You’re a mother on the internet. You’ve got a daughter. She’s 13. She tells you she thinks she’s non-binary. She tells you she doesn’t like that girls get treated like they do. She tells you she doesn’t want to be treated like that. She tells you girls get hurt. She tells you she does not want to get hurt like that.
I’ve only been a daughter, not a mother. I’ve never had to look through the mirror the other way. But I have been a daughter who thought she must not be a girl, because she hated being treated like a girl, while it looked, in dazzling technicolor detail, like the other girls loved their portion.
The relationship between mother and daughter is a copper wire. It blazes up with heat instantaneously, zapping, crackling. Your daughter says “I must not be a girl because I don’t want to be treated like a girl” and how can you think of anything besides being treated like a girl yourself, when you had to leave the house everyday in the body of a girl? Girls contain all the possibilities of the future within them, and girls are also the most disposable people. Anyone can beat up a girl. Everyone does beat up on girls. People sell girls. People snatch girls and lock them in basements, ship them in shipping containers, rent them out to men with money, dump the bodies of girls. Girls are commodities. Girls are blank canvasses. Girls are punchlines. And if they reveal they are not actually sugar and spice we say they created their misfortune themselves. We say girls should know better. They should know they are girls, when they leave the house, and they should be careful of the world that is looking for them to make that first, naive mistake.
Lord, who wants to be a girl? A woman, maybe you would want to be a woman, who has some spending money and knows the tricks and knows she may be seen as a piece of meat but she knows for sure she is not actually one, and she can play that game now, she can get hers because she is willing to tell some lies back to the lying world, but a girl? A girl who doesn’t know the world lies yet? A girl who doesn’t realize she’s allowed to tell lies back, to look like sugar and spice while taking care of the person she actually is? No person deserves to go through being treated like a girl in this world. The majority of people on this planet have had to go through it.
What can you tell this girl who will be a woman someday about why the world punishes girls and why it looks like the other girls want to be punished like that? What can you tell her when she’s found a word that looks like what she feels, a different kind of person that explains her feelings of strangeness, of otherness, of the invisible whole within her that she cannot get the world to acknowledge?
Copper wire between your souls, jumping with instant energy. You want to keep her close and safe, she wants safety too, she wants closeness too, but she also doesn’t trust your perspective on the world. You are officially an older woman. Older women, she knows from tv and magazines and history books and fairy tales, aren’t experts. Older women, especially mothers, want power over younger women. They don’t want this out of love, they want this out of needs they never filled. Older women get old and bitter. Older women get stubborn. Older women refuse to know what young people know about the potentials of the future.
Some things you teach by way of words, most things you teach by how your body moves through the world. Don’t fight with your daughter about words. The other young people have prepared her for a battle with you. But you are mother and daughter, you are not enemies, and you don’t have to attend the battle she has assembled armor for. Use the words she asks. Ask her about her words. Ask her about the world. Ask her about the other girls- how has she decided how they feel about being girls? Ask her about other people’s souls and fears and happiness. Ask when she relates to them, ask when she cannot imagine ever relating to such weird characters. Ask what she sees happening with people and the power they hold- over her, over others. Ask her how she wants to be treated. Ask her when people treat her that way, and why she thinks they treat her that way. Ask her when they don’t, and ask her why they don’t. Ask her how she figures out how other people want to be treated. Ask her when she cares to figure out how people want to be treated, and ask her when she decides she does not care.
Ask if you can tell her how you felt when you were a girl. Ask her when she feels scared and when she feels safe. Ask if you can tell her what you know about what being hurt does to people. Ask if you can tell her about the people you know who grew strong in all the places the world broke them. Ask if you can tell her some of the secrets of these bodies- the knowledge that comes with the cycle we dance through, what you learn about people from the ebbs and flows of patience. Ask what lies about her body and mind she has suspected she has been told.
Tell her what you love about her. Her quick mind, her wise eyes, her loving heart.Tell her you love to listen to her talk. Tell her you love to hear her thoughts. Tell her she has a birthright of creation, yes through her body, so much like yours, and what a trip that is, but like every kind of person through her actions, through how she moves through the world, the words she uses, what and who she chooses to water with love and what and who she chooses to cut down. Tell her she has one body and no matter what people decide it’s good for she must treat it as if she will still be living in it in 90 years.
I can’t tell you where your daughter is going. I know from being a daughter that we always have to go somewhere, there’s always words we are prepared to knock out our mothers over, the world sings to us its siren song and we traipse off happily, with big shit-eating grins, to take our share of beatings.
That copper wire between mothers and daughters is older than our words. She got here, into this weird and often shitty world, through you. You’re the center point. The directions she goes will always have their coordinates measured in the steps back to you. When she spirals away, take care of the copper wire so that she can trace those steps. One day she may call you up and say, “I’m so far away I can’t remember who I am.” You’ll be able to tell her.