Over the years many people have assumed that the reason I excel as a youth worker is because I’ve retained some of that youthful rebelliousness. However, in truth it has nothing to do with my rebellious adolescence, instead it has everything to do with the fact that like so many of the teenagers I counsel these days, I often felt like I didn’t fit into the world. I felt like I didn’t have a place, or that I just didn’t belong. I have since learned that it was more than simple teenage angst. And I never felt more that way than when I was forced to change my outward appearance. It felt foreign and just plain weird, I felt like the outside just wouldn’t match the inside. I remember my parents telling me that it would be easier if I just changed my outside…that my life would be easier. I remember wanting to have it be easier, but not at the expense of my sense of self.
My high school years were especially tumultuous, as they are for so many others, I didn’t fit the mold of the Catholic all-girls school I went to. I got into unnecessary trouble and was constantly consequenced at the expense of my academics. I feuded with my parents on so many things that seem so trivial now. In public, society was cruel and unrelenting and yet I held a secret power. Unlike so many people who were bullied mercilessly for way more minor differences, my power was in my inability to feel intimidated by the taunts and mean words. It was the inner strength that allowed me to carry that power with me in all the different settings. And instead of submitting to the people who mocked me for my differences, I fucking fought back. I wore my differences like armor. Through my heavily lined eyes, I could see through all the bullshit and the chatter and I knew that it was NEVER a reflection of me. No, it was a reflection of the fear those people had of being thought of as ‘different’.
I was born without any outward noticeable differences, and yes I’ve chosen to mark my body with art and other modifications and express myself through changes to my hair or whatever, however it never really felt like a ‘choice’ in the straightforward sense of the word. Unlike the definition below:
‘CHOICE’: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.
In that definition, it indicates that a person has a choice to make when met with two or more options, but sometimes, it does not feel like a choice at all. It feels like you cannot breathe if you don’t make that one decision. It feels like you’ll fade away, or suffocate or lose yourself if you don’t make that one decision.
As I look back at the period of my life from adolescence until now, I can clearly see how those struggles impacted me. I’ve realized that through fighting for the right to be myself, I have developed a strong sense of self. Sometimes I wish the battles hadn’t have been so painful, and that I didn’t have to fight so damn hard. But maybe through those battles, I realized how important my convictions were to me. I realized how much power is in acceptance of who you are.
I can relate to how my clients have expressed their feelings of not being in the right body, when their birth gender did not match the gender they felt. I certainly do not want to downplay their unique struggles because it is obviously so much more than just a disconnect for them. But, at the very least…I can understand that discomfort. I know that without those battles, I wouldn’t have constructed the capacities necessary to empower the youth I work with.
So to all the bullied, the broken, and the ones losing hope…I’ll leave you with a paraphrased quote that guided me then and now: I made weapons out of my imperfections.