Vulnerability

We find belonging in our darkness

My biggest problem is that I look too normal. If you didn’t know me — heck, even if you do — my appearance would lead you to a pile of incorrect assumptions:  that this tall, slender, blue-eyed blonde has always been popular, probably a cheerleader in high school, successful in career and in love, and that I generally get what I want. And when I don’t conform to your expectations – which happens when my mask slips – you might write me off as weird, or a bitch, or entitled, or however else your filter might interpret my usually well-meaning actions. Trust me: I’m pretty familiar with all of them by now.

Let’s just get the big stuff out of the way right up front, shall we? I’m a gay, neuro-diverse (aka Asperger’s or high-functioning autistic), only child, ex-military brat who is never, ever going to fit into mainstream society no matter how hard I try. And oh, how I’ve tried. I learned all the social rules as best as I could, but they’re not instinctive. In my darkest days of trying to be someone I wasn’t, a friend told me, “you’re just not a girl’s girl” to explain why I was gently evicted from that circle of friends. I had no idea what that meant, but knew I simply had to try harder. At what, exactly, I wasn’t sure.

“What do you want from me?” I‘d cry to the uncaring world, weeping alone on my living room floor after another unintended social gaffe led to another rejection or another lost job, willing to drain my life blood for this feeling of belonging that seemed so easy for other people. Through decades of repeated traumatic losses, developing and eventually (mostly) recovering from PTSD, I’ve excavated the many reasons behind the fact that I am, and always will be, an outsider. And I’m ok with that.

Nowadays my outsides are a bit more aligned with my insides: I cut my hair, got a tattoo, and love to wear my motorcycle boots. The thickest mask is worn mainly on special occasions like the business world, which is why it’s time to exit that line of work. A few years ago I made an agreement with myself: that instead of sacrificing my life to fit into the mainstream world, I’d create my own. I now see that this motivation powered my decision to bolt overseas. And if I can succeed in creating a sense belonging while I’m on this nomad adventure, anyone can.

Why am I telling you all this? I think it’s essential to start normalizing and talking about the less-sexy stuff that makes us human. Over the past 6 months of solitude and reflection, I’ve come to realize that our power dwells in what we’ve hidden in darkness. That whatever we keep secret becomes a festering wound that’s visible in some form or another to everyone but ourselves. And that the only way to heal is to bring these truths and experiences into the light of awareness: to stand in our strength and embrace them, fully and completely: the beautiful lotus in the mud of human existence.

So I’m not writing this for you: I’m writing it for me. This is who I am, and it’s so liberating to set down the mask under the mask: the one everyone wears whether they know it or not.

The closet is not just for gays: it’s for any deviation from the media-defined norm, and let me tell you, it’s pretty damned crowded in here. When I shared with my dad my delighted discovery that I’m very likely on the spectrum – hurray! My entire life now makes sense! — he quickly advised, “don’t tell anyone.” Because that’s exactly what the older generation did: sweep uncomfortable things under the rug and don’t acknowledge it no matter what, even if the walls crumble and the house falls down.

There’s a reason why Brene Brown is so popular; she’s willing to openly talk about topics that no one else will even acknowledge. Much of the world is suffering from the absence of vulnerability. Society trains us to only see, respond to and judge each other’s constructed identities. As long as we all wear our masks, we can laugh, drink and pretend together that the world is as perfect as we make it look, all the while dying inside a little bit every day, thirsty to be seen for who we really are. And when seen, accepted.

The new thing now is Straight Pride: a far-right meme that snowballed into an actual event in Boston this year where a couple hundred straight conservatives marched in parody of Gay Pride. What a hoot. I actually love this idea, but they haven’t quite grasped the real purpose. A Pride parade is about taking out of hiding something deemed as shameful (but really isn’t) and wearing it like armor so it can never be used against you. Here’s what should happen in a real Straight Pride: everyone marches while holding up signs like:

  • “I’m overweight and I’m proud of it.”
  • ”I’m autistic and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m an introvert and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m sensitive and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m hairy and proud of it.”

