One of my invisible friends (which is what I call the wide group of pretty awesome apes that I have never met in person, but know through their participation in forums and social media), celebrated her birthday recently. It was an occasion for joy and merriment, and her invisible friends had a small invisible party on-line for her, as is right and proper. It was a Bring Your Own Hedgehog Party (Jill is fond of cute hedgehogs, as I am fond of otters). So I went out hunting a wild hedgehog photo and tucked it under my arm so as to wish her a happy birthday.
Jill is the sort of person who also has real family and friends as well as invisible friends, and some of them also attended the Invisible Friend Birthday Bash by bringing some photos of Real Jill to social media, like Facebook. Jill’s Mom was there, and posted some cool old photos of Little Jill when she was born, or when she was a teenage girl. And it was pretty neat for some of us to see them, because most of the photos of real Jill that we see are of Big Jill, who has grown up to be a pretty awesome lesbian who lives in Seattle and seems to spend a lot of time having adventures with her sexy-cool partner and just generally having reasons to smile.
Anyway, one of the old photos of Real Jill was Jill about the age of 14 or so, dressed in a beautiful pale pink formal gown. I think that what we’re seeing here is Jill preparing for a genuine old school “coming out” as a debutante–that old American ritual when young middle-class girls were invited to begin thinking of themselves as soon-to-be-women and start to consider things like dating, college, marriage, and the future that lay ahead of them.
And…invisible Jill actually had a moment of doubt, looking at this picture. She wasn’t sure she wanted to tag it so that her new invisible friends could see it. Something about it made her cringe. She admitted that the Real Jill in the photo at the time had felt pretty great about being herself that day, just as Real Jill feels pretty great about being herself today…but the gulf between those two days is pretty wide. She is a very different person and has a very different life than anyone might have anticipated on the day the old photo was shot.
My vote was for tagging the photo. And my argument in favor of tagging it was this:
You were happy about who you were then, and you are happy about who you are now. The fact that there is a wide difference between the two states is not necessarily a bad thing. If your life was a novel, it would be a very good thing! It just means that the story of your life is a good novel rather than a crappy one. Lots of character development in your arc.
There are some other messages in the divide between the Real Jill of age 14 and the Real Jill of today, though. And I also see these as positive messages, in many respects. Because the Real Jill who once put on that virginal girlie dress, and glowed in a moment of familial love and societal affirmation from the cis-hetero-normative world?
Well, that Jill has no cause whatsoever for doubt about her identity now. Her decisions and the person she is today are grounded in success, not failure. She tried on the dress, and she had her moment in the sun, however briefly, playing the part of Everyone’s Girl. The fact that she tried it on and found a reason to smile at her debut, that she is obviously at peace with herself and her loved ones at that moment in the past…must give her a very solid foundation today. It goes a long way to explain her amazing strength and peace of mind about who she is.
Her decision to put that dress into a box, and all of its associated socio-sexual symbolism and expectations of herself and others, was not grounded in anger or being rejected or feeling like a failure, obviously. She wore it, she looked good in it, she felt the joy and experienced the warmth associated with wearing it well…but in the end it didn’t fit.
No need to cringe about that.