LAST SUMMER I was out of commission due to three surgeries, so this summer I started out with a trip to Scotland and Ireland, where I had the time of my life in Islay, and was blown away by the hospitality of the Irish people. After that, the dog and I hiked the beach, the Butte, all around (and through) many of Oregon’s lakes and rivers, and up Mount Pisgah. I attended Eugene/Springfield Pride as an author, Rand and I visited local distilleries, wineries, and cider houses, and we enjoyed the eclipse in the path of totality. I ended my summer with a vacation to Greece and Croatia, to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding.
As an added bonus, this year is the first year I was accurately read as male on nearly every occasion, and when I didn’t ‘pass’ over the phone, most of the time I had the means and tools I needed to demand respect. (Speaking of which, there needs to be a nonbinary honorific that isn’t ma’am or sir. We Pacific Northwesterners don’t stand much on ceremony, so I guess it falls to you, Southerners. Get on it!) That being said, I still faced a few unique social challenges and came away from those experiences with many questions and a bit of insight.
During a drunken weekend at my house, my parents and Rand and I were all dancing around. My mom was past the point of reason in her inebriation and informed my dad he sucked at dancing. While that wasn’t very nice, I admit I come by my lack of talent in dancing and singing quite honestly. Abandoning my dad to his own groove, my mom danced with me for a while and at first it was just–normal/whatever–dancing. But then her dancing got sexier. Again, she was drunk, so I pushed all that to a very very small corner of my mind.
Once my mom starts on something when she’s drunk it’s hard to get her off track. Very soon she was retelling my dad how much he sucked at dancing and she finished that up with, “Ben’s a good dancer.”
And that’s when I bowed out.
I’m not a good dancer, not even close. And honestly the experience was way too Oedipus for my liking, so I called it a night.
A few days later we were out for tacos with my parents and my grandma. It was wet, the footing was uneven, and my mom reached to grab my dad’s arm but then pulled away. “I’ll take Ben’s arm. He’s more sure-footed.”
Even though I dutifully took my mom’s arm, I couldn’t help chortling. I’m the klutziest person I know, except maybe my husbear, but while his klutziness is due to a lack of awareness of his surroundings, mine is mostly due to a lack of my brain being able to communicate with my body in a reasonable manner.
Not really knowing what to make or do with all this weird attention from my mom, in spectacular introverted fashion I made more of an effort to hide from her, especially when she was drinking. Luckily I put it all together in Croatia.
At my brother-in-law’s wedding in Dubrovnik I was asked to dance with my mother-in-law. I was pretty drunk by then so I gamely marched myself up to the dance floor, danced, and when the third person gushed over how pretty my mother-in-law and her dress were, I made a break for the sidelines. The entire ten minutes was a stark reminder I have completely forgotten how to make a woman look pretty on the dance floor. It also occurred to me that dancing with my mother-in-law struck similar notes of dancing with my own mother, which led me to a crucial conclusion on the nature of what my mom was trying to accomplish.
My mom wasn’t trying to be Oedipus-weird. She was, in her own warped way, trying to bolster my self esteem, my brand-spanking-new–and admittedly quite fragile–masculine self esteem.
It occurred to me that most mothers probably do something similar with their sons when they are younger. By giving them compliments, they show their sons how they are important to women and their sons eventually grow up and venture off into the world confident and knowing something of what is expected of them.
This discovery prompted me to ask my friends questions about their own mothers bolstering their self esteem, which lead to the realization that a lot of men don’t fully conceptualize this ‘assistance’ by adulthood, and quite a few women were also raised similarly due to varying circumstances. Obviously there is no one way everyone is raised, but I thought I’d share some of the insights I’ve made throughout my trans journey.
Did your parents foster your self esteem similarly, or do you do anything similar raising your own kids?