Stories from the Field: Ghent

After being part of an international and national training in qualitative fieldwork, after translating and back translating informed consents and interview protocols, searching for interviewers and calling people to convince to participate in the international research project on gender socialization, the rush stopped. Suddenly I found myself in front of you.  All the things I heard, I read, I said, they all came together to that one moment when we looked in each other’s eyes.

I was there–where I had to be–and you were there because you wanted to. Maybe you were curious about the questions I would ask? Or maybe your mother convinced you that it was important to participate? Most important: you said yes. And I imagine I was as excited as you were to be there together and to start this new adventure. I wondered… Would I be able to capture the thoughts you were willing to share with me?

Then you started talking…. My first interview–the first 5 minutes of many more–and you start to cry! “My dad died, and I still miss him terribly. I planned not to talk about him but I suppose you ought to know”And although you cried, I did not only feel your pain, I also felt a fire within. I felt grateful because you shared this and I got convinced to go searching for more true stories which I would handle with uttermost respect.

The loss of your dad and how you loved him, the friends you thought you had and have, the boy who is in love with you but whom you 'hate.' I see you peeping through the window of a small house on the play garden because you want to be sure if the boy you like is really kissing another girl. I smell the lasagna your sister allowed you to make for the first time in your life, and I see you leaving the store–head up high–because you bought your first clothes in an ‘adult store.’ I feel that you are a bit ashamed when somebody at school compliments your beautiful looks and hear you laughing in the park when you are discussing boys with your friends. You are honest, shy and secure. You are brave, talking to me, a researcher you don’t know and who asks all these curious questions. I feel thankful to hear all of this, to be part of these stories, your story. I am curious to hear more, eager to understand you and her and him. You are full of wonders, you amaze me! It is very interesting to hear how you perceive influence from others and how you really want to fit in. But what I love even more is how you are you: painting your nails when no girls are watching or explaining how you–if you would be a boy–at times would like to misbehave or pee against a tree, or how you say you are happy just the way you are.

Contributed by Sara de Meyer, Field Coordinator in Ghent, Belgium