Every now and then in life I bump up against people that truly help me see who I am. Sometimes it is because they compliment me in a way that surprises me. Other times it is because of the juxtaposition between who they are and who I am. This latter scenario is my focus here.
Some of these juxtaposed folks suffer from what I have dubbed Woe-is-me Syndrome (WIMS). These people manifest some type of negative attitude which pushes others away, whether it be desperation, despair, or anger. They often have also developed a type of “me against the world” mentality. Unfortunately, when the terms of their existence are that stark, the world generally wins. As a result, they begin to feel as if everyone is out to get them and their mental well-being suffers.
They can become so dedicated to their gloom and doom outlook that attempts to give them another way to view a situation are often met with their blatant refusal of said alternative, a doubling down on their original position, and in rare cases, outright hostility towards a new view.
I have a friend that is in the grips of WIMS. Seemingly, everything that happens in the world brings them down and everyone who looks at them is trying to do them harm. They are so lonely. They lament all their failed relationships, while doing nothing to make new ones or correct the destructive patterns which have led to this isolation. Their inability to control their emotions has negatively affected their career in the past and present. It has become so bad that, once, a guy gave my friend a business card for a job. Instead of thinking about the potential good fortune, my friend began to wonder if the guy was trying to somehow find out where my friend lived to do them harm.
When I broach the possibility to my friend that their view of the world, and their place in it, is causing them harm it is first met with an acknowledgement of “yeah, maybe you’re right” and then a litany of their experiences justifying why they should be like this. Most of these experiences, dare I say excuses, are borne out of no greater logic than the business card incident I just described.
The thing is, I understand this mentality well. At one point, I was clinging to an ideology that was clearly doing me no favors.
This part of our tale takes us back about 20 years. I was an emerging feminist and a trained sociologist. As such, I am very familiar with socio-economic stratification and the mechanisms which perpetuate class, gender, and racial inequality. In fact, if I were to pinpoint the moment that my WIMS kicked in it was during my time studying inequality in America during the completion of my Sociology degree.
I was also educated in the ways that numerous marginalizations can create a greater disenfranchisement of the individual, which is dubbed intersectionality. This means, for example, that a woman can, and likely will, experience different treatment than a man. This treatment disadvantages her by depriving her of the same opportunities that a man could expect to experience. Further, a woman of color can experience even more institutionalized forms of disenfranchisement than could a white woman. A woman of color who doesn’t speak English will likely experience even more. Each subsequent status of other (we could add to the list, physically impaired, homeless, queer, trans, etc) creates more obstacles for this person’s equality to those who do not embody these traits. It is basically a compounding of disadvantages based on the ideology of this person as being “other.”
While I was learning this I was also living in rural Illinois. It was clear that I had a personal growth ambition that outstripped my racist, sexist, and homophobic counterparts. That sentence is a little harsh, but I’m going to keep it.
Because of these things I felt both the ways in which I was privileged and disadvantaged. Feeling thankful and guilty for the former and rather constrained by the latter. I continually struggled with who I was compared to what everyone else expected me to be. I only fit in because I did not know how to be myself when that meant pushing against those expectations.
I couldn’t explore who I wanted to be without the disapproving comments of others. I was being policed due to their insecure need for conformity. This made it difficult to sus out if I was queer and later once I accepted it to find out what being queer meant for me.
Once I had included myself under the umbrella of being queer, I felt marginalized due to bi-erasure (being viewed as straight if with a woman and gay when with a man) and never quite seen as the multi-dimensional person I was. Moreover, there were folks even in the queer community, my suppossed family, who would rather me not exist. My sexual orientation was a threat to them. I was hemmed in on all sides.
I pondered my gender (hell, I still do). I feel a little non-binary-ish. I like to crossdress and enjoy the pretty side of things. If I could switch between a variety of male and female forms based on my moods that would be amazing.
There’s a good deal of folks who don’t have the space for someone like me. They don’t want me to figure out who I am if it means deviating from the behavior of which they approve. I know what these types of people say about transfolk because they think I’m a safe audience. I know that the same disapproval and scorn is also waiting for me if and when I deviate from the norm. The simple act of painting my nails elicited disgust from midwestern bigots (and others). Imagine if I showed up in women’s jeans, a cute top, and eyeliner.
I hated the stereotypes of what it meant to be a man (still do). They felt so ignorant and violent to me. It repulsed me to my core and I lamented the strictures around manhood that I felt kept me locked in place. As a thin, slight young “man” I never had the physique that I thought was masculine and I grew up thinking myself less because of it (luckily, what was a burden then looks good in a dress now).
I also struggled with my working class status and the ways middle and upper class America protected and elevated their own. I had no such footholds in life.
Religion was another way in which I felt like an outcast. I was fresh from relinquishing my priesthood position and I was a fiery, newly branded atheist. It was a view that wasn’t accepted in middle America, but I don’t think I was actually marginalized because of it. However, my determination to teach everyone about the flaws in religious thinking definitely put me at odds with folks.
So as a queer, non-binary, working class, crossdressing, atheist I was somewhere in the venn diagram of intersectionality. I felt pretty alone and isolated and didn’t see anyone living the life I wanted. I had crafted my image around these various forms of disenfranchisement. I was angry and felt as if my anger was appropriate and shouldn’t be mitigated. I felt as if viewing the situation any differently meant I was giving in to the powers that be.
During that time, if anyone tried to give me a different view of things I would tell them that they were wrong and that these things which held me back were real. I was not being a pessimist, I was being a realist.
I still hold that most of this is true. All of the marginalizations I mentioned above are in fact real and the effects of them can be pernicious, make no mistake about it. Folks have been killed just because they were living authentically and some insecure, fearful, mostly male, person couldn’t handle it.
There will always be systemic forces at work in society and I am not likely to move the needle on those things greatly. However, one of the things holding me back was something I could completely change and that was my response to those injustices.
The “me against the world” type of thinking was not making me happy and was pushing people away. So I figured out that I could keep going down the bleak path I was traveling or stake out new ground and a new outlook.
I needed to be the best version of me in spite of those socio-economic forces. I wanted people to be attracted to my calm and positive energy. I wanted to be a source of knowledge and wisdom. Additionally, I wanted folks to be challenged by the fact that all these comforting things come from a non-binary-ish, feminist, socialist, anarchist leaning, crossdressing, big ‘ol beautiful queer. I wanted them to see that people like me are not to be feared. We are just folks trying to live our lives.
This would be my contribution to myself and to moving the inequality needle. It would help me to bring people closer and to counter their expectations of how someone like me is supposed to look or act. I would be a teaching moment by simply being myself.
Detailing how I changed my outlook would take me far from the scope of my message here. For now, I will just say that I learned how to relax a little more each day and gave myself the mental, and sometimes social, space to become who I really wanted to be.
My endeavor has yielded results. I’m still a work in progress, I think that’s always true when self-improvement is the goal, but there are moments when I get a glimpse of how far I have come.
Recently, I began having a conversation with a person that existed within the nexus of intersectionality. Things were a little off from the very beginning. For starters, we picked out a week in which we would meet in person. They quickly put that idea on hold. Their comments indicated that they had given themselves over to the prospect of meeting too readily for comfort. It was clear that they were used to patterning their behavior from fear and were now in emotional retreat.
No matter, I had the time and mental space to see if things could progress before they torpedoed our connection in one glorious explosion.
Unfortunately, when we spoke I would ask about them and they didn’t ask about me. After a month of conversation, I can say that they literally knew nothing about who I was aside from a few identity labels and a list of hobbies I provided on our first day of chatting. Instead, we talked about what was going wrong in their life. I began to wonder if there was anything else to them.
Then things quickly came to a head. They made yet another disparaging statement, this time about despising something. I had grown tired of the gloom and doom. I needed an extreme last ditch effort to turn this around. I was done with the dynamics that were occurring so, as imperfect as the decision may have been, I decided to call them on it. I sent two sentences saying they could continue to be angry over what they can’t control or they could take the reins and create something new and wonderful in their life. Then I retired to get a shower.
That was pretty much all it took to flood tubes one through four. They made a number of assumptions about me and then became angry at me over those assumptions. They became angrier still that I hadn’t immediately responded back. Because of all of this, they said they didn’t want to talk for a week.
After I completed my evening ablutions I discovered the drama that had played out on my phone. I replied with the reason for my absence and that I would be around in a week if they were still up for talking.
That was all I sent. I didn’t justify my actions or defend myself against their allegations. There was no point in trying to have a rational conversation where none had existed prior. It certainly wasn’t going to happen now that they were triggered. Perhaps a week without talking would create a little levity and we could discuss what happened and why.
Not a chance. The next morning, I awoke to a message saying that the universe had given them a sign and our connection wasn’t going to work out. They told me to stay positive because it is a beautiful thing and that this was goodbye. Compared to the last message I received they at least seemed calm.
I was perfectly fine with this outcome and I wished them a peaceful life filled with happiness.
Their response was that they don’t get to live a happy life because society won’t let them (insert angry screed about social forces here) and that my positivity was toxic and a result of my privilege. Therefore, they are going to block my phone number. Fire all torpedoes!
Yikes. What a rollercoaster.
I can only assume that all of this was a type of posturing. After all, there is little point in blocking me after I made no attempt, nor did I show any interest, in messaging further. I suspect that calling me toxic and blocking me was meant to do me emotional harm (a one-upmanship of sorts). However, quite the opposite happened.
I’m not at all bothered by any of this. As I have written about before, I consider these occurrences to be a blessing of sorts. We are just in two very different emotional places and that is perfectly fine. If my outlook is too shiny and triggers someone with WIMS then I totally get it.
However, I do not acquiesce to casting the outcome of my struggle to become a positive person under the generic woke nomenclature of toxic. Quite the opposite, I left that encounter feeling better about myself than I have in years.
You see, after emotionally conquering society’s downward gaze and crafting my new outlook, I ended up in an abusive relationship. Over the course of a couple of years this person systematically tried to eradicate my positivity and happiness. During my down moments (near the end that may have been all I had) they would chastise me for being unhappy. It has been a long journey to work through the PTSD that was created during that time in my life.
Since then, I have wondered if my positivity was even visible. I have been fearful that it wasn’t. I thought that I had failed to become who I wanted to be.
To have this new person try to use my positivity against me in such an erroneous way meant that I was seen. I, twice, built myself up. Once after battling systemic inequality and then after enduring the mental beatings of an abusive ex. This let me see that the good in me is still here and thriving. I felt beautiful, because I knew my past and what I had accomplished to blossom into what I am now.
I am exactly who I need to be at this moment and that is an amazing feeling.
I hope you too blossom. Be responsible, be empathetic, be lovely, and always work to build a better you. I wish you peace and happiness in your life.