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Who/What Are We, Really? Part 1:

Recent personal events and interactions have left me needing to indulge in a little introspection and self-analysis.

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I regard myself, overall, as a tolerant and open-minded chap. But then, wouldn’t most people describe themselves so? The qualifier is, I suppose, where we draw lines as to how much we will tolerate and how large an area does the boundary fence of our ‘open mind’ enclose?

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I live in one of the most open-minded and inclusive locations in the entire UK. For all my outward ‘curmudgeonliness’, I can’t think of a more creative, vibrant and interesting place to live in Britain.

I welcome the diversity and tolerance and I applaud the frequent celebrations of the live and let live culture I see around me.

When it comes to the subjects of freedom and respect, I am not one for entertaining numerous provisos and conditions. Barring theft or harm, go right ahead, I say.

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So, I run the risk of being accused of being ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘out of touch’ by what I am about to say next.

I encounter and interact with young people quite a bit. Until very recently, I volunteered at a music college (Now, sadly having to close – but that’s a tirade for another time!). I have raised children and I live in a house inhabited by ‘young-uns’.

In other words, I don’t lack perspective.

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I am, however, having difficulty with an issue right now.

I’ll come straight out with it.

I recall parental advice suggesting that, when a child ‘acts out’, the parent should not play into it but try to find out, and deal with, what lies behind the behaviour.

The fifteen-year-old child of very dear friends of mine has declared that, while biologically female, they wish to ‘express’ themselves, (I think that’s the term used), as male. The mother has been very supportive of and encouraging of the child’s wishes. In fact, the child expects to be addressed by a name consisting of simply two initials, (for the sake of anonymity, I’ll use ‘AB’).

I was told this morning that the change of name paperwork has gone through already.

I have known AB since AB was a ‘wee nipper’ and am hugely fond of AB.

AB is affectionate and, while AB’s academic drive hasn’t always been what you would call great, AB has always been very bright and quick-minded. We’ve always had a nice connection and I’m proud to say it was I who taught AB to swim.

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I don’t want to do a disservice but, frankly, AB has numerous siblings and step-siblings among whom AB is one of the middle children and, as one would expect, there have been ‘dramatic’ contests for attention in the past – from selective lameness and assorted, sympathy-inducing, minor injuries to pernickety but flexible dietary requirements, ie. Lactose intolerance except when ice-cream is available (“But I was sick later, I really was…”), and innumerable allergies that preclude most food groups except those provided by, say, McDonalds.

What I am wrestling with is this:

AB is only fifteen.

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I have absolutely no issue with people ‘expressing’ as any gender, or combination of gender/non-gender they like. It makes no difference to me whatsoever. Go for it.

But…

AB is fifteen.

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And has to compete for attention their entire life so far.

Don’t get me wrong. AB’s mum and step-dad do an incredible job given the challenges of two, child-heavy, blended families.

Perhaps, significantly, this matter has risen to a head just as AB’s 18yr-old sister is about to have a baby.

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So, here I am – conflicted.

If I was completely convinced that AB truly, genuinely felt ‘male’, I would be wholeheartedly behind any reasonable process to help AB be comfortable in who she is.

But I’m not.

I’m not, personally, convinced.

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Sadly, while there are people who genuinely feel they have been dealt the ‘wrong’ hand, gender/body wise, there will always be those who will attach themselves to ‘special’ groups while they remain a ‘fashionable’ cause because it’s, frankly, socially ‘cool’ and comes with that ‘cache’ of being special and eyebrow-raisingly attention-worthy.

So, burn me for heresy but I’ve personally met more than a few of the latter type.

The thing is, it’s that very type, whose demands to be acknowledged a ‘special’, take up the support that should be going to the genuinely conflicted and frustrated who often go through family censure and identity hell coming to terms with, and needing the confidence in, who they really are.

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So, that’s where I am with ‘AB’.

If there is something more profound going on and this process is just a dramatic, external expression of it, I surely owe it to AB to address that root cause while not playing along and tacitly condoning the ‘acting out’.

Yet, it is such a ‘done deal’ as far as the family is concerned that I run the risk of committing heresy if I say:

“Cool, I get that. But what’s the rush? Why pin a label on yourself right now? You’ve barely lived or experienced the world outside this house. There’s plenty of time to grow into your skin and find out who you are – and want to be. And so much stuff out there you don’t know about, yet.”

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Am I the one who is wrong? Am I out of touch?

Behind the times…?

There’s no ‘harm’ being done, as such.

But, I feel that honour and honesty dictates I shouldn’t just pretend I’m completely OK with what is going on. AB deserves my honesty, too.

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Fortunately, I have a long-standing, gender-neutral nickname for AB that provides me with an ‘out’ as far as the name change is concerned.

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She is, after all, only fifteen.

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