Psychological home run/run home

pondering CH.gifMy daily routine has been pretty routine lately and it’s really been bothering me that this is also reflecting in my blog. I’m afraid I may be following Discovery Channel’s trend, broadcasting more and more uninteresting zombie-fodder and less thought-provoking, self-exploring opinion pieces.

The other day, though, I finally found myself staring into space, probably looking kinda dumb but feeling pretty darn philosophical. How nice it was to have those wheels turning again!

This pensive mood emerged after I re-watched an interview with a Belgian writer, Griet op de Beeck, of whom I had never heard but was captivated by from the first moment she started speaking. (Thanks again Zeef, for recommending it (and for the readers who understand Dutch here is the link to the interview in question).)

The interview is from a Dutch show called Zomergasten in which the interviewer and the guest sit at a simple table in a large room, decorated according to the wishes of the guest. Griet chose to emphasize the beauty of decay and set the stage for an evening of pretty deep psychological reflection.

Griet zomergasten.jpg

Besides setting the mood by decorating the stage, the guest also gets to choose about a dozen film fragments that are shown throughout the interview (which lasts for about three hours). The interview can therefore be partially steered by the guest and Griet seemed to have thought this all through very well.

Agrietopdebeeck.jpgll though the interview contained many many moments that blogs should be dedicated to, I decided to  focus on one specific storyline. I only sort of decided up to what extent I actually agree with Griet in the process of writing this though, so forgive me it’s not completely coherent…

You see, one of the videos that Griet had requested, was about a young boy, aged nine, who had been forced to return to Kosovo after his family’s request for asylum was denied. The whole process had taken six years. Six years in which the kid (let’s call him Vasili, I can’t recall what his name really was atm) and his sister had learnt to speak Flemish fluently, in which they had made friends and had built the foundations of who they now were.

Kosovo-565x424.jpgVasili broke into tears when he was asked to explain why he wasn’t enjoying life in Kosovo thus far. Griet felt this boy was scarred for life by the trauma of being ripped away from everything that felt safe and familiar to him. She emphasized the need for professional help and that he may otherwise never overcome this. She expressed her anger towards the deportation policies that Belgium, and pretty much every other European country for that matter (with the exception of Germany perhaps), were executing. She blamed them for ruining the life of this young boy and thousands of others who were being forced to leave.

And all though I feel Griet underestimates the resilience of a child’s mind here, it did bring back some memories of my own…

I was forced to move at the age of twelve myself and was angry and sad and yes, maybe traumatized for quite some time. By “forced” I mean, my parents decided it for me. There were no politics involved (all though people that know my parents and their marriage may beg to defer). There was no government decree hanging over our heads, nor had the country we were heading back to ever formed a threat to our existence. Even more so, the country I was leaving was a struggling development country and the one I was heading to was wealthy, clean and full of opportunities. So yes, the comparison is crooked in many ways, but I do feel I can relate to Vasili’s fate up to some degree…

At some point Vasili says something along the lines of “the kids are kind of crazy here”. A line I probably said in my first months back in Holland as well. All though, in all honesty, I remember being much less polite and using much unfriendlier adjectives to describe my new classmates. I could hardly handle their stupidity (they hadn’t seen a mountain in their LIFE and only spoke ONE language, and I probably even spoke that one better than they did as well…)

flying-dream21.jpgIn the absence of a time machine I made it my mission in life to see the Andes again ASAP and I did so every time I closed my eyes. It was the age in which internet was just barely emerging and even though my dad was quick to bring it into our home most of the people I missed so much did not have access to it yet or I had not been able to find them. I wrote notes to myself to remember the things I was afraid I would forget. I rode my bike around my former hometown in my daydreams and drew mental maps of the area in the process. I forced myself to speak Spanish to myself and grew extremely anxious when I couldn’t remember a certain word.

