Being Yourself Opens Up Fear of Judgment
I’m reading the questions flowing into the sign-up form for the event where Sonya Renee Taylor and adrienne maree brown will interview ALOK about the question “How can we give ourselves permission to explore the fullness of our humanity?” A lot of you are telling me you desperately want to express the fullness of your humanity, but you’re afraid. You have workplaces or families or communities that don’t welcome the fullness of that humanity, and you depend on them for financial or social support.
I hear you. That’s really, really hard. ALOK says, “I was born free. That freedom pisses people off. I see the freedom in them, and they refuse to see it in themselves. They take out their pain by shaming me.”
I think the terrifying thing about the judgment of others is not just the physical fear of being without needed support (economic or emotional). It’s also the moral fear of “What if they are right? What if I’m really too weird and messed up to deserve support?” That fear is one of the darkest parts of life.
Understanding ALOK’s profoundly compassionate perspective (the perspective of a trans person who can travel through transphobic areas while feeling love and grace for their haters) helps me so much. If I see the person judging me as a person who is terrified of their own liberation, the moral fear – the fear of my own wrongness, my own unworthiness – it vanishes. It becomes clear that their judgment is about them, not me.
Judging Others Is So Easy to Do
But I’m not always the judged one. Sometimes, I’m the judger. I have a friend who likes to wear sexy clothes to parties, and I used to comment on how she could adjust her outfit to be more proper. She finally said, “This hurts my feelings, Charlotte. Where is this coming from?” And I realized my hurtful comments were coming from a place of fear; from memories of all the times my own clothing was policed and critiqued. I had caught the virus of inauthenticity and I was trying to pass it on to her. In my heart of hearts, I would’ve loved to dress just like her. From that experience, I know that ALOK is right: when we criticize other people, it’s not about them. It’s about our own fears.
ALOK is famous for their eye-catching gender-nonconforming outfits, and the work they’ve done to de-gender fashion. Their Instagram expresses a radiant, exuberant, joyful freedom. Freedom is hard, whether it’s in dress or any other form of self-expression. I think we all take it for granted that we need to follow certain rules of clothing to be “professional” at work or to avoid harassment or mockery in the street. These oppressive structures exist in every walk of life, not just fashion.
In Sonya and adrienne’s Institute for Radical Permission (which is now open for enrollment), Sonya says how being more of yourself can be a big dramatic gesture, and adrienne notes it can be a sequence of tiny, gentle steps. Either approach is valid. Whichever approach is right for you, how can I encourage you to move forward? What is the little (or big) thing you need to do next?
One Simple Step Towards Self-Love and Authenticity
Here’s my best guess about what comes next for you. When I think about it, we’re all exhausted. We’ve survived a global tragedy, confinement and restriction in our lifestyles, changes to our industries, deaths in our families, a loss of faith in political and economic institutions, turnover in our friend groups and communities, and so much more. The way many of you are being inauthentic right now is you’re pretending to be less tired and depressed than you actually are.
Stop it. Why are you pretending?
I have exciting news: the pretense is beginning to stop, all over the world. As an editor of self-help books, I’ve noticed a sea-change in the rhetoric of personal development. So many people are bringing up Tricia Hershey’s concept that “rest is resistance” or Devon Price’s idea that “laziness doesn’t exist.” Well-off urban professionals (not teenage anarchists!) are seriously discussing anti-capitalism and anti-work as solutions.
Are we willing to liberate ourselves to be as exhausted as we actually are? “That’s all very well, Charlotte,” you say. “But what about money? I keep on going because I have to pay those bills. I don’t have a choice.”
Find the Small Choices You Can Make Differently
Keeping it real: sometimes when adrienne maree brown boldly says things like “I am the freest person who ever lived,” I wonder how much freedom is actually rooted in success. Can I be as free as her when I don’t have bestselling books and bajillions of Instagram followers? But it’s like the poet William Ernest Henley says in “Invictus”: “It matters not how strait the gate; how laid with punishments the scroll; I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” We don’t have to be successful and famous to be willing to make fearless choices and accept the consequences of them.
As an editor of business books: abundant research shows that breaks and rest make people more productive. Anyone who has a problem with your self-care isn’t actually fighting for your productivity or shared goals. Apply ALOK’s philosophy; what lack of liberation is causing them to lash out? Your willingness to rest probably reminds them of all the times they’ve forced themselves NOT to rest. It’s too much pain and grief to admit all that struggle was unnecessary. Be afraid of getting fired if necessary, but never be afraid of being a bad person: you aren’t.
Have a restful day.