Petulant (adjective): childishly sulky or bad-tempered.
Sometimes, I feel my lower lip come forward as my mouth turns down into a scowl. My eyes narrow and I drop my gaze, looking up at someone or something that has displeased me. I want to snarl, to express my distemper and displeasure, want to stamp my feet and scream out “No! No! No! No! No! It’s not supposed to be that way!”
I feel myself becoming petulant. I don’t want to do what is required, don’t want to have to just be the grown up and do the right thing, don’t want to have to put my own will aside to be appropriate and gracious. I want to be petulant, sulky and childish.
In my family, there was never any room for me to be particularly petulant, as my mother owned that wilful behaviour. I had to deal with her petulance from a very young age as hers would always have to be bigger, more powerful and more broken than mine could ever be. No one had ever made her happy and all of her life she was childishly furious about that grievance.
And as a transperson, the urge to be petulant had to be denied as part of a bigger denial. I most wanted to be petulant about resisting the obligations put on me by the expectations of gender, wanted to hold my breath until I turned blue unless I was allowed to wear the dress I really wanted to wear. We all figured out from an early age that kind of petulance would get us nothing but severe crap.
I know that my unresolved petulance often bubbles up in me. It only happens when I am alone, taking a moment to explore my emotions. Once I feel that familiar squint as I start to pout, I feel the decades of denied petulance roiling within me.
This bubble of frustrated and denied petulance seems to be a common occurrence in transpeople whose childhood wishes were smashed and torn apart.
I know of one transperson who let go of the grown up name they called themselves to take on their new wife’s assigned moniker of Petula. I knew that this was the wife’s way of dismissing the transgender expression as just petulant, childish and indulgent.
Other transpeople have their own petulance rear up whenever they are faced with the challenge of having to be the grown up. They feel like they were denied their girlish desires, that they are entitled to be attended to.
For example, one transwoman who has to work with a group of much younger and less responsible co-worker bridles at the thought that she has to be the one to lead, to instill responsibility, to hold others accountable. How is it fair that she has to be the grown up when her own girlhood was denied to her?
I know that in my emotions, my own deep seated petulance is a block to me doing the work that I know I should do. I put my own childlike desires on hold for so long to serve my family that now, when that demand for denial has been released, my own petulance gushes to the surface.
“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me!” I want to cry out, though I know that on every sensible level, no one is there to care for that hurting and broken little girl. I know how to be the grown-up, know how to be the mommy, but not for that sad and frustrated child deep inside whose girlhood was smashed in the name of discipline and order while she served a petulant parent.
When transpeople get together it is often this petulance that forms the biggest barrier against coalition, against taking care of each other. We can’t all have it our own way, can’t all have those raw and petulant places inside of us soothed. Somebody has to be the parent and ideally we can all come together in that mature space.
I understand why so many transpeople feel petulant, feel sulky and bad-tempered over having their childhood impulses ripped from them by a world that called them sick, indulgent and despicable. I understand why this petulance is a block to healing, a raw place that is real, torn and hurting.
Everybody wants the right to be petulant sometimes, to be listened to, catered to and soothed. We don’ t want to have to always come from a rational and balanced place, want to be able to go to that pure and childlike emotion. Maturity just means that we learn to put aside those petulant moments for appropriate times when we have someone there to tend to us, doing the grown-up thing most of the time, not that we lose the emotion.
For people who never had that intimate caretaker who valued the call of their heart, who never had those moments of being valued in childhood, that bubble of petulance never gets released. It just gets passed over and denied, leaving it to grow, fester and purify inside of us. We can’t just make it go away and we can’t just let it out, instead having to find some practice, some balance that will help keep us in stasis.
I feel the pull of petulance inside of me, but more than that, I see how the pools of petulance keep me and others like me angry, frustrated and crippled.
That reservoir of petulance isn’t the problem, it is just the symptom of broken and infected childhood dreams that we don’t yet have any way of healing. It is the emotional body of the crushed child still impacted within us, that unmothered, unseen and unloved piece that only we can access.
Trying to stuff that petulance with whatever we can grab never gets to the core of it, never really lets us bleed off the buried pain. The only way out of hell is through it. We do need to become our own healer.
Still, everyone needs a safe space to be petulant and loved now and then, for we are all children of the universe somewhere.