Must I identify as ‘something’ to be ‘someone’? a new teen crisis

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So here’s a new one – well, new for me anyway.

Every year there’s a new trend in school. Teens assert their social positions and maybe elbow a few peers off their pedestals on the way. It’s nothing new of course – a rite of passage, a task of adolescence. We all know what that looked and felt like when we were in school. The cool ones, the nerds, the swats, the dossers…

It’s tough going – remember? (Do try – because remembering will help you navigate your teen’s development. I know it was literally the last century ago but take a breath – see what comes up as you read this…)

It can be crazy fun, but also deeply, deeply painful – no matter where on the social ladder you are. Each rung brings its own victories pressures and miseries.

So yes, that’s Not new. Here’s the new bit:

Soon-to-be 16 year old sits in front of me frowning deeply. I know her well – we’ve been working together for a year. So I know that what’s coming that has both intellectual and emotional layers. And it’s something that offends her solid, unwavering sense of justice.

But this time it has nothing to do with her parents, siblings or teachers being living embodiments of Satan.

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

“So there’s this couple in my friend group”, she starts. “They’re super lovely, cute together. I gotta say I was a little jealous of them actually. Until this thing happened in school. People are getting at them… I wouldn’t say bullying them, not yet anyways… ”

She shakes her head trying to figure out what she’s observed. Her hand is on her tummy, that’s where it’s at at the moment, just an “icky” feeling… We’ve talked a lot about her gut, and she’s listening to it now, attentively. She takes a breath. It’s bottom line time:

"OK so they're straight right? And the rest of them are mocking them for being cishets… like what's the point?!" Tweet to Another Confused Person

Yep, this is new. “What might be happening here?” I ponder aloud… and my inside voice reminds me about 4chan chats a kid showed me a while back and how sometimes what starts as a tongue in cheek ‘joke’ about any group of people can turn into something far more serious and hateful. Especially recently, in the context of COVID: anxiety, more time online, raised tensions, fewer outlets, fewer opportunities for IRL conversations. It’s become too easy to attack, judge and retreat. We are at risk of losing the ability to engage meaningfully and empathically with each other, and it saddens me. But I digress…

“Well…” she starts, “Ok, so in the olden days-” (she means when I was in school and she lets me know this by treating me to a little wink. Just as well I don’t have issues about ageing…erm ya…) “- you were bullied for being gay right?” Right, I agree, cringing at the memory of a time not so long ago and also cringing knowing full well that we are absolutely not done with that.

“But then it got “cool” right?” People got over themselves. Like it’s cool to be bi, everyone knows that. Not so cool to be lesbian, like. That’s just too “porny”.. right?

"But then it got "cool" right?" People got over themselves. Like it's cool to be bi, everyone knows that. Not so cool to be lesbian, like. That's just too "porny".. right?" Click To Tweet

Oh God

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

OKayyyy… stay focussed…I can see where she’s going. Her hand moves to her head.

“So like now people know about trans and first they got bullied when they came out, right?” Yup. I nod in agreement, this is also true… “So there are always groups that are minorities right? Skin, ethnic background, religion, social background, sexuality, gender… people who are different always get it. Not fair.”

Check, check, check… what a depressing list. How many ways we’ve created to divide and hate each other.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

“So like, now it’s cool to be trans, or whatever… And not cool to not choose and use pronouns… you have to be somebody like, to know what you are. So like – do I have to identify as someone now? Do I have to decide? Why can’t I identify as me?” She trails off for a while. When she speaks next it’s to reassure me she’s not the transphobe someone recently told her she was. She’s one of the most gloriously thoughtful and inclusive people I know. But she’s scared of how she and her friends are being perceived. Aren’t we all?

I’m seeing this a lot in the adult world too.

“So, my friends are cis straight, they fancy each other and they have sex or whatever I don’t care…” (she does, just a little, but that’s not the point here for sure so we let it slide past us and out the open-because-COVID window). And now they’re being mocked for not being bi, or asexual, or demisexual, or poly or trans or whatever? What’s THAT?!

It’s quite the turnaround alright. Can’t we just stop categorising each other?? And yes, yes I know: we are all biassed towards the similar and “othering” each other. We’ve been doing it for millennia. But, could we not evolve?

She’s getting animated. Irritated. The hands are outstretched. All these labels … I agree, there are so many. We make a list to see how many we can think of. She teaches me a new one (sapiosexual). We discuss how the very nature of labelling goes against the rather attractive idea of being non-conforming.

The glaring irony is not lost on this bright trainee adult.

“What they’re doing to my friends – isn’t that nearly as bad as homophobia? No. FUCK that, I just want to be me. SO unfair… I’ve enough to deal with”.

Ain’t that the truth.

She slumps back, spent. She has expelled her simple, insightful truth. We look at each other, breathing, both of us pondering this new, difficult reality that’s suspended, almost visible, in the space between us. Both of us hoping it will pass.

PS:

Only after I read through this for a pre publishing check did I realise that I left the word Lesbian out of my word cloud – was that a subconscious nod to the gradual erasure that seems to be happening to that word? I decided not to fix it. It seems such an important error, and one worth acknowledging.

Interested in learning more? Some Resources:

Genspect

Gender Dysphoria Support Network

Gender: A Wider Lens (Podcast) hosted by two psychotherapists

Transparency (Podcast) fascinating podcast hosted by trans men.

Transgender Trend

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