The Damn Beatles” I say.
“Are you kidding me?” He blasts, his green eyes a little more alive than when he first walked in. “How can you say that? That’s got to be a sin or something!”.
“I know, I know” I smile. ” You’re right. I feel like I should go to confession or something, but I cannot tell a lie and I really have never understood the whole Beatle thing”. We both sit up a little bit higher in our chairs as he stares at me in almost-disgust, which is wonderful. At least he’s feeling something other than what he was.
We move from The Beatles to horror movies and talk about things that scare us to the core, which oddly somehow brings us to a conversation about Stand Up Comedy. We find ourselves laughing about a Robin Williams routine he did about the origins of golf. Troy can do a perfect Scottish accent.
Then, there is Rachel. Rachel is a 15-year-old High School student whose anxiety feels insurmountable to her. She is newer to me, but I have a growing affinity for her. I have watched her sit on my couch on the verge of telling me, “I’m gay” a few times now. Her eyes well up with tears, she visibly starts to shake, and her lips quiver almost imperceptibly. She half-opens her mouth, but then quickly looks away from me and says, “I forgot what I was going to say”.
“It’s ok” I tell her, “It’ll come back to you at some point”.
These are the private sides of our LGBT youth that most people don’t see. Most people see Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of a magazine and pass judgement around like one would pass a bowl of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. Most people see two men, or two women, walking hand-in-hand or showing each other affection, and comment that there is no need to flaunt it. Most people here about the Supreme Court decision and are offended that these people should have the same right to marriage.
For me, and many other psychologists, this is the side of our LGBT youth that we see on a weekly basis. Self-loathing teenagers with fresh cuts on their arms. Young girls with so much fear about uttering their own truth that they can’t even bring themselves to say it aloud.
On very bad days that all of these young kids have, they have taught me that my job isn’t about diagnoses, or techniques, or textbook approaches, or new medications, or trying to convince them of this or that, or labels or categories. They have taught me that it’s not about if they are a boy dressed as a girl, or a girl dressed as a boy, or gay or bisexual. They have taught me that my one and only job is to sit with them and be with them and make sure they understand that they are worth knowing, whoever they may be.
As Rachel packs her book bag to leave, and grabs her skateboard, she awkwardly mumbles something about “maybe I’ll remember next week” as I hold the door open for her and tell her, “Well, either way, I will be here waiting for you to arrive”, hoping that somehow, she understands what I mean when I say it.
By the end of my session with Troy, he is slightly less hunched over than before and has his hands in his pockets. As we both move to go, I sit on the edge of my rocking chair, my hands on me knees, and I look him in the eyes until he meets my gaze and tell him, “I’m really enjoyed your company today”.
He gives me a half-smirk, moves toward the door and says, “I’ll see you next week”.
I find others’ judgments about the gay and lesbian community almost comical. Almost. It’s just so typical. And I am grateful I don’t share in their sentiments. I consider myself lucky to know these young kids. I am lucky that they have taught me how to look at them as a human being who wants to be accepted as they are, like anyone else. I’m lucky and honored that they have trusted me enough to allow me to join them on their paths. I’m lucky that I get to spend my days with them.
They have been my greatest teachers and thank goodness I have been paying attention.