I know all about living at the fringes of society. First, I was one of only two kids in first grade who had divorced parents, plus my mom was gay. But there was more to it than that. A couple other kids at school had lesbian mothers, but they were popular kids. Our shared diversity wasn’t enough to cross the social divide, and we didn’t play together at recess or speak to each other in the halls.
I knew I didn’t fit in with the boys or the girls. I was a girl who looked like a boy and liked to do boy things, like climb trees and throw spears and play in the creek at the end of the road. But I was still a girl who loved Barbies and My Little Ponies and all the other girl things. My jeans were always too short and my socks were gray and had holes in them. I wasn’t cute or pretty or well dressed, and I hated to comb my hair. I chased the boys on the playground and hit them with my purse because I was too young to kiss them.
In third grade we made posters for our favorite TV shows. General Hospital was the most popular. I had picked The Warriors, a gang movie that had been on prime time the week before. I didn’t know how to like the right things.
I spent most of my life trying to squeeze myself into someone else’s idea of socially acceptable. Then one day I woke up and realized it was everything wonky and off-beat about me that made me interesting, and dare I say it? Even beautiful.
I was relieved when my first son fell in love with sports and buzz cuts and all the regular boy things. But I felt a different kind of relief when my second son dyed his hair pink and grew a six-inch Mohawk. My eldest was everything I wanted to be and failed at—my youngest was everything I actually was. I celebrate who each of them are, and worry about them both in equal measure.
I worry that my firstborn will follow the crowd to his own detriment. I worry his whole persona is based on pleasing his father. I worry my second child will be a target of bullies. I worry that he wants to stand out because he wants to be like me.
I warn my youngest about the dangers of not conforming, but tell him that it is the artists, inventors, and misfits who make the world beautiful. It’s harder for me to warn my eldest about the dangers of fitting in, because I have never succeeded at what he does so effortlessly.
All I can do is let them lead, and try not to squash who they are trying to become. Even when it scares me.