To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
Next time you're lacking in the inspiration department, I hope you'll think of a 10-year-old boy in North Carolina.
The boy's mom is Martie Todd Sirois, and she describes her son as gender noncomforing. He does not identify as female, but he's always "acted like a stereotypical girl, played exclusively with stereotypical girls toys, and has almost exclusively female friends," she says.
And, he would much prefer to wear stereotypically female clothing.
With back to school around the corner, she took him to the tween girls' clothing store Justice. Here are some of the photos she posted of him after their shopping trip (along with a long, praising open letter to Justice) that went viral on Facebook this week.
"Different, more confident, and happier"
What do you notice first in that photo? Is it the pink leggings and pink striped miniskirt? Or, is it the boy's overwhelmingly happy expression--from his smile to his confident, outstretched arms?
His mom saw him change radically simply by dressing as he wanted:
Once that first outfit was on, he posed and admired himself in the mirror, spun around in circles to see the skirt poof out, and studied himself from all angles in every possible combination of outfits. It was pure joy. ...
My son ... sprang to life in these clothes. He even encouraged me to take pictures of him in the different outfits. There was no denying he became a different, more confident, and happier child when wearing pretty things.
Reading her account, Sirois comes across as sensitive and caring. She says she and her husband (and their two older children) are "just looking for ways to support our gender creative, in transition, born-male child. ... He may one day be LGBTQ+. He may not. We're open to whatever, as long as he's happy, true to himself, and not hurting anyone."
Support at Justice
A quick word about Justice, since this was an open letter to the company, after all. It isn't just a clothing store. As a writer at Scary Mommy put it, "Justice is an assault on the senses. It feels like I've been drop-kicked right into the middle of a Kidz Bop video."
As a result, Sirois says she was nervous, not because of her son's preferences, but because she wondered what kind of reaction they'd get when her son walked in and started trying on girls' clothes.
However, it turns out she needn't have worried.
The store manager "made my son feel beautiful and totally free of judgment," Sirios wrote in her open letter. "I want to thank her for that precious, precious gift. I rarely get to see my son being his full potential, his absolute true self in public. She encouraged that and even helped bring it out."
The courage to be yourself
I'm a 40-something, straight, white, male. I acknowledge that when I first saw the photo, I focused on the leggings and the miniskirt.
I think my reaction was one of protection. I can hardly imagine what it would have been like in my fourth or fifth grade class, decades ago, for a boy who came to school in girls' clothes. He would have been picked on, teased, maybe worse.
Are kids more tolerant now? I honestly don't know. I suspect this boy will face some rough reactions at school, even now. As I thought about that more, however, I really did focus on his smile--and his courage.
And I took an inspiring lesson from a 10-year old kid I've never met.
We all have a choice: Be part of the group battling to be ourselves, or part of the group battling to make everyone else conform. Which do you choose?