Myself

Lately I’ve been faced with the challenge of being myself.

It is laughable – how hard is it to just “be yourself”, Stef?

It’s a little hard – I want so badly for people to like me – and historically I have been told that “myself” is a bit abrasive, loud, swears too much, and definitely not “Lady-like.”

Expletive.

I spent most of my formative years being told not to do something because it wasn’t “lady-like”.  I was “too pretty” to let my teeth rot out of my head.  I was a girl, I shouldn’t swear like a sailor.  I was a girl, I should not carry a wallet in my back pocket.  I was a girl, I couldn’t drive as well as a guy, I couldn’t handle certain conversation topics, and could certainly not be as interested in anything “manly.”

This traditional sense of “man” and “woman” has ALWAYS haunted me.  I have a fairly traditional set of parents – and family.  We split into the “men” and “women” during family gatherings, women are the ones asked to help with the meals, and men are the ones who play cards or watch sports games.  My father felt fairly certain that there was a “women’s” section to our family vacations – he felt left out with no sons to bandy with him.   

There was a time when I felt I had to reject any “manly” sorts of activity – boys did this, so I couldn’t.  It prevented me from enjoying a lot of things I might have been able to practice at in my younger years, but c’est la vie.

Not being a boy made me feel not good enough.  If only I could do manly things, my dad wouldn’t feel so lonely.  I tried liking sports – it worked!  Huge fan of football, and love basketball, and a few others I can stomach to see even with a husband who only likes the one sport I hate – soccer.  I tried liking hunting – I just can’t.  I don’t mind shooting at targets – but something about walking in a dusty field with asthma just does NOT appeal to this girl.  I have plenty of female friends for whom hunting is a great joy – makes me happy they are called out there along with all the dudes – and I’m proud of the dudes who don’t make a big “thing” out of it.

I never felt too girly – and a lot may have been my build.  I am not as tall as some women out there, but at 5’10”, I do have some height.  I’m also built fairly solidly – bone structure, I mean – and this is not a figure that appeals to the general population.  As a woman in a small, conservative locale, your attractiveness to men was a definite measure of worth.  So here I was, not lady-like at all, too large, and frankly, with a huge chip on my shoulder.  Dating, for me, was a huge mess.

I’m lucky enough to have married a man who is non-traditional – he was never worried about my manliness – and the times we do conform to our gender roles (I like to cook, he likes to hunt) he, like me, attributes it to our personalities – not our genders.  He’s committed to letting our boys be who they are – wearing pink, nail polish – whatever they want to do.  We are not “worried” they might be gay – if they are, great.  We love them, so does God.  We do not think pink or anything girly is indicative, nor a cause.

There are still some faith traditions that feel that only men are suited for leadership in the church – a point I truly disagree with.  I’m seeking ordination with the ELCA, and am proud to be a woman in leadership.  There are some traditions that say being gay (GLBTQIA) is not ok.  I wonder for my GLBTQIA friends how hard it is to be who they are, when in some places it isn’t even safe.  For this reason, I feel I must be willing to be me, my non-traditional, boundary-pushing self.  If I can be me, perhaps I can pave the way for others to be themselves without fear of judgment or repercussions.

I can’t shut up.

I’ve always been chatty – cute stories abound from my childhood of my talkativeness – and my carefree spirit.  I didn’t understand the concept of not sharing how I thought or what I felt, because I had been raised to think independently, and that others would have their own thoughts and feelings, and would share them the same.
As I grew, it started to become apparent that others do not share the same as me.  A lot of people find it easier to keep quiet in situations that might cause conflict, or force them to engage, and some people are just plain private.  Some of this took me awhile to understand – and still, I was the talker, the sharer, the one who was told to be quiet.
I am also loud, by nature.  I spent so many years being told to be quiet.  “You’re so loud.  It’s annoying.” or “You just have an opinion about everything, don’t you?” or “Could you not be so outspoken with these people, they don’t really like that.”  Somehow, where I was spending my formative years, the value of me speaking out was not seen – not wanted.
I didn’t realize it, but I internalized messages like, if I just agree and don’t make waves, people will like me.  Boys wouldn’t be attracted to an opinionated girl, and girls don’t like other girls who are to boisterous.  I’d been put down so much for being me, I changed in order to be better liked.
I got GOOD at making people like me – I learned how to ask questions and mirror tone, and not make waves.  I also started becoming frustrated when people would tell me, “So and so is so funny,” or “So and so is such a clown.”  I’d think, “I’m pretty funny,” or “I’m a clown,” but people weren’t seeing me.  They weren’t seeing the real me, anyway.
It’s been a process that has taken me most of my adult years to name, let alone work on.  I’m damned near thirty and just now comfortable telling people what I really think about God, my GLBTQI friends and allies, and that there’s a spiritual side to me that won’t quit.  I still feel like crap in situations where a group of people needs to discuss something – worried people think I talk too much, am too domineering, and am not a “Nice Christian” who has a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to speech.
Here’s the thing: I can’t shut up.  I’m an external processor, I love to communicate, I have to communicate.  As I’ve grown up, I’ve become a much better listener, and better at expressing controversial opinions in a non-threatening way, but even so, I feel sometimes that people would rather I toned it down to fit in more.  I just can’t.  Know that my non-shutting up will always be open to you reminding me to listen when it’s your turn to speak if I forget sometimes, just don’t tell me to quiet my energy – myself.
So I’m left to contend with my desire to be liked, and my desire to be known (through communication).  These things shouldn’t be as hard to merge as they are for me, but I fear I shall wrestle with them always. 
 
A prayer for you, my friend.:  May the peace of God find you this evening, as it finds me when I’m in those dark (and whiny) places. Amen.