No, I’m not a teenager any more. I can walk into a bar or club with no hope of being asked to prove I’m 21 or older. This story is about something I realized today, about my teenage years.
I’m mentoring multiple t-girls in person, and for one of them, her journey recently involved me…
- Taking her along to my salon,
- Introducing her to my hair magician lady and
- Being supportive while she arranged an appointment.
Normally, this t-girl is quiet. She’s very, very smart. She has done so many interesting things in her life. For these reasons, it is sometimes a little disconcerting for me to be in a conversation with her. But until that salon-visit day, she was conversationally overwhelming only by virtue of her quiet, shining brilliance.
To my vast surprise, she transformed into a wisecracking fast-talking comedienne in the foyer of the salon. Whatever participation I’d planned for myself as to introductions were derailed because her quips were so funny that I was too busy laughing. My hair lady was smiling along too, I noticed with some relief.
Problem is, the quips kept on coming, and coming — funny and witty, but wow, maybe too much of a good thing? My hair lady’s schedule tends to be go-go-go and instead of a quick introduction and arranging an appointment, then being able to get on with earning her living as scheduled … she was in limbo, listening to witticism upon witticism. All good stuff, to be sure — but I sensed it might be time to wrap it up so I guided the flow of the conversation to getting serious and getting on with business. The appointment was made, the t-girl and I left, and life went on.
Later, when I saw my hair magician lady again, I felt the need to say something. I told her I don’t know if I should apologize for my friend’s behavior since she hadn’t done anything bad, but the ongoing stream of humor had seemed a little awkward to me. My hair lady didn’t think an apology was needed either, and said that perhaps the humor had been a perfectly reasonable and understandable way for my t-girl friend to manage her social nervousness in what must have been an awkward situation for her. And indeed, I recall how self-conscious I felt when first I needed to function openly as the girl I am. I felt clumsy, ridiculous and ineffective. Perhaps that’s how my t-girl friend felt, and being witty was her way of coping.
As to feeling clumsy, ridiculous and ineffective, those adjectives plus “ugly” and “vulnerable” were the theme of my teenage years as a trans girl in the misogynistic, homophobic culture where I grew up. My way of dealing with it was exactly as my friend had done. I was the class clown. Many a time, I escaped being beat up or targeted because I distracted my adversary with humor or tricks. And finally, now I know why. Being a teenager is hard for many. Add in the trans girl aspect and it becomes more challenging yet. Humor was my way of coping.
Last month, I underwent a medical procedure (and no, nothing bad — I’m fine, this was a check-up albeit a pretty invasive one) that required a hospital visit. So at six a.m. I was sitting in the surgical center waiting room in my fuzzy purple pajamas, with my mom sitting next to me, to keep me company and then later to drive me home in case I was a groggy mess, too unfocused to drive safely.
I told my mom a joke. It’s the kind of joke that’s pretty funny when you’re maybe 14 years old. As an adult, not so much. My mom chortled a little, but I started laughing more and more. Eventually, I was almost unable to breathe. I was laughing so much that my eyes were tearing up. I was dimly aware of other people staring at me, and my mom looking at me in the same way as she did when I was a 14-year old, supposed to be participating in a public-speaking class … but instead I was dysfunctional due to laughing non-stop. Once I laughed for close to an hour. To say I was disruptive to the class would be an understatement. And yet I didn’t do it to be mean; I just laughed. And laughed, and laughed. I really hope I never go to jail or prison because I can already imagine what my first few days would be like; everyone yelling at me to stop laughing so they can finally get some sleep — or inspiring me to stop laughing, using other means.
Anyway, my mom took on exactly the same role as I did in the salon foyer; she brought things back under a semblance of social control.
It’s ironic how much sense strange-seeming behavior suddenly makes to me, when I finally manage to analyze it from an objective perspective. Introspectively, I was unable to connect the dots until I observed and pondered the same behavior in someone else.
So, if you were the class clown or did something socially intense to deflect attention away from you, personally — then if you’re a trans girl, maybe this article helps explain why.