What the hell do I say?

Jeremy and I went shopping this afternoon. We were between stores when a gust of wind whipped past, tangling Jeremy’s hair and blowing it across his face.

“I hate the wind,” he snapped as he angrily raked his hair back with his free hand.

“Your hair should be long enough to put into a pony tail,” I mused. I tried to remember if I had an extra elastic in my purse.

“No,” he yelled loudly enough to make me jump. “We can talk about it when we get home.”

My first reaction was to yell back but there’s a time and a place. Plus he’d realized not ten steps earlier that the speaker he’d sewn into his bundle buggy had fallen off… somewhere. We’d just walked the length of the nearby Super Wal-Mart and there was no way we could retrace our steps to find it. He needed time to calm down.

We did a brief bit of grocery shopping, netting Jeremy a whole carton of cookie dough ice cream for himself, then caught the bus home. Once we put away the groceries and Jeremy got his bowl of ice cream, I broached the subject.

“Jeremy? Why were you mad when I offered to put your hair in a pony tail? I was just trying to get your hair out of your eyes.”

I more than half expected him to get mad, instead he sighed.

“Mom? Do you have any idea how often guys get beat up for stuff like that? All I’ve done is grow my hair long and dye it and I’ve got guys screaming ‘faggot’ at me when they drive by. I have no idea if they’re going to stop their car and come after me. It’s not safe to put my hair in a pony tail.”

“Jeremy?” I asked hesitantly. “If it was safe, would you do anything different?” He nodded and I continued. “I know you wore nail polish before and stopped because you were worried about what people might do and you shaved your legs-”

“I should shave them again now that we’re swimming,” he interrupted.

“Would you dress any differently if you weren’t worried about how people would react?”

He looked at me in surprise then nodded.

We’d had a brief conversation last night during which Jeremy talked about being attacked in grade school for being too girly… and now this. I wanted desperately to tell him it would be fine to just be himself but I couldn’t because his fears are legitimate.

“Jeremy, I just want you to know I’m here for you. I have your back.” I paused for a brief second. “Unless you’re wearing that duck costume again. Then you’re on your own.”

Jeremy dressed up in a giant fleece duck costume for Hallowe’en about five years ago. He made a very cute duck.

He looked at me in bewilderment. “Mom. I haven’t had that duck costume in years,” he pointed out.

“Then you’re fine,” I replied and he grinned.

And now I’m going to have a good cry on my balcony, which won’t solve a damned thing and probably won’t even make me feel better, but it seems like a necessity somehow.

And if anyone’s got any advice or words of support for Jeremy, please feel free to leave a comment.


7 thoughts on “What the hell do I say?

  1. I understand where your distress is coming from, but it’s actually good that he’s developing the understanding of where and when he can do what. Adolescence is the most difficult phase- it’s the wild west of life. The more time that goes by, the easier it will be for Jeremy to find his circle and once we’ve got our own world, the weight/fear of criticism diminishes dramatically.
    At 16 I was paralyzed by fear. I went to extraordinary lengths to appear to be the average guy. Hair parted to the side, khaki chinos, pastel Ralph Lauren button downs, tassel loafers- what I really wanted was to wear a a Dr. Zhivago coat with a white fox fur collar in winter; bright colours in summer. And it happened almost like magic. Well, not exactly. I had a near-fatal car accident in 1999. Once I woke up, I though this is it, my life could end just like that, I better stop thinking about other people and start living for myself. I was 21 (which is when things start becoming easier, as we’re not stuck in a particular peer group).
    That year I broke off my engagement, had my first boyfriend and bought my coat with a fox fur collar. The rest is history! 😀

  2. You keep being his mom – which, by the way, you are awesome at (preposition at the end and all). With our son, we started by having a discussion about people places with whom and where implementing those things would be safe. His confidence grew and eventually learned how to address people’s comments. Of course, this is at 7 not 17, which is different. Is he connected to any online support groups or anything?

  3. I would just do what you are doing- be there, trust your gut when you should talk to him about things, follow his lead. I’m asking my son to write a post (as a guest blogger on my blog) on advice to teens and young adults who do not follow what is perceived to be traditional gender expression.

  4. I hate, hate, hate that he feels unsafe to be true to himself. It hurts my heart that he wants to be able to dress one way, fix his hair another, wear nailpolish, etc but our society tells him no, that our society makes him feel unsafe. It sucks.

    You are doing a great job by making it safe at home. I hope that as he grows and meets more accepting and like minded people he feels strong enough to by truer and truer to himself outside your home. It is hard to do that though, I know. And as a mom, it is so hard to even consider letting our kids put themselves in unsafe situations, let alone encourage it.

    He is already brave and bold and strong. Keep loving him, keep encouraging him to be honest with himself and you, keep helping him find people who are open and accepting of all.

    You are doing all you can do. He will get there….and he will find safe places outside of home too. Maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or sadly next year, but he will and hopefully it will be sooner than later!

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