Even after puberty stopped throwing fuel on my anger it took me many years to be at peace with where I was. It took a while, but I am now not only aware but also willing to admit that this is a good place to be, economically, politically and socially. I am also well aware of the fact that this is an after thought that kids like Vasili won’t always be able to fall back on in their new home countries.

So what would I say to Vasili?

I would tell him he is allowed to feel angry and that venting is good. If this involves screaming and slamming doors at first, that’s fine. Putting his feelings into words at some point is crucial though, even if there is nothing more to say than “This sucks”.

I would also tell him that it will get better.

homerun.jpgSomething I may not tell him right now but that I would want him to know later on in life is that at some point he will have to move on.

And if he manages to shake off that feeling of victimhood, his burden may become a strength. The curveball that was thrown at him as a kid could be smashed out of the stadium later on in life.

A home run, if not in the literal sense than surely figuratively speaking…

Gender – dogmas and taboos

This morning I came across a touching Indian commercial:

It brought several things to my attention;

  1. Apparently, Hindi does not have it’s own equivalent of “proud” or “sorry”, which I find interesting…
  2. Feminism is still relevant, but it only counts if men get on board too (and no Caitlyn, you don’t count).
  3. Sharing the load when it comes to laundry would be way welcome in my book as it is one of my least favorite chores (and one that I always tend to postpone a bit too long)
  4. Oh look, it’s Ariel… where have I heard that name before… water…. bubbles… mermaids… princesses… Oh wait, didn’t I get all worked up about an Ariel in my previous blog on transgender kids? Time to go back and get that follow up blog done!

Recap

So let’s  go back to that previous blog of mine and summarize it, real quick. The issue I discussed there was transgenderism in kids, illustrated by the examples given in an interesting documentary I saw. The fact that these kids declare that their body’s gender does not coincide with the gender they feel they truly are, is not a choice. Everything from that point on, however, is. And they’re big choices, too.

Some of the dilemmas I faced in the face of theirs:

  • Is it cruel to let a child go through puberty and feel their body change into the thing they dread or is it a necessary thing they must experience in order to be sure this is not what they want?
  • Should we block puberty for a while so the kid and its family have more time to make up their minds?
  • How do we know we aren’t blocking other forms of development in the process?
  • Should these kids be allowed to make this decision at all?
  • When has there been enough psychological help and can there actually be determined that crossing over is the only way forward?
  • From what age should cross hormones be made available?

In a conversation I had in regards to all of this with my great friend and champion in thought provoking remarks, Zeefje, she asked me straight up if I had something against transgenderism in general or just the fact that children were being allowed to make decisions about their gender at such an early age. It is a question I have not really found the answer to yet either, or perhaps I haven’t really dared ask it. I’ll see if I can come up with something resembling an answer in the course of this blog and if we’re lucky maybe even put it into words in an understandable way…

Puberty

So, imagine a kid; 5 years old, without being burdened by notions of what society expects or how gender roles are divided in the world, but very clear about the fact that they may have been born one way, but are most certainly the opposite.

puberty_growth.jpgAnd then as they edge closer to those pre-teen years they become self conscious. They realize what they are feeling is actually very odd. They are, as I have now learned, in the phase of “gender-non-conforming”. They may already have run into a bully or two. They change. They were bound to change anyhow, because puberty is on the doorstep.

Puberty is turbulent enough as it is. It is a phase in life when we all doubt ourselves as we start to  form our own identity and claim our spot in the world. Our bodies change. Our emotions change. Our relationships change.

Kids struggling with their gender can now take hormones blockers to stop the process of transitioning into their biological gender. This is obviously a temporary solution. I guess it buys time. It gives the gender-non-conforming child the chance to witness the changes in the bodies and behavior of gender-conforming peers and decide how they feel about this.

Boxes and gray areas

boy-girl_91.JPGAnd now I’m getting to one of the things that bugs me in all of this. I guess I feel that the real curse is the fact that we have certain expectations of a girl and other ones for a boy. These are often opposite and not supposed to be mixed up. I feel that if the box labelled “boy” and the box labeled “girl” weren’t so sharply defined some of these kids would have a lot more wiggle room to figure out who they are and may not feel the need to cross over at all.

I have this feeling that these boy-girl labels are weighed down more by stereotypes in American society than on this side of the pond. No, I have no hard evidence to back this up. It’s just a feeling.

My point is that if you grow up in a household and society that is laden with taboos, where “that’s just the way it is” is a legitimate answer, I can imagine a subtle feeling of discomfort with your own body can get out of hand real quick. You may feel that if you don’t fit in box A, that your only choice is to transition into whatever box B is.

Don’t sell your soul

I can go on about this for a lot longer and I do feel there is still more to say about all of this but Zeefje already talked me through a lot of my frustrations and confusion and I think I’m not doing anyone any favors by elaborating more.

To conclude this topic I want to go back to Ariel. The girl in the Frontline documentary gave herself that name and I though it was ridiculous at first. I saw it as an another sign she was just a confused child, trying to live a delusional dream. She chose the name of a Disney princess… Silly silly, right?

Wrong. It is actually the strongest and most symbolic name a child in her situation could ever choose and it gave me chills when I finally figured it out… You go girl. Find your feet. Spread your wings. Just make sure you don’t lose your soul in the process.

Ugly

What a bizarre day Friday was… I came back from a normal day at work, looking forward to the weekend when a friend asked me if I had heard about the decapitation in France. I hadn’t. I swiped my way through the news and took it all in. Because it wasn’t only France. It was also Tunisia and Kuwait and Somalia, all though the latter hardly made the news. And I caught myself answering my friend that I wasn’t surprised (I even predicted it would happen)… It was ramadan after all and a Friday, so the fanatics were extra pumped after being spoken to by their clerics of choice.

Coexist-cartoon2

After having a quick bite at home, I went to the gym. While I was plodding away on the treadmill I looked at the lady next to me, making her miles without going anywhere. I have seen her many times and we always exchange smiles and friendly greetings in the dressing room. She is old enough to be my mother but she is lean and strong and would probably outrun me any day of the week.

keep-calm-and-turn-a-blind-eye-2She was looking at the TV screen in front of her while working through her routine. It was a news channel. Men with flags. Large guns. Flashing lights from police cars and ambulances. Blood. Moving images of anger and fear, but no sound. Just the pounding of our machines and the encouraging beats of some dance song. I saw her turn the screen in front of her off and continue on in a sort of “Keep calm and carry on” sort of way.

RAF knoopI must admit I consciously chose not to watch the news that evening, even though it was on my mind. On Saturday I woke up and realized it was Veteran’s day in the Netherlands. I had made a point of remembering it this year as I had received a very special gift from an amazing man and second world war veteran the year before. It was a button from his uniform and I had promised I would wear it this day to honor him.

I turned on the TV and saw the preparations for the national parade and the stories of veterans pass by. They were from different generations and had served in different conflicts but they all shared a sense of pride in what they stood for. But there was also guilt, because it was never enough. And recurring pain, physical or mental (or both) because a war leaves scars that never heal.

And I then realized my gym companion didn’t turn the TV off because she was uninterested but because at that particular moment she couldn’t deal with it and had to switch it off. Violence does something to us, as humans. It’s not just a physical wound, it kills something inside us, doesn’t it?

I suspect this is also why people around me seem to be more vocal about the destruction of the ancient buildings and sculptures in Palmyra than about the trail of torture and death IS left on its way there. It’s so difficult to process what is happening there and it’s nearly impossible to find the words to say anything meaningful about it.

Realizing that there are people that can get past that point of repulsion and not only condone these violent acts but become active participants boggles my mind and I hate that it is becoming “just another killing” on the news.

It’s hard because on the one side I want to crawl away into my happy space of denial and just ignore this nasty business. I am helpless in the face of this aggressive cancer. There is no room for reasoning. It’s just ugly.

But to quote the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”