Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss
That quote nearly lost its meaning for me after hearing it so many times, but I’ve recently rediscovered how liberating and empowering the message is.
I believe and practice a lot of things that would offend people I care about. I’m not a Christian. I practice polyamory. Sometimes I’m attracted to women. I’ve tried illegal substances. I would prefer a world without government. I believe that circumcision, spanking, and most forms of discipline are child abuse. I think formal schooling is unnecessary and usually harmful to children. Sometimes I wonder whether humans would be better off if we lived in tribes as hunter-gatherers and never created civilization.
Did any of those trigger you? I hope so. They’re all things I’ve been afraid to admit to certain people. And each one is a huge topic that I would like to explore on this blog.
But there’s been so much fear holding me back. What if I destroy friendships? Lose job opportunities? Get abandoned by everyone I love and am forced to live the rest of my life in solitary confinement?
Some of these fears are well-founded. I’ve felt deeply betrayed by attempts to “be myself” in the past. One time I even lost a job that I adored because I opened up to my boss about my feelings. I’ve destroyed friendships by revealing my political beliefs. I’ve been rebuked by one of my biggest heroes for expressing my feelings inappropriately on Facebook.
As someone who tends to hold controversial opinions, I’ve continually swung from one extreme—proudly offending everyone within earshot—to the opposite, where I lock my feelings inside and attempt to pass as “normal.”
In my struggle to find a balance, I’m learning that I need to have a bias towards authenticity. People who get offended by my opinions are not usually people I want to spend time with. I don’t want to be friends with them, I don’t want to work for them, and I don’t need them to read my blog.
Looking back on the traumatic losses I experienced by being open in the past, I can see now that most of them were for the best. It really would not have been good for me to stay in a job where I bottled up my concerns about the environmental impact of cotton farming practices. A friendship that required me to believe in Christianity was not worth my energy. By cutting off these attachments, I’ve freed myself to develop more fulfilling relationships.
My biggest struggle recently has been opening up about polyamory. It’s a big part of my life, and keeping it secret feels like betraying myself. I want my friends to accept me for who I really am. But I’ve been worried that people would lose respect for me, assuming I sleep around with everyone I meet with no concern for safety or stability (although even that should be no cause for disrespect). I’ve already shattered my parents’ hopes for me to be a holy daughter, but this might be the last straw that causes them to disown me entirely. I’m in the market for a new job right now, and potential employers might look down on such an alternative lifestyle.
A few days ago I conquered these fears and shared a post about why I practice polyamory. I’ve never seen such a dramatic response. My blog got almost 1,000 page views over the weekend, compared to my normal 2-3 visits per day. I received dozens of messages from people I’ve never even met and friends I haven’t talked to in years. They said they’re inspired by my courage, and now they want to start sharing more about what they believe. Some of them confided that they’ve been exploring polyamory in secret, afraid of the consequences of coming out in public, expressing how grateful they are for my effort to break the stigma.
Of course, there were plenty of responses that weren’t so positive. I offended people I care about deeply. Some people made me out to be a frivolous little girl who wants to run around and sleep with everyone I meet with no regard for my offspring and the people around me. Some of them made valid criticisms of my arguments. I’m not looking forward to the reaction I’ll get from my parents—last they heard, I thought boys had cooties.
What’s amazing is that I’m learning to appreciate the negative feedback. Criticism means that I’m saying something worthwhile and threatening real beliefs. If everyone already agreed with me, then I wouldn’t need to say it.
T.K. Coleman explains it well:
“If you’re writing, saying, doing, or creating something that’s not capable of being misunderstood, I can assure you of one thing: it’s completely useless. If it’s worth it to you to put it out there, it will be worth it to someone else to put it down. Liberate yourself from the illusion that it’s possible to find a mode of expression that will go over well with every single person. Doing things that are useful isn’t the same as doing things that are universally understood.”
Thankfully, the positive connections I made from that post far outnumbered the criticism. That might not always be the case. But as long as I’m speaking my truth in a helpful way, it’s worth it to take a stand for what I believe in. I’d rather form strong connections with a smaller number of people who value that truth than stay in the middle of the road with everyone’s approval.
For everyone reading this, I want to encourage you to be authentic. Prepare yourself for the consequences of people judging you, but know that the connections you do make will be so much more meaningful. Vulnerable self-expression shines like a beacon of courage through the dull clouds of content smothering the internet, shedding light on the fear and isolation so that we don’t have to feel so alone. You’ll discover an empowering freedom and inspire others to do the same.