Recently while watching Dear Zindagi, one of the dialogues mentions ‘relationship with self’. These words stuck me hard as it resonated with what I have been working on in my therapy this past year. This thought has taken over my entire thinking process lately, as the more I talk about my various problems (identity related or behavioural), the more these words linger on. If I do not feel complete in myself, then that ends up reflecting in my personal and professional relationships too. Well that is what I have learned so far.
But can it be also connected to how we perceive and understand our own gender and sexual identity?
If you are a cis-gendered female, there are few things which you might have experienced growing up, especially in India. Some of these are silence of parents and teachers around sexuality and hygiene, and having a ‘good daughter’ attitude. Now in such conditioning since childhood, if one comes to feel differently on who they should be attracted to or how they should dress and behave, then one can only imagine the ‘corrections’ the individual would have to go through for feeling differently at the hands of parents and peers.
What follows is hiding the identity of self in order to blend into the safer identities that are approved in our social environment. Here I am not just talking about the homosexuals, transgenders, bisexuals, etc. but also about the ones who end up settling for these labels in order to explain their place in the fluidity. No matter where you are; a conservative family space or an LGBT community space, the fitting in and conformity can be there.
But does this constant lying, adjustments, and conformity regarding our sexual or gender identity affect our relationship with ourselves and the world as we know it?
Let me try to talk about this in terms of a personal experience and example. I cannot tell if I was born this way or not, but since I started getting consciously attracted to girls, it has been a journey in itself to where I am now in explaining my sexuality and gender identity to myself. Let me lay down the chronological order of how it happened here:
Repulsion towards penis due to bad past sexual experiences > Bi-curious > Doubts around being Bisexual > Full-fledged assertion to self of being a lesbian > Experimenting with being more of a masculine female > Worrying about even being a Lesbian > Questioning my Lesbian-ness > Sexual experience with a Transman and liking it > Acknowledging that I love, fantasize, and lust after Transwomen and would like to have a sexual experience with one > Loathing myself for being confused and unable to define my sexuality > Making peace and working on giving space and acceptance to whatever I feel sexually and in terms of gender > Dating a person who sometimes cross-dresses because he is sensitive about how I perceive my own gender and sexuality > So far, feels good…
I have laid down this journey in front of you, not to imply of a starting point or destination as there is none. This is to speak out about how one can feel what they feel and there is no definite process and indicators to how we ‘determine’ our gender or sexual identity. Even if you are fighting your battles at personal, family, or community level, it is very necessary according to me to reflect and understand the ‘self’. Because this relationship with self ends up defining our reactions and interpretations to how we decide to deal with our family, friends, and society when it comes to our gender or sexual identity.
If we ourselves feel that our love towards someone or no one is unacceptable, then there is no way we would be able to tell our family, friends, etc. that it is acceptable. Some people also go through a need for approval from various people in their lives, to establish what they feel is right.
So, if you are a woman feeling attracted to the same sex or are transgressing gender norms, legally or socially, it won’t be considered ‘normal’, ‘good’, or ‘natural’. In such an environment, not everyone is able to assert their choices and how they feel on the inside. This easily leads for people to have double lives and lying, giving way to a schizoid identity, separating personal with social. This gap generally further leads to a mental state of stress, shame, and guilt. This shame and guilt towards how one feels on the inside leads to the individual feeling that their value of self is lesser than that of others around them, like:
- Those who are choosing to be out and proud
- The straight people who can openly and righteously love their partners, including their own friends, parents, and dear ones
- In general others, whose lives seem so much easier than one’s own
This feeling of shame, guilt, and unacceptance can also overshadow not just your personal life, but social or professional parts of your life as well. It can affect your self-confidence to assert your various choices in life, because of the fear of coming into the limelight with your decisions/feelings. This constant feeling of hiding something, and that too something which is considered ‘not normal’, ‘a disease’, and ‘unnatural’, can weigh one’s belief and confidence down.
Acceptance definitely comes from within. Because if I don’t accept myself in my own skin, no amount of support from parents, partner, friends, etc. can make me feel so. I am not saying you are born with acceptance towards yourself. However, you can cultivate it with love, and trust, patience towards and by forgiving yourself.
Start by showing some compassion towards yourself. Imagine what you would tell a friend who would tell you something about themselves that they feel nobody in this world will ever accept or approve of. Feel what you feel and make peace with yourself.
Lastly, ask yourself if you go through a feeling or the feelings go through you. We cannot always change our surrounding but we can choose how we want to react to it.