Who’s the Man?

Letting go of what other people thinkNow that I have your attention, the answer is no one. That is the point of being a lesbian and a good intro for a discussion about how we see ourselves. Do you remember the moment when you first concerned yourself with what other people thought about you? Or became aware of judgments about who you were or the things you did? I can’t.

Self-image is influenced by many factors. Human development encompasses various stages of awareness depending on our age. As children, we learn how to behave and are taught what is right and wrong. As adolescents, we begin to formulate our own identities and look outside of ourselves for feedback and validation. This is where things can go haywire for most of us.

Even on a good day, figuring out our place in the world can be a challenge. Many who have suffered abuse, trauma, or a host of other situations struggle to form a healthy sense of self. Survival mode does not allow much room for growth and healthy development. The messages they receive are often skewed and conflicting and are carried in to adulthood, long after the situation has ended.

One of the messages that I carried forth in to my adult life was that something was wrong with me. No one ever told me that directly, but it is how I always remember feeling. I never fit in any traditional mold. I was not equipped to fully embrace my unique self at the time. I just felt like an oddball.

I did not realize how different I was until others began to point it out to me. I began to question and adjust so that I could spare myself the scrutiny of others and get a break from what I now know to be bullying. People pleasing is a common behavior when feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt rise up. Making others happy is one method of mitigating the perceived lack within ourselves.

By the time I was married with kids, I did not recognize myself. I spent more time trying to fit in than I did being comfortable with who I actually was. If you see yourself in the same space, take heart in what I am about to share.

In Switching Teams, I shared my legitimate fears about what other people would think or how they would react when I came out. Many were not surprised because I was a tomboy and athletic. The official definition of tomboy is a girl who acts like a boy or enjoys boy things, or more specifically a boisterous and rough and tumble girl who may or may not physically resemble a boy.

When I got married and had children some in my family were shocked that I was a good mom. Others have found it hard to believe that I cook and am very domestic. These things clashed with their view of what a “tomboy” is. Coming out validated a lifelong stereotype in their eyes and made sense.

Yes, of course she must be a lesbian. Aren’t all tomboys destined for lesbianism? No. Not any more than “sissy boys” are destined for Broadway. True fact. Fortunately, being a “tomboy” is historically less judged than that those who are labeled as a “sissy boy” so there is that.

The last car on the “what are people going to think about me” train left the station a couple of weeks ago when I decided to get a short haircut. What’s the big deal right? Hair will grow back. This was the final piece of my self-image puzzle. The impact was far deeper than just scissors to hair.

My appearance changing was a big deal and a decision that I struggled with mightily right up until the last of my long hair hit the floor at the salon. In fact, I sweated through my shirt and held my breath for the better part of the cut. I knew the reactions would be mixed and I would have to contend head on with my fear of “looking like a guy.” Click for the video.

If I had long hair, and looked feminine, it mitigated the lesbian in me and afforded me a refuge from being seen as outside of “normal.” It was like a cloak to me that helped me fit in. I created a laundry list of reasons why I needed to keep long hair. All of them were crap. Everyone around me knew it too.

I had to do it when I was ready for what would follow, and happened to be right before I left the salon when a stylist made a comment about how much I looked like her brother. And again while shopping when two guys said “now there’s a dyke right there” as they passed me. And again when one of our kids commented that “we know who the man is now” when he saw it. Don’t worry, I handled that one in quick order.

Yes, when I cut my hair, I officially achieved “dyke” status in the eyes of those who enjoy labeling and stereotyping. My fear was confirmed, but I am still here and completely at peace with who I am even though I am still working on learning to appreciate and embrace my uniqueness.

Defining ourselves based upon the opinions, assessments, and often incorrect messages we receive chips away at our self-image and creates issues that are difficult to overcome. We run the risk of allowing others to influence our behavior and responses each time we decide to let what others think take center stage.

A positive self-image is a prerequisite for authenticity. Staying mindful of how we allow others to impact our feelings about ourselves can be overwhelming, frustrating, and a drag. Whether gay or straight, male or female, this applies. It should not be this hard, but it is.

We all have been exposed to negative messages in our lives with regard to who we are or how we should be. During vulnerable times it is difficult not to absorb information that affirms our self-doubt, but not impossible. Making a habit of wringing out the sponge daily helps to clear our minds so a healthier and more accurate view of who we are at our core can emerge.

This week make an effort to be thoughtful and aware of cultivating a strong self-image not only in yourself, but in everyone you come across. Practice responding to others in a way that you wish to be responded to. Think before you speak and remember above all else that you are one of a kind and important.

Check out these links for more:

How to Improve Your Self Esteem by Henrik Edburg

Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think by Tim Urban

How to Not Give a F@^* What Other People Think by Sean Kim *my personal favorite*