When I was a kid, there was an older boy in our neighborhood whom we called “Pinhead.” I didn’t know him at all but, like everyone else, I thought it was clever to speak of him this way.
Pinhead was a small person all-around, but his head was abnormally tiny. This fact made us children feel we had the right to taunt him with a name which was only designed to hurt. Not that we were particularly original. Now that I am “in the field” and have read about the history of disability, I know that people with microcephaly, as recently as a hundred years ago, were often sold to freak shows where they went under the name Pinheads. There were also dwarves, midgets and giants.
So there I was in Fall River, Massachusetts, part of a centuries old tradition! What a glorious history!
Is it human nature to isolate what we don’t understand? Or are we just hard-wired to be mean?
I was thinking about this while reading an article about a summer camp for children who are transgendered.
If you’re like me, you grew up with no idea about transgender. You have never thought about the fact that a mother can look at her newly-delivered baby and not be certain whether she has given birth to a boy or to a girl. If you are like me, it has never occurred to you that a girl can spend her whole childhood certain she is a boy; or that a boy can grow up with a penis yet be convinced that he was actually meant to be a girl.
Transgender is complicated. It doesn’t fit into the boxes we have invented, those boxes which slot every child in the world into a preconceived identity, with rules and expectations and very clear boundaries which that child dare not cross. It hasn’t struck us that, from the moment of birth, when we see a penis or a vagina on an unsuspecting, innocent baby, we have decided that child’s fate.
I don’t know enough about transgender to know what I am talking about here. I just know that human sexuality, human life, is vast and complex and thank God for that. I am beginning to suspect that we have bought into a whole list of attributes and exclusions which do not do justice to the diversity which life has to offer. I am beginning to question the assumptions and definitions we have all subscribed to for so long, without awareness, without information, without the slightest clue.
It’s not as simple as we have made it out to be and yet it couldn’t be simpler.
There is no one way to be. There is no single righteous path. If God has created people with “ambiguous genitalia,” who are we to question that? By what divine right do we isolate and marginalize them? How do we justify making other people’s lives (the only ones they’ve got!) a living, breathing hell?
Read the article above about the kids at summer camp and try to imagine your own child in that situation.
And then ask yourself: what else might we be missing the boat on? When I was a child, I didn’t know anything about microcephaly and I participated in my gang’s isolation of a boy who had it. Most children growing up today are ignorant about transgender and they exclude and even prey upon children who are born that way. What will it be tomorrow? We have no idea what new understandings will develop by the time our children are adults, no way of predicting how our views of what is “normal” may change by then.
Inclusion is not a laundry list. It’s not a menu or a bill of rights in which different conditions are spelled out and if yours is on it you’re in and if it’s not, you’re out. Inclusion is an attitude, an embrace, a welcoming – whoever you are, however you look, wherever you’re from: you belong. You are part of the family.
There is no way we can teach our children about each and every possibility that may come their way. We can’t prepare them for every eventuality. The world is full of surprises and startling new angles. There are a staggering variety of ways to be human and even if we spent our entire lives traveling to the world’s remotest corners, we would still find people and traditions and ways of living (often right in our own neighborhood) which would amaze us.
What we need to teach our children is an attitude. We need to teach them how to just be interested in the world unfolding before them, how to welcome new experiences without judgment, how to be curious and open and calm about the inevitable ways that people differ. We need to teach them to respect other people as they are and to practice simple human kindness when they encounter something new and confusing.
There are grownups in the world who have never quite recovered from the childhood discovery that their best friend’s family didn’t eat the same way as their family. It’s as basic as that. Can we wake up now? Can we look around and see the incredible range of possibility that exists and stop being so narrow and myopic?
Everyone is different. It’s not a fact to be accepted. It’s a truth to be celebrated.