“When people feel stuck, they often withdraw. They pull back into their own closed-off space, both emotionally and physically.” Oprah Winfrey.
When you’re on a journey the only way from Point A to Point B is to go on the ride. You have to go through whatever you have to go through to get to the other side. There’s no fastest route. There is no shortcut. You are often not in control. You have to climb the mountains and descend into the valleys. You just have to go through it.
On a recent trip to Cherry Grove on Fire Island I found myself in what should have been the easiest, safest place in the world to express myself and yet I couldn’t (wouldn’t ?) do it. I took a pair of platform heels with me thinking I would feel the freedom of my surroundings ― and the support of the community ― to let my gender expansive self shine through. That didn’t happen. I was stuck. I felt the fear-of-yore fill up every footprint of the steps forward I had taken. It covered them and nearly washed them away like the crashing waves of the ocean erasing all traces of where you were standing mere seconds ago. My courage waned to the point that I lashed out…at myself. I gave myself a stern talking to and finally, begrudgingly made myself walk out the door and down the boardwalk in the heels. There was no joy, only trepidation, as I took step after step toward the center of town and a waiting crowd.
Cherry Grove is a popular LGBTQ resort community. It’s a place pulsing and thriving with LGBTQ people and our straight, accepting allies. Yet I was afraid to show myself. Part of my problem is the gay community is often full of judgmental, catty gay men who can tear you apart with a look or phrase as quickly as they can lift you up with a look or a phrase. I’ve been one who tears and one who’s been torn. Hindsight being 20/20, I realized after the fact that the fear of judgment and catty comments was internalized. How could I blame my fear and lack of courage on a community that I didn’t even give a chance to support me? Then it hit me. The real issue is: I could not find the courage to be vulnerable in the midst of strangers.
I grew up surrounded by men who were athletic, outdoorsy types. The kind who played basketball and liked to hunt and fish. I was never one of those types. I’m still not. On top of that, I was always uncomfortable in a room with those men ― my father, uncles, cousins. I was afraid there was some hidden spotlight that was going to shine on me and illuminate my differences from the rest of the pack. And wouldn’t you know it, I now find myself attracted to those same types of masculine men and I’m somehow still that little boy who is afraid to be in the room alone with them. I dread that light, which I know is still hidden in the shadows, waiting to illuminate my insecurities, spotting me when I least expect it. My gender expansive self does not sit very comfortably in this room where I’ve convinced myself that my heels, or guyshadow, or guyliner, or jewelry is going to be a complete turnoff.
“Bravery can oftentimes be measured by the act of taking a first step.” Anna Wintour.
I was four days into a seven day trip when I gave myself that stern talking to and finally walked out the door ― four days of wishing, wanting, and internalized fear manifesting itself outwardly in the form of self-hate and frustration. My God I annoy myself! It’s exhausting.
That journey to the center of town was to meet my best friend, his girlfriend, and their daughter when they arrived on the ferry from Sayville, NY. I focused forward as I walked, placing one foot in front of the other, keeping my balance on the uneven boards. Once in town, I had tunnel vision as I stood waiting to catch of glimpse of them exiting the ferry. I couldn’t look at the men exiting the ferry or waiting in line to board. I couldn’t see them see me because I couldn’t imagine a positive response only a negative one and I didn’t want to see that. Finally seeing my people gave me a boost of courage that I was so severely lacking on my own.
Two days later returning from breakfast, we walked through the gate at my rental and were surrounded by a swarm of something. What, wasn’t immediately recognizable. Then I realized it was dragonflies. Being in a questioning, reflective, contemplative state of mind already due to my inability to express myself freely, I immediately questioned the symbolism of the dragonfly:
The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
That symbolism was not lost on me. In fact, I laughed out loud. I’m in the midst of change and self realization by merely trying to express myself publicly. Finding courage is not always easy and I can’t always do it. No matter how brave I wish I was, or people tell me I am, or I actually may be, I don’t always succeed. I even failed to see the significance of that walk into town. I may have had to yell at myself to take the first step but I did it. That’s the bravery in the Anna Wintour quote above. But I’m often too blinded by my own sense of failure to see.
I was so angry at myself that I nearly let the anger wreck the entire trip. I chastised myself. I moped. I made myself miserable to the point of feeling safest hidden behind the walls of the fence that surrounded the cottage even as I desired to be in the center of it all in town. I was stuck. Sigh. There are successes and there are setbacks.
Courage is hard to find with no essential support. Vulnerability is hard to withstand even when there is support. My irrational fear of criticism might be all in my head…or not. I wasn’t strong enough to find out…this time.
I’m going through it. My journey continues...