As I type this on my phone I’m looking out over a room filled with my friends and family. I look at them and feel such a gentleness hit my body; the kind of gentleness that you feel when you look at the ones you love unconditionally.
Such an interesting concept, unconditional love. Misunderstood amongst all ages today, as we are struggling within the age of me, myself and I. Conversations filled with constantly one upping the previous story, trying to redirect attention onto oneself and then waiting for reactions that either reinforce actions or further shove a person down. I know I am guilty of this offense; many of us do not realize that we are doing it when we do it. It is not necessarily a bad trait amongst the upcoming generation. We have spent years watching the generations before us keep so much inside, so much private, and constantly snap from the stress of it all. But we don’t necessarily understand how to go about communicating what we feel, and what we need. Not everyone goes through this, but a lot of people who I’ve spoken with have expressed this sentiment.
I speak about this because I have spent the weekend with my cousins and our band of misfits toys that comprise our paintball family. A rag-tag group of people from different backgrounds: college students, police officers, plumbers, paramedics, physical therapists, medical assistants, warehouse workers, dental hygienists accountants and so forth, all coming together for a week of food, drinking (not me) and a day of paintball. Drunken shenanigans, blackmail photos, and a house filled with laughter, friendship and love have pulled together these unlikely misfits. This is the kind of group where you can truly allow yourself to be who you truly are…and yet.
I froze. I froze out of fear. I froze out of embarrassment for needing something that required attention and thought. I froze because I had no clue what to do with these people who I love, what to say to their faces. Past conversations and jokes about sex and sexuality make me leery about being vulnerable, even in the safest house I’ll ever be in.
So I only told two people that I’m androgyne. Only explained that I want to be called Faith. That I want my pronouns to be them/they/their. That I’m androgyne. I’m genderqueer. Neither female nor male, sometimes a collection of both. It isn’t an idea, it isn’t a concept. It is my reality each day. It is present when I wake up, and close my eyes. Present when I dress my body. Present when I interact with the world. This is me, a they in a world of him, her and all in-between.
But I’m struggling. I’ve spent 29 years with heternormativity shoved down my throat. My own language struggles, even with my awareness of who I am. My physical body fits into a social mold I have no control over. All weekend I didn’t stop anyone from referring to me as she. From using my real name. In this paintball group we all have code names, and whenever my codename was used I was relieved because it wasn’t my name being called. Because I didn’t have to think about people looking at me and saying female. Instead I was just a marine on a badass unit who was in charge of cooking for this trip. I felt both free and trapped within this world I love, unsure how to navigate this world where I’m told derogatory terms are used in jest, in fun. That everyone has a good heart and loves me and doesn’t mean anything by it, even when told that it hurts me.
I’ve been beaten for being open and honest about who I was. I’ve been told that it takes incredible strength to be vulnerable, and nothing makes me feel more vulnerable than verbalizing needing something for myself, or even verbalizing past experiences. It’s easier to write that I’ve been verbally attacked, and mentally traumatized. That I’m assaulted on a regular basis. It’s hard to talk about those experiences with people when those experiences get trivialized because the person in which I’m speaking uses the same derogatory terms used against me so many times. I know that my friends and family aren’t doing so out of cruelty, but because that’s just how it is, that these negative terms (like using gay for stupid, no homo, and the lot) are just common vernacular. That I’m not going to be able to change it so I should just grow a thick skin.
But the scars are there, gnarled and red against pale skin. The skin already torn apart. The bruises and trauma have faded under the watchful eye of the years, but the memory of it all is still fresh. The worst part of this? I’d rather be beaten again. I’ll take the guy shoving my hand against his crotch, the fist against my face. I’ll take being physically cornered and the death threats. I’d rather face those situations, because I know that those people are scared, insecure, or just plain cruel. I understand those people and I can fight back.
But indifference? Trivialization? The idea that so much “acceptance” has been demanded that it is now justifiable to be cruel, as long as humor is attached to it? That being a “social justice warrior” is something to be scoffed and looked down upon. That being a good person is just so hard that it is just easier to discredit someone else than be a good person to them? These people I don’t understand. These people I struggle to have respect for, because they are aware. They are aware of the harm and the danger they create and they simply don’t care because facing who they are, demanding better of themselves in the name of being better to another is just too hard.
Isn’t that sad, to live such a disingenuous life? To be afraid of the people I would still fight for, die for, because I’m afraid to tell them that I’m not female. That I don’t like being referred to as female. That I slip up because it is easier to hide than to be open about who I am. That I’m afraid of the laughter I may get from those I love. That I’m going to be told again that just because I want to be acknowledged and respected, that they won’t do it because they just don’t simply want to. It’s scary, to be told you are loved, and not feel that love because how is that love? How is making someone feel like they have to cow to others simply because it is hard to meet someone’s needs? The need to be respected. For a conscious effort in recognizing how much damage has been done to me in the name of laughter. How much harm has been done in the name of good intentions?
So I hid all weekend. I hid and I didn’t allow myself to be me. It made me anxious and uncomfortable and sad. It made me feel lonely. It was partially my fault, because I didn’t say anything. I know I didn’t give these people a chance. These people I love and cherish. They frighten me. Indifference frightens me, because there is a difference between being indifferent towards a person because you respect the person and accept them for who he/she is, and indifferent because you don’t care if what you say hurts, and I’m unsure where I stand in my friends/family’s world. So I spent more time being something I’m not, to avoid having to explain who I was. To avoid being traumatized yet again. To ensure my safety.
Sounds dramatic right? It may for those outside of the community, but for someone like me, it’s terrifying. Being vulnerable and open is terrifying. But there is more than one kind of safety. In this context I’m not talking about physical safety, but mental safety. Because I’ve already been invalidated. I’ve already been brushed aside. But it is a problem, one that I know I contribute to, but somewhere, somehow it has to stop. It has to change. The first step is with me being vulnerable.
But dear universe, I’m afraid. I’m truly afraid.