Or maybe we dig deeper into things that might not make us proud, but they make us who we are. They’re those unhappy facts of life that we need to just own already instead of pushing away in horror like a dead rat. Why? Because countless other human beings are struggling with the exact same secret, all suffering in silence, all losing an opportunity for genuine connection and belonging with others who really, truly get it. Which means I’d expect to see Straight Pride signs with whatever is making each person feel so alone in this world:

  • “I’m depressed and can’t get out of bed in the mornings.”
  • “My brother is homeless.”
  • “I have a mental illness.”
  • “I lost my job.”
  • “I’m failing at ____”
  • “I’m HIV positive.”
  • “I was raped.”
  • “I committed a crime and I regret it.”
  • “I drink too much.”

THIS is what Straight Pride — scratch that — what life needs to be about: the deep inner work of owning who we really are and not what our masks lead others to believe. This is what members of the LGBTQ community have been wrestling to the ground. This is the spirit of Pride that I suspect we’d all love to witness: millions of people stepping into their power by paradoxically embracing what society says is weakness. Which means: understanding. Empathy. Inclusion into this big group we call Humanity instead of the ridiculous infighting that’s going on now between opposing groups in the name of a sad, diminished, lower-case-b belonging.

What do you think, dear reader? Are you with me? Don’t leave me hanging… I’d love a comment or like if you think I’m on the right track here.

About Jen Rice

Midlife nomad and life re-inventor. For my 50th birthday I sold everything I owned in the US and got a 1-way ticket across the pond. I'm now focusing more on what I really love doing -- writing, photography and coaching. My background is three decades' worth of experience in personal and organizational transformation.

5 comments on “We find belonging in our darkness

  1. Jen, it’s always relief when people want to deal in truth. So thank you for being one who does : ) My mask has never quite fit my face; it always slides sideways half way through any interaction, including business, and I have recognized that I often serve as the person who will say what no-one else will. It’s gotten me in trouble, but mostly with dark, corrupt manipulators who hate the truth. Decent people will sigh and breathe a little more deeply; often laugh and smile. Lies make us tight and nervous; the truth frees and connects. Actors have to know and tell the truth; otherwise you won’t be a good one so I love my actor path which equals the path of truth! I have nothing in particular to reveal at this moment since I guess I do that on a regular basis. The people who welcome it are for you; the ones who can’t are not developmentally, spiritually, ethically ready. I try to bless them and move on, but often I view them as neanderthals. To live in this world of all kinds from the criminal to the sublime is to have to learn how to cope with all these different types. Mostly I want to surround myself with those I have discerned to be lovers and embracers of the truth, which tends to make them more fun and reliable, too. Glad you’re on this beautiful journey!

  2. Fabulous article. Thank you for sharing

  3. Jane Doug Hyatt

    Jen, you write beautifully! Have you ever considered teaching others the skills that you have so well mastered? So many people need help learning to write. Communicating through the written word is more difficult for some people than it is for others. You seem extremely gifted.

    When I would leave the school grounds in the late afternoon, I would say a silent prayer. I hoped that I had made a difference in some child’s life that day.

    My other thoughts – you are such a smart, beautiful person who is a good friend to many. Your travels and experiences make you truly unique.

    I have never subscribed to the idea that we need to “fit in.” My Mother would tell me in a very matter of fact way- “There are some people that you don’t want to like you! If you are a nice person, other nice people will find you!!” As a side note to you- you have some fine friends in SF! They love you. You are special. I am going to visit them for Thanksgiving. Maybe you will be there??

    • You are so kind, thank you for these words. Yes, I’m working behind the scenes on a coaching program 🙂 And I would love to be in SF for Thanksgiving but unfortunately won’t be able to make it to the states this year! Next year for sure! I know you’ll have a lovely time and I’ll be sorry to miss you.

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