I was at an event in Cornwall at the latter end of last year, at the Eden Project. The event was very very corporate, and in between panels the spaces where you could eat and work filled up. Finding somewhere to sit with access to a plug was nearly impossible.
Thankfully with a decent amount of battery, I was able to manage (first-world problems indeed). As I waited for my latte, I saw someone sitting in the corner by the end of the drinks station, huddled by a plug, taking a call. Once the call was finished I mentioned to her how hard it was to find a plug.
It transpires that she had scrambled for a plug to charge her phone, to speak to her child. Who at 13 had decided to perm their hair. As she relayed this conversation to me, she seemed to be conflicted on how to act. In that moment advice was needed.
Now in an ordinary setting, you would not see me offering advice freely off the cuff. As a trans person, it can be dangerous to enter situations blind. I had just spoken on a panel, and full of the invigoration that public speaking gives me. I offered advice.
I remember being 13 and desperately wanting to make my own decisions. Perhaps hair-related, perhaps not. Of course, there are outcomes to decisions, some good, some bad. But with things like hair, the outcome can always be rectified. However, by knee-jerkingly saying no, the urge to make a decision would not be answered. In a sense, taking away a chance to learn about decision making and the impact they can have.
In allowing her child to make a choice, she could also allow them to learn the responsibility that comes with making choices. As an adult it seems we are constantly dealing with the consequences of other people’s actions. If we allow young people to be free to make choices for themselves at an early age, we also build in an accountability that many adults lack when it comes to the choices that they make.
Perhaps in a decade or so, a new generation of accountable adults will create a government that actually meets the needs of the people that they serve. This was a small moment - a cafe meet-cute if you will. It allowed me to easily see how the work I do - which considers accountability with every breath that I take - has been informed by my capability to be conscious of the effects my work can have.
There is no reason why we cannot extend this to younger generations, in fact, a tenant of my recently released ‘Your Gender Book’ offers the gift of decision making to readers from the age of seven.
No one is too young to make choices for themselves, as long as they know what choices can lead to. There is a balance of risk here, but teaching accountability early on creates the possibility of a much better world for all of us.