A lot of things have changed in my life over the past few years.
A lot of it is small things, but there are some big ones too. I changed jobs two years ago, which was an awesome move for me and I still love my (not so) new job, but it’s still a big change and adjustment. I’ve moved again, which is a level of stressful above pretty much anything else I could ever do. And lately, we’ve been working on setting the apartment up better with the furniture we actually need (I now own eleven bookcases, eight of them six feet or taller). So a lot of things have been shifting and moving in my life.
This can make me reflective.
What I’ve been thinking about most recently, is the importance of being me.
There are a lot of people out there who will tell you how important it is to be yourself, but the world just isn’t that simple. There are a lot of things that can lead to discrimination, harassment, and even violence. You have to be careful what you admit to who. It’s sad, and I wish it weren’t true, but being yourself is a lot harder than it’s often made out to be.
Granted, I have a lot of advantages. I’m white, cis-gendered, and in a happy heterosexual marriage. Those pieces of who I am are pretty safe things. So is being female most of the time, at least where I live and work right now. So some of what I yearn to be able to express might seem small and insignificant in face of the struggles others go through to be themselves. I do not mean to draw direct comparisons to the difficulties of others, I’m just drawing from my own experience, which is probably much more sheltered and protected by privilege than I even realize.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have a fun hair color, or streak, or something. And for almost as long, I haven’t because I was too worried about how it would be perceived by others. I’ve had jobs that specifically banned any not-naturally-occurring hair colors. I’ve overheard people talking about those who do have a fun hair color. My own parents have asked if it was really a good idea since I was a professional now. The perception is that you can’t be professional if you have some outlandish style choice like purple hair, tattoos, or piercings not on your ears.
And while there are probably many places that do still care about that and consider it unprofessional, I work at a university. They can be a bit more open-minded about dress-codes than the average professional working environment. Everyone in my office loves the streak of color in my hair. And I’ve gotten more comfortable with it after nearly six months.
But I realize that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are a lot of ways I still prevent myself from being me in the name of conformity, professionalism, or some other perceived risk.
The low key and positive reaction to my colorful streak of hair has made me reexamine all the other things that I compromise on about being myself. I don’t know if I’ve come to any useful conclusions yet, but I’ve been thinking about things like whether I need to wear makeup to work, or how casually I can dress. I’ve also been trying to be a little more daring in the rest of my life. I wear the outfits I really want to, even if they may be a little outdated or not super stylish. I try not to censor myself as much when a political topic comes up even when I don’t know the views of everyone there. I worry less about someone seeing something on my laptop that may not be public consumption appropriate (they shouldn’t be spying on my screen anyway). I’ve realized that if anyone doesn’t like my views supporting the LGBTQ community, then they probably won’t like my fiction (which features such characters) so I don’t censor myself on social media about those issues.
Mostly it’s little things. But I also try very hard not to think as much about what others would think of something. I try to think about what I think, and sometimes get opinions from people I trust, but I don’t worry about what a random person on the street will think. I may never see them again, so their opinion isn’t really relevant.
Basically, I’m trying to get back to thinking about me and for me and not mucking around with worrying about the opinions of others.
It’s not always easy, and there’s lots of backsliding along the way, but I’ve been managing alright. Because it is very important to be yourself, and lately I’ve been getting a bit better at being me.