What They Said About Me Was True
I was mocked relentlessly for being gay while growing up, even though I wasn’t out. I was a very naive child so I didn’t even know I was gay. until other people started calling me “homo” and “fag” and I tried to figure out what those words meant. Then I discovered that what they. were saying was true.
I am gay.
First came the terror of the possibility of my parents finding out which could have led to murder. Then came the much worse and more enduring consequence of internalized shame. I hated that what they were saying about me was true. It made their mockery righteous and it made me a liar and a coward when I denied it. It also meant that I was never going to be able to say or think that I’d prove them wrong because they were right.
The mockery and shaming wasn’t just from classmates. It was everywhere: from parents, tv, Congress, religious texts, Supreme Court rulings, the AIDS crisis and most anywhere else I happened to turn my gaze. I didn’t have to look for shame or invalidation, it came to me effortlessly and uninvited. Despite wanting to think the best of myself, I came to believe and internalize all of the messages because they were so frequent, persistent, pervasive, and unavoidable. My still-growing body and mind absorbed and incorporated their messages so deeply into every part of my being. Had the messaging come when I was older and more well formed, it might have been like dust settling on a hard surface that could be wiped off more easily once I stopped believing the messages. Because the messaging happened when I was still young and forming, it is like poppy seeds mixed into batter. Those tiny pieces of dark are so much harder to remove when they are baked into a person.
My conscious mind came to be at peace with who I am, but there is way more to how we think and react and feel then the conscious mind. Self-hate and inferiority are now like muscle memory and like muscle memory, once you develop a reflex, can you consciously give it up? It is in the nature of a reflex that it happens before you can even think to do it.
I spend a lot of time thinking of how to get better. I read the book “You Are A Badass” recently. The best piece of advice I found in it is: “Love yourself, unless you can think of a better alternative”. I‘m trying to internalize that message because I definitely can’t think of a better way of being happy than to love myself.
The book offers other practical pieces of advice on how to unleash your potential. The specific advice that came to mind is: if you want to succeed hang out with others who are successful.
I’m an entrepreneur and like most entrepreneurs I’ve met, I have an idea but no funds. The process of seeking funding is all about judgement and rejection. They call the show Shark Tank for a reason. You supplicate before the person in power seeking their support and then the teeth come out to shred you to pieces.
Even when I’ve shared. ideas casually with colleagues I’m often met with jaded skepticism. It’s stressful and demoralizing and requires constant self-affirmation from someone who needs to catch a specific type of break to prove that the good things I say about myself are in fact true. I don’t want to be the only person in a group who thinks I’m amazing. I’d love for the judges to agree.
I know that I don’t enjoy hanging out with successful people because it reminds me I haven’t achieved the things I want to achieve. I haven’t felt like those above me are seeking to pull me up to their level so much as let me know I’m on the level below. If I was guaranteed support, I’d definitely reach out to an uplifting hand. If all that happens when I enter a space with successful people is that I see others above me with no outstretched hands and no idea how to join them, all I will feel is bad about myself for not knowing what to do.
There’s another dimension to that fear: those baked in poppy seeds scattered throughout my brain.
I’m afraid to hang out with successful people because if I do and if I ask for help and they turn me down, it will prove that I am — objectively speaking — a failure, just like I am, — objectively speaking — a fag.
Them saying no and me staying in place as a result taps into that deep fear of having their view of who I am validated by the facts. Just like when I was young, I don’t want what they say about me to be true.
I wonder if my whole life is meant to be spent just picking out the poppy seeds in my body. Perhaps it is my lot, but I’d rather spend my energy thriving.
The good news is I’m putting in the effort to thrive. It’s just going to take me longer. Perhaps in the next life I’ll just be a plain vanilla muffin that blends right in.