I remember what it felt like taking my baseball mitt off. I remember the clicking of my cleats. I remember the argument with my parents. I remember the smell of the car. I remember opening the bag to see the weird outfit picked out for me. I remember everything about that night when I went from playing sports outside and straight to the Christmas party thereafter because I was so unbelievably uncomfortable.
The shorthand story is like this: I had just finished a rec softball game on a December night with my high school friends. It had been a long day of running, throwing, sliding, mud, repeating. By the time my parents came to pick me up, I was head to toe covered in earth. The soggy pacific northwest was evident from my muddy cleats up to my wet ears. I was a mess.
The plan after this game was to head straight to a family friend’s Christmas party. Underestimating the amount of dirty I would be, we all assumed that I could quickly change in the car on the ride over and mesh right into the merry fun with the family at the party. However, I was far dirtier than people had anticipated and on top of that, the outfit that was brought to me by my family was not the one I had laid out on my bed for them to grab. It was wrong, all wrong: A loose flannel shirt that didn’t fit me. Corduroy pants that I hadn’t worn in a couple years. And doc marten boots that were no friend to the end of the hems. The entire look was wrong and was a big, masculine mess to me.
“Why did you bring me this?? This is not what I laid out!” I shouted from the back seat of the car as I begrudgingly started swapping out my outfits. “I’m not going to this Christmas party!! I don’t want to wear this!!!”
“You’re going. I’m sorry this is not the outfit you had in mind but we are going to the party, so change,” was the official party response from the front seat.
As I put this outfit on and felt every ill-fitting pant leg and every butchy aspect of doc marten boots with a flannel shirt, I remember exactly how I felt: Humiliated.
|^The right to smile this big about who you are.|
We went to the Christmas party and I stayed near my sister, hiding in the corner and finding things to laugh about with her among the crab cakes and holiday spirit. Every time someone came over to say hi to us, I winced knowing I was emerging in this weird, masculine outfit my dad had somehow picked out for me. I remember feeling completely out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin.
That was one night: A fleeting few hours in one evening. Nothing important to anyone. And yet I remember every detail of that party based on how badly I felt with what the world was seeing of me. What I was wearing was wrong. It was a boy’s outfit. And I felt uncomfortable being me. I just wanted to stay in the corner with my sister and not be seen.
That tiny story, that unbelievably unremarkable event that is long lost into the folds of anyone’s memory is the closest thing I have to understanding how someone like Bruce Jenner feels when they feel that their outward depiction doesn't align with who they are. Clearly, I have no idea how that feels beyond my one example of a time when I felt embarrassed with how I looked: Because I had to wear an outfit for a few hours one night, long ago. That’s all I got. And that isn’t much.
But it does give me something to go off of in terms of how bizarre that must feel. How much I’m sure this feeling affects every ounce of their happiness. How those who feel this way likely spend a lot of time in the corner of parties, hoping no one comes to see what they’re showing off. Because it’s not anything they want to show off. It’s wrong. The entire thing is wrong.
I feel that if there’s arguably any purpose to life, it’s the right to be happy. The right to be who you want to be. The right to feel happiness in every fabric of your being. I have little patience for people who stifle others' ability to do that with their own set of guidelines on how life should be lived. Everyone has their own journey, their own personal manifest and every single person has the right to be happy with what they show the world. They have the right to love who they want. Live how they want. Make their own choices. To me, that is the purpose of life- being happy with yourself. No matter the cost or criticism.
I watched Bruce Jenner on Friday night with my girlfriends over wine & appetizers and I was overwhelmed with his story. Through discussions and some tear dabbing, I realized that this sweet person had been wrapped up in an ‘outfit’ he hated for far too long. How happy I am that he is getting to change the clothes in the bag. For once, he’s getting to pick out his outfit. And head to the Christmas party like himself. And not hide in the corner with his sister in the familiar. He’s allowed to circle the room and engage people. And introduce himself as who he feels like he has always been. I’m so unbelievably happy that his story is now changing. He’s opening the bag of clothes in the back of that car and seeing that he gets to put on exactly what he had laid out for himself.
And that makes me overwhelmingly happy. For him. For anyone. For you. For me.
Thank you, Bruce for sharing.
Live and let live.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.
*Per his direction in the interview, I am using male pronouns.