Around this time of year, almost every single year, something incredibly irritating happens (and I know that any gender non-conforming person reading this will be able to relate). You see, I’ve been a tomboy my entire life. Ever since I could choose what I wanted to do and how I wanted to dress, it was clear to everyone around me that I was simply not a typical girly girl. Yet what has always happened around this time of year is that well-meaning people in my life will get me a gift that they think I should want because I’m a girl, rather than one that I might actually want based on my style and choices. Let me tell a little story to make my point here.
When I was in fifth grade, I had a “high school buddy”. What that meant was that a girl from the local high school would come in during the school day and hang out with me for about an hour, once a week. It was for an elective class that she had, and for some reason I was one of the lucky elementary kids who got partnered with one of these high school buddies. I remember loving that time every week. I got to get out of class and hang out with a high school student, walking around the school or on the playground, playing basketball or checkers, while everybody else was in boring old class. It was so much fun for me. I can’t remember my buddy’s name, but I’ll call her Sarah. I really liked Sarah a lot; I thought we were great friends. We hung out once a week for an entire semester in the fall. I remember the last time we hung out quite clearly. We were walking around outside the school, on the playground and basketball courts, and talking about Christmas, which was just around the corner. She had a little gift for me, and I was psyched that she thought to get me something. She said she put a lot of thought into what to get me, and she was convinced she got the perfect gift. I remember wondering if she got me a basketball, because of how much I loved to shoot hoops back then. But when she pulled a little package out of her coat pocket, I knew it couldn’t be that. But I was still quite eager to see what it could be. I opened up the package, and immediately, my little heart sunk.
She got me barrettes for my hair. They came complete with a little speech about how putting my hair up would make me look so pretty. It felt like a judgmental punch to the gut. I remember being on the verge of tears and thinking that my friend Sarah thinks that I’m not pretty enough, I’m not girly enough, what I choose to do with myself isn’t ok enough, so she had to help me be more like she knew I should be.
I never wore them. I don’t know what I did with them, but I never looked back at the time Sarah & I spent together in the same way. I thought we were friends, I thought that she knew me and accepted me for who I was. Clearly I was wrong. She was just like everyone else, telling me that something is wrong with me because I choose to be more tomboyish than girly. I dressed like a boy, walked like a boy, spit like a boy, played soccer and basketball like a boy, and my entire childhood it was made dramatically clear to me that other people were not okay with my self-expression. Whenever I would get makeup, or pink clothes or flowery patterned gifts, I would roll my eyes as the message was received loud and clear; the gift giver either doesn’t know me, or simply doesn’t fully accept me because I’m not a girl who likes what other girls like.
One of the reasons I love SFBT as much as I do is that in a true SF therapist’s office, the client gets to define themselves for themselves, without exception. And nobody knows how incredibly impactful that can be more than someone who has struggled her whole life seeking permission and acceptance just to be herself.
So this being the holiday season, I challenge those reading this to really scrutinize what they give to their loved ones. Are you giving them a gift that you believe they will truly love, or one that you believe that they should love?
Feel free to offer me feedback via twitter, FB or email, and happy holidays!
Rebekka Ouer, LCSW