On Being A Grown Up
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
I want to talk about a lesson that everyone who has actively engaged in parenting a child understands.
Kids act out. They act from their emotions rather than simply calmly discussing things.
And that means that all humans act out sometimes, because there is a kid in all of us.
Transgendered people are especially prone to acting out. Why?
--Because there are no polite words for the emotions and feelings we have -- they are unspeakable in this culture.
--Because acting out helps us find new boundaries, and we need to do that as we gendershift.
--Because we often have no parent or teacher figure that can help us find ways to speak our truths, who can offer a mirror and a model.
-- Because much of our pain and rage comes from a time when we were before verbal thought.
A big part of transgender is a second adolescence, trying to find another way to express who we are than the one assigned to us at birth. That is a hard thing, made doubly hard by the fact that society puts severe stigmas on gender transgression, to keep the classic system in place.
One big issue in this culture is the fact that many people resist growing up, taking the adult or parent role. It's hard to be a grown up -- it means that you have to be one of the group that takes responsibility for the future of the culture rather than just for yourself. You have to renounce some of your own pleasures to build people and institutions that are enduring & solid.
And when you take this role, you realize, that like any parent, you will be the focus of other people acting out. They will see you as the grown-up and try to express their feelings of frustration, anger, rage. They will push to find their own boundaries. They will crave you as a mirror and a model while they reject you at the same time.
We see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others -- and many times, we end up seeing the sides of us that are not the pretty ones we try to show to the world. We may see these glances in context or see them as an opportunity to know what we need to work on, but we must see them.
There is no parent alive who doesn't get frustrated with this behavior. But every good parent understands that it is part of the process, and to be a good parent means that you have to be solid in the face of acting out, be consistent and caring, the one who bends, reopens the conversation.
In short, being a parent demands maturity, even when the child in us just wants to act out too. Parents must be old enough to have wisdom, to know that this too will pass, to not act in the moment, but over the long term.
And the parent must understand that the most loving thing is to engage others, not to just leave them alone. S/he must be the one who provides the solid wall that others can touch and work off, stand firm at the boundaries, accept conflict as loving. It is not sufficient to be isolated or disengaged -- we must take the hits and trust that they are all just part of the process.
It is a tough balance for any parent. They must be strong & firm enough to be effective, flexible & resilient enough to allow their child develop in their own special way. No good parent can be a dictator, but neither can they be weak. We must listen and respect others, responding in a loving way that encourages freedom & individual self expression and requires responsibility.
One thing that frustrates me in society is that there is so much emphasis on individual gratification, and so little on the long term gratification of being a good adult/ parent/ teacher. From philanthropic giving to creating safe spaces in churches or programs to politics, the joy of giving back, of being the grown-up is rarely celebrated. And the people who try to do it are often seen as killjoys or worry warts.
I commend anyone who wishes to take on this adult role. It is an important part of the growth and maturity of any human.
But to take on this role, you have to be committed to it. To accept that others will act out, and to respond with wisdom and grace, not simply returning the acting out. We accept that children will act out, but when those who are parents respond in kind -- like child abuse -- we hold them to a higher standard, and this is good. To take on the responsibilities of a parent is to hold yourself to a higher standard, to be the one who is the grown up.
The lessons I am working to understand are the lessons of the parent. I think that these are the lessons that much of society needs to learn, and certainly the transgender community would be better if we had more adults, acting not for themselves but out of a sense of duty and responsibility to others.
It is very easy to see people in the TG community acting out, and I understand this -- where are the words, the mirrors and models, the boundaries, the support for being a grown-up? Hard, hard stuff.
The object lessons I need to believe in for myself are very simple. You sow what you reap. What goes around comes around. Taking responsibility for our own choices helps others take responsibility for theirs. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Am I perfect at this? Far from it. Maybe the hardest thing about being an adult is knowing that you are always making the wrong decision -- that perfection is impossible in this finite world, and the best you can do is the best you can do. We all need balance -- maybe that's one reason that society tends towards joint parenting and requiring villages to care for children.
But I try. And I honor others who try. And I work hard to help them focus their skills, to see themselves as they try to be the one who takes the lead. I know well that every parent needs someplace quiet to act out a bit -- after all, we are all children too.
When we stand up, we take the role as leader -- as adult, parent, teacher, grown-up. And when we do that, we need to see our actions in that light, and understand that others will too.
And dang, is that hard.