“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s the place in between that we fear….It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to”. –Marilyn Ferguson
Maya sat cross-legged across from me, on my proverbial “Therapist Couch”, and fiddled with the long, dark hairs on her leg. “My cousin came over the other day and said, ‘Ew! Why don’t you shave your legs? That’s not very lady-like'”.
Shifting in my rocking chair, I stifled my contempt for her cousin and asked, “What did you say?”.
Maya shrugged her shoulders, “I just said, ‘Whatever. I like it'”. She ran the pads of her finger-tips up and down her shin. She was 16 and looked more like a teenage boy than when I first met her. I have watched Maya grow, incrementally, into the person she wants to be over the last year. The changes she has made to her physical appearance, the questions she has asked, the decisions she has made. I have had the honor of witnessing someone shed who they were told they were supposed to be, and slowly, (often painfully) begin to accept and become who they have wanted to be. Who they truly are.
But with each step forward in her accepting ourselves, there is always someone nearby who will not.
“But then”, Maya continued,”my cousin….she caught site of my boxers and said, ‘What the hell are you wearing boxers for? You tryin’ to be a boy?'”.
I allowed myself the private, fleeting fantasy of me punching her cousin in the throat. After my indulgence, I swiftly pushed the thought away and again shifted in my seat. “It sounds like your cousin is a bit scared”. Maya looked up at me, suspicious and confused.
“Of what?” she asked, “Me?”.
“Not you exactly. But, maybe your courage to do what you want to do. Your bravery to be who you want to be. That’s scary to a lot of people because they’re too afraid to do it themselves”.
Maya and I had been meeting for just over a year. She first came in with long, thick, hair down her back and a shy and quiet demeanor. She had sought therapy because of her overwhelming anxiety. Today, a year later, she wears her hair extremely short, often comes to my office on her skateboard or BMX bike, and fidgets on my couch. She tells me about her classes and her family and her new skateboard tricks. She also tells me about the how alone she feels. And judged. And scared.
Today, the more we talked, the more restless Maya became. She would try to say something, but the words would stay lodged in her throat and she would give up and go quiet. Or, she would contradict herself and then shake her head and say “never mind”. She leaned forward on the couch and ran shaky hands through her short hair, rocking back and forth a bit. “I’m just. I’m so confused. I don’t know. My mom says that I shouldn’t be worried about this stuff. She makes comments about other people like me that I overhear. Like my cousin”.
I didn’t know what to say. I could have lectured her on how ignorant so many people are. About how fearful they are and how it has nothing to do with her, but I didn’t. I just sat there with her. Sometimes it’s all you can do.
I noticed that Maya had stopped rocking and simply sat cross-legged on my ouch, her arms folded tightly across her chest and her head slightly bent down. Her face had become red. And her eyes were glistening. I watched her avoid my gaze. She seemed to be using all of her strength to hold something in.
“Figuring out who we are– growing into who we are truly supposed to be, can sometimes take a long time. And sometimes it sucks to go through”.
On the heels of my comment, I watched her tears spill over the edges of her brown eyes. Her shoulders lurched forward as she bent into herself and finally gave up trying to hold back the glacier that had been coming. “But when will it stop? When will I know?”. And she cried. And she covered her face with her hands and she cried, and my tiny room was filled with her exhausted voice.
“I think I know more about myself than I think I do”.
A few months ago, my older son Silas and I were sitting in the truck outside of Bob’s Meat Market. My husband and younger son had gone inside to get some things for grilling that night. After a long week’s work, I’ll admit, I was surfing Facebook on my phone and zoning out when I heard my son from the backseat.
“Mom, is that a boy, or a girl?”. I looked up from my phone, looked out the passenger-side window, and saw a person getting into their car just next to us, a paper bag full of things for grilling, just like we were.
“I don’t know honey. I’m not sure”. I looked back down at my phone. Figuring out if someone was a man or woman is not high on my list of priorities. I really don’t care as long as they are a decent human being.
Silas was silent for a few seconds, until he then explained to me, “I bet I know. I bet that she was born a girl. But then, I bet….I think maybe she was born a girl, but felt more like a boy on the inside. I bet she felt more like a boy and so she wanted to start dressing more like a boy so that how she felt on the inside matched what she looked like”.
I again, looked up from my phone yet this time, much more engaged in what he was saying. I smiled and touched the side of his face with my hand. “I think you’re exactly right honey. I’m so proud of you that you understand that”. I had explained that reasoning to my boys on more than one occasion, but I honestly didn’t think they were really listening to me all that closely. And then, just like that, just as if he and I had been talking about the weather, he asked the next question on his mind:
“What are asteroids made of?”. We asked Siri, “What are asteroids made of?” and watched a YouTube video on it because really, what asteroids are made of is far more interesting.