This story is meant for you, the young person who I have not yet met, but know. You see we already share an affinity, a kinship. We are both alike and we are different. I know some of your story; you may be living some of mine. Our stories do share a common theme. Our differences create our essence and your essence makes you special. You are the only you, and you are a gift to the world.
When I was your age I knew I was different. I couldn’t articulate how I was different I just knew that I was from the deepest core of my being. I felt alienated and alone. I sought connection with friends. I wanted to be accepted, welcomed, invited to the party, to join the group, become a member. Sometimes it happened, sometimes not. I often felt more rejected than accepted, more alone than together, more different than the same. Sound familiar?
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to answer the question of how I was different, to come out, to name myself, to understand that I was a woman who loved women. I was finally living an authentic life, embracing my essence, I was being, me. My journey was not easy, much like yours. What I needed were allies and tools, new ways of thinking and the courage to face my fears. What I needed most were people in my life who smiled at me when I entered the room. Yes, it’s pretty simple. Surround yourself with people who smile when you enter a room. These are the people who love you; the people who matter in your life. These are your allies, your family.
When I look back at my teen and young adult years, I see that there was so much pressure to be the same, to conform, and to mimic the opinions, appearance and behaviors of the dominant culture, or “in crowd.” I mistakenly thought that the heroes I wanted to emulate were those young people who were most liked, possessed the most friends, who were leaders, not followers. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they often were surrounded by others, because like me, they were afraid, afraid to be alone, to step out, to assert their individuality, to express their independence.
One lesson I’ve learned as an adult, I’ll share with you today. Sometimes we each go through life comparing our insides, our deepest fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities, with other peoples’ outsides. The smiling, confident, self-assured bravado of our friends and colleagues, from whom we desire to be accepted, liked, and invited to the party. What we see on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside. They too have fears, insecurities and are vulnerable; they too have dark nights of the soul.
Another lesson I’ve learned as an adult is when you get a group of people together, the group can take on opinions, beliefs and act in ways that doesn’t always reflect the values and desires of the individual, but instead creates a dangerous “group think.” When you separate the individual from the crowd and interact one-on-one, you may discover you have an ally. Heroes are not born from crowds; heroes are individuals who step outside of convention, risk voicing their opinion, live authentically.
When I was growing up, the real heroes were the young, vulnerable ones, who often walked the halls of school alone; the ones who were called “different.” The ones who in spite of the shameful, abusive name calling, bullying, and shunning by others, even when their courage wavered, bravely risked being themselves, loving, accepting and embracing those attributes which made them different. What made them heroes? They believed it would get better, that they would find others who were like them, people who would smile when they walked into a room, people who would love them unconditionally, not in spite of who they were, but because of who they were.
It does get better; it gets easier and remember when you feel like you are absolutely alone without an ally or the energy to take the next step — you are my hero. Reach out, accept help, take the next step, live the next moment, you are the only you in the world. We need you.