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Transmissions: 'What You Doing'

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

 

While you traverse your favorite social media site, you come across a post with an attached video. The clip shows a 10-year-old boy as he expertly applies a face full of flawless makeup. With an eye shadow game that puts mine to shame, he walks the viewer through his routine. Above the video are the words, "You walk in to your son doing this, wyd?"

 

This is one of a number of "What You Doing" videos, and while I've seen many variations, the one I described above is the most common. The overall construct seems to focus on male-bodied people, usually youth, wearing makeup or stereotypically feminine attire. These are also typically described as the viewer's "son," with a caption similar to the one above.

 

Of course, the comments on these are polarized: while many praise the boy, Jack, for his skill with makeup, others let loose with the sort of homophobic and transphobic vitriol we've all grown far too accustomed to on the internet.

 

The whole format seems geared toward the latter group, as a way to slyly shame gender non-conforming males and the parents who might otherwise not be policing the gender expression of their kids. You do not see the same number of posts focusing on women or girls, including those who may have a non-typical gender expression.

 

While I never had his makeup prowess – and, to be honest, likely never will – I was once akin to this kid, a prepubescent trans child who, in long days home alone while her parents were holding down the family business, may have spent more than a few hours in mom's makeup.

 

I was terrified of my parent's reaction if they had ever caught me. I did not need a meme on social media to make me ponder just what my parents would be doing. I assumed at best that I'd be sent packing, as happens to more than a few trans kids today.

 

Or perhaps they might have sent me to a conversion therapy camp, in a misguided attempt to break me of being trans. Granted, a lot of such places are geared toward the foolish and damaging effort to "pray away the gay," but that doesn't stop them from doubling down and attempting to halt transness in just the same way. As my parents had threatened to send me away to camp a couple of years – and did send me to stay with family friends one summer in an attempt to "toughen me up" – this is not outside the realm of possibilities.

 

I should add, thankfully, that my father was not a particularly violent man. I know this isn't the case for many others, and a scan of the various "wyd" responses make it clear that – at least in semi-anonymous online comments – many kids may end up bruised and bloody, at best.

 

I was lucky. In spite of a few close calls, I was never caught red-nailed. I became just as familiar with makeup removers as I did with foundation and lipstick. While my makeup was about what one might expect from an average kid with too much time and not enough training, I could still scrub it away with the best of them. I knew when my folks were likely to come home, and the sound of the car coming into the driveway, and stayed alert.

 

My parents did, however, discover a small, hidden cache of feminine attire in my room. I'm not going to say my parents handled it well, as they largely turned to denial in order to face it all. That and the aforementioned summer I spent in Oregon being instructed on how to be a man by a family friend who taught me how to log a forest and chew brandy-soaked tobacco at age 13.

 

That particular cache of clothing was never directly addressed. It simply vanished. A later discovery was somewhat similarly treated, with my father making it clear to me that neither he nor my mother ever wanted to hear a single thing about it.

 

I'm quite sure this messed me up on a whole lot of levels for a long time. I ended up, essentially, with a secret that I assumed would cause the people who brought me into the world – who fed and clothed me, and who made sure I had a safe and comfortable roof over my head – to turn on me in an instant. It was quite a lot for a kid to cope with.

 

So I read these wyd stories and I want to pose a simple question or two back. Do you, as a parent, want to be your child's worst fear? Do you want to be the tormentor of the very precious life you brought into this world?

 

We're talking about one's child. Why would you not, instead, be the person they'll grow up to cherish and respect, and give your child the room to learn, experiment, and grow?

 

Maybe your child will eventually come to realize they are trans, or gender non-conforming, or queer-identified, or some other label – or maybe they won't. Heck, they might end up like Jack with his prodigy-like makeup skills.

 

Either way, invest in them, and give them the tools to make it in this world. Teach them to be the best people they can be, no matter what their identity turns out to be. Teach them the skills to be self-confident, and face down anyone who would stand in their way regardless of their identity or expression. Everything else is secondary.

 

That's what you should be doing.

 

Gwen Smith knows what she's doing. You'll find her at www.gwensmith.com .

 

 

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