Art is from Jackie Ferrentino at VT Kids. Content warning: dysphoria.
I’m 16 years old while I’m writing this. I’ll be 17 pretty soon. I’ve been sleeping in the same bed since I was very little. Nowadays, I often lie in bed, with my feet hanging off the edge, and think about what it means for me to be a kid.
At my school, it has felt like college has been the epicenter of everything since seventh grade. Every grade, extracurricular, and sport supposedly plays into the process of getting into the perfect school. Before freshman year, my parents told me, “you really need to start caring about your grades now, because this is when colleges start watching.” Why can’t I care about my grades to give me satisfaction from hard work in my classes? All roads, it seems, lead to college.
Many of my older friends are deep in the college process: making lists, spreadsheets, working on essays, going to virtual campus tours. It almost feels like we spend two out of our four high school years figuring out where we want to go to college. In college, will I spend half my time worrying about grad school? In grad school, will I immediately start looking for a job? We’re constantly focusing on the next step, and we’re starting to lose our childhoods.
I understand my own privilege here: I’m comfortable in that I will be able to go to college if I want to, and if I don’t, I’ll be ok financially. I understand that for many, college is more than just another few years of school, that it is more of a survival strategy. However, the mindset that i’m critiquing in this essay permeates our generation (or at least, the part of the generation that I’m friends with) far beyond just the college quest.
I’d like to talk about debate for a moment. In competitive debate, debaters constantly look to the next big thing. The next bid tournament matters more than the local I’m at. The octas bid matters more than the finals bid. Well, this tournament doesn’t matter, because the TOC is next month. It goes on and on and on until our careers are over and we wonder where all the rounds went. Sometimes I’ll stop in the middle of a round and just try to take it in, because at the end of the day, those of us in debate like to debate. It’s fun! I know it helps us get into college and there are other reasons to do debate, but the primary reason to do debate is because it’s fun and it makes us happy. I fall guilty to this too – why is it so difficult to enjoy little moments in the things that we love?
I hate to get too existential, but we don’t have many years on this earth. In the years we do have, we spend so many of them worrying about work and taxes and kids and car payments. We have a few years at the start of this short life where we have a lot less to worry about. We still have responsibilities of course, and some of us have a lot more things that we have to worry about than others. This essay isn’t to say that a kid’s life is perfect. Being an adult is just more difficult, more scary, just more. There’s certain parts of being a kid that I wish we would appreciate more.
I think feeling like you’ve lost your childhood will be particularly recognizable for my trans readers. Not to overshare, but I’ve been feeling extremely dysphoric lately (although listening to Clairo on repeat has helped significantly). As I wish more and more, more than anything, that I was just a fucking girl, it’s made me think about the ways in which I perceived myself when I was younger. I remember thinking when I was in elementary school, probably around 11 years old, that I wished I was a girl. As an 11 year old in a conservative protestant school, I didn’t know what being trans meant. I just thought dresses were dope and it would be kinda cool to wear pigtails. But I definitely wished I was a girl.
I lost so many damn years to this gender. Trying to be a guy who played football or basketball or soccer. Trying to be that debate guy™who knew all the fancy economy words and could dominate a cross examination. Short hair, baggy pants, hoodies, clean face. My whole life, I’ve been thrust into a model of a man that I’ve never wanted to become.
And that’s what it comes down to. There is some model that every single one of us is trying to become. What that model looks like is different for all of us, but it’s there. Through my clothes, my grades, my lack of makeup, my college picks, I’ve tried to become that model. The man that I would grow up to become once I stopped being a kid. Now, I’m starting to realize that that model was never going to be me.
When I say be a kid, I don’t mean pretend like we don’t have problems or responsibilities. Trans kids die in the street just like trans adults. Hell, Adam Toledo was executed TODAY by the US police force. Adam didn’t have much time to be a kid. A lot of the time, being a kid fucking sucks. I don’t mean to glorify those parts, or act like it’s all perfect. What I really mean is to see that you are a kid: be yourself.
As I write this, I’m starting to realize that I am addressing this to my reader, when I have no idea what’s going on in your head. Maybe you’ve already figured all this out, but hopefully it means something to you too. At the end of the day, I wish I would stop chasing that damn shadow that my parents would like me to become. I don’t want to be anything else right now, today, except Sean. Sean’s a kid. I’d like to be a kid for a little while longer.