I recently had an exchange with a cishet guy on Instagram. It was on a post I made about how we shouldn’t assume our kids are straight and the harm heteronormative language does to queer and trans kids (and to all of us, really.) This guy made sure to point out that because of my exposure to harmful language when I was younger, I was a stronger person now and I should be grateful for that.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think “being stronger” needs to be a goal for humans. Being stronger because of something harmful that happened to you when you were a child, adolescent or even an adult isn’t some marker for thriving in life. It’s a marker that we, as human beings, need to be more loving and caring and nurturing.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I understand strength is a thing that we all need and have. It takes strength to be able to feel your feelings or have a tough conversation with someone. What I’m talking about here is the idea of being strong, as if it’s some prized place to be on the human evolutionary scale (is that a thing?) For the purposes of what I’m writing here: being a strong person is like sitting on the highway in stopped traffic, getting road rage and arriving at your destination all tense, while having strength is like taking an alternate route that may take longer but you’re thankful the car is moving and arrive in a good mood.
Being strong is romanticized in society and I understand why. We need to believe that there’s a reason or a positive outcome to all of the shit we go through. But, in reality, the idea of being strong does little more than put a burden on ourselves instead of the people who have said or done harmful things to us.
And I was strong.
My journey to strong included (but was not limited to): repeated questions about when I was going to get a boyfriend, a running joke that I’d “never get a boyfriend that way”, more people than I can count suggesting that I should wear clothes that fit differently because I had “such a cute feminine body”, being called Boys Don’t Cry and blatantly being told I’d be pretty if I wore make up.
Every single one of these things was a microaggression that, at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you was harmful to me. I just absorbed it and noted that who I was wasn’t good enough. My defense was: don’t cry about it, don’t talk about it, internalize it all. It got to a point where I was barely even able to make a decision because, if who I am is wrong, why would I be able to make a good decision!?!?
Being strong looked like cutting myself in my teens and then turned into drinking as I got older. If I could just numb myself enough, I wouldn’t have to feel the pain. I wouldn’t have to wonder why my friends said these things to me. I wouldn’t have to wonder why I wasn’t good enough, just as I am. Self-harm and alcohol helped me overlook what was going on around me that I didn’t have the language to identify as painful in the moment.
So, sure, I was strong. I rarely cried. In fact, at one point, I prided myself that that I hadn’t cried during a movie in almost 10 years. I was funny, but in the way that was kind of mean. I would have said I was just being honest or that I was blunt but I was really just trying to make myself feel better by pointing out everyone else’s “flaws.” I was logical, smart and an excellent worker, but I also didn’t trust myself enough to be who I really was. I’ve lost myself in almost every relationship I’ve ever been in. And when those relationships ended, I had to completely rediscover myself each time – which can be exciting – but it’s also exhausting. I mean, how many times can I possibly forget what my hobbies are or what kind of music I like or that I enjoy reading or that I love making art?
Anyway, what was I saying?
Oh, right. Fuck being strong.
I hate the language of strength that’s perpetuated among the LGBTQIA+ community when it comes to coming out, being out or dealing with homophobic family/friends/strangers. “Oh, you’re so brave and strong.” or “Be proud, you’re so strong!”
BEING STRONG SHOULDN’T BE A PREREQUISITE FOR BEING OUT
What this does is excuse the behavior of those who are harming the queer person and put all of the responsibility for managing the situation squarely on the shoulders of the affected person.
Turns out, most white, patriarchal societies’ idea of being strong really means cutting ourselves off from our feelings and our communities. We isolate. We solider through. We think no one else is going through the same thing we’re going through because there is little to no encouragement to talk openly about how queerphobia and transphobia affect us.
Imagine a world where, when your parents or your friends or a stranger said something harmful to you, there was an army of folks there to protect you – so