Finding a Middle Way

Maybe it’s because it’s Friday. But I’m having a good day.

I often feel a lot of insecurity and frustration at the social roles I am expected to take on, because of what body parts I was born with.

That side of me, seeking approval that will never come, says,”If you’re just more peppy, cheery, smiley with a painted face.. If you just accept your place.. If you just give in..” That is painful. To think that I could be accepted finally if I play the part that others want. That side of me is the crying little girl I was, still begging to be loved and wanted.

I have days where that side begins to win again. Today’s not that day.

I know that being predictable and nice to look at is what people want. The other side of me, the one that says,”People have value, and looks don’t factor into it” feels utter resentment. When that resentful part of me rules, I sometimes think that I could be trans. That since I don’t fit the mold, that I prefer everything about the other side, that if I could pass I could get approval while being happier, being myself without being constantly socially punished for the mismatch.

Yet either side can’t win. I’m not going to transition to male. But I’m not going to be a method actor as a woman, either. I can’t force people to reexamine their innate ideas of what a woman is. I can’t change human nature and social conditioning. People don’t try to understand their unconscious reactions to others, and often deny those reactions exist, because they don’t notice it happening. And I also know that even if I tried really hard to cater to what I’m supposed to be, I’d still be chasing that bump of approval. Even harder, I suspect, than before.

So it’s finding a middle ground, that I have been striving for.

The middle ground is: stop giving a f*ck.

Perhaps a more polite term is “radical acceptance.” This is the way the world is. This is the way you are. It’s going to be harder for you, and there’s nothing you can do. It is out of your control. Be careful spending emotional energy on other people. They will probably not return it. Choose wisely who you invest in. In the event I ever find platonic friends who genuinely don’t care that I’m not too feminine, cherish them.

Don’t compromise. I’ve already decided that I’m not wearing dresses or skirts, ever again. That’s going to be tricky if I attend a wedding or any sort of traditional, highly gendered event. But I can make it work; I can wear a flow-y tunic and long cardigan, to mimic the clothing that people associate with these events. Well, except my Indian skirt. It’s long and black and flowing. It seems immune from my inner immediate “NOPE” reaction.

Don’t apologize. This is a hard one. I’ve been so socialized to avoid conflict of any kind.

Don’t act like there is something wrong with the way I look and dress. There are always going to be people who comment on that. It’s the nature of being female in an entitled world. Don’t apologize for existing the way you are. These people, they don’t care about you, just the missing makeup on your face.

Be firm. Always be your own advocate, because you can’t be sure if anyone else will. Be kind, be respectful, but don’t allow anyone to tear you down.

Be cautious and more reserved. I’ve always had problems with being too open to new people. Because I have a delusion that if people just understand me, they will treat me well, they will believe me, they will like me. This is due to relentless approval seeking. “Everyone could be my friend if I just try hard enough”, the little girl within whispers. I always feel disappointment and self-loathing when my effort is not returned. This continues to damage me, and it’s of my own doing. I need to build a small wall within, and be more careful who I allow to pass it. Not all walls are terrible. I always threw my energy into building bridges to others that they didn’t want to cross, or even notice. It’s okay if people don’t know you. It’s okay if they don’t like you. You are still okay. Still alive, still breathing.

I also need to understand the people I need to approve of me never will. My father won’t. My stepmother won’t. My mother, increasingly, won’t. I can’t continue to seek it from randoms. It doesn’t work. It will never work. That is how I know it must change.

It’s absolutely funny, when I look at it, that I pride myself on being self-sufficient and independent, when inside I am an utter mess of need for approval. Blogging has been helping me, slowly through the years, to dissect what went wrong and what toxic coping mechanisms need to be pruned away. I still have a long way to go. But it feels closer every day.

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Weirdo

I’ve been pondering today about my life choices, and why I’ve made them.

It occurs to me that I’ve selected most of them because I don’t fit in. I never have.

Being raised as a burden, as something other, has certainly shaped who I am as a person.

I was never very receptive to beauty and fashion, mainly because those who were pushing it on me treated me like a freak.

Rather than give in and beautify myself, as a young and older teen, I rejected most of it. I dabbled for some time, feeling that pressure to at least pretend to be interested, but never consistently. Now I’ve mostly given it up. I’ve always felt anxiety that I didn’t do what I was supposed to, as a woman. Countering that is an internal resistance to the notion people who didn’t care about me could force me to do what they wanted. What I wanted never mattered.

Because I never fit in, felt wanted or that I belonged, I found refuge in things many women discard as they enter adulthood, or were never interested in at all. Books, comic books, cartoons, writing, the internet. They were havens for me.

I subconsciously chose to go into computer science because while I thought maybe I had a chance to fit in somewhere, with other people who shared my interests, while making an income that would give me the power to make my own choices in life. My body, my appearance have never been a currency I could make my way with.

I chose a field where my looks wouldn’t matter as much. Having a healthy interest in the field helped as well.

A lot of women who start STEM degrees don’t finish them or don’t stay in the field long, especially computer science. I read what I can online about this phenomena, and while it’s complex, one thing stands out time and time again. Women who have left the field describe a difficult environment with few other women and some sexist or borderline shunning behavior from some or many of the men they work with. Not a lack of interest in the field, or lack of ability, but a lack of support and an environment somewhat hostile to their presence.

It never bothered me that there weren’t a lot of women in my field. Fewer people to judge me on my appearance. Most men I’ve worked with in the past are a little baffled by my plain looks and strange less-feminine demeanor, but many of them have mentally changed gears from thinking of me as “woman” to “coworker.” Which I prefer.

Well, until this contract I’m working on now. Never have I felt the force of exclusion based on appearance and sex that I have now. My team lead, who is the sole reservoir of knowledge about the project, acts like he is afraid of me. I have never felt afraid about asking questions before, until this project. If a male coworker asks a question, he needs the information to do his job. If I ask a question, my entire ability to do my job is suspect.

My seemingly permanent outsider status is probably why I continue to smoke cigarettes. That’s another indicator that you’re an outsider. I am already one, so why not? How many coworkers have commented “smoking is bad for you” or given me looks as I’ve encountered them while smoking? I guess this marker of outsider status also suits me. It fits with what I’ve encountered most of my life.

I say that I’m okay with it. I say that I’m getting better with accepting it. But there is always a part of me that craves the platonic acceptance I’ve never really had. I am lonely, and it hurts. I’ve had pity friendships before, back when I was too unaware to realize what the basis of the friendship really was. I’ve had acquaintances who I mistook for friends, because of my close proximity to who their actual friend was. There is a cold, sad truth to this world I’ve finally let myself acknowledge. If you don’t look or act the part, people are just nice. They are just pleasant. But they don’t care about you.

All I can do is keep going. All I can do is keep moving. I know that if I dropped everything, started being a “good” woman, the chances are extremely high that things would stay the same. And I wouldn’t be happier. Maybe I would feel a better connection to others of my gender? Who can say. It seems like a huge amount of effort for a uncertain result.

Maybe I would feel “beautiful”? I’ve never felt that before. I don’t know what it feels like, or if that would make me happy. It’s a feeling I’d have to chase every day, with powders and straighteners and hairspray.

Most days now, I feel fine about myself. I feel more at peace with my course in life. I will probably always crave acceptance, but I know I can live without it. And I know that no one owns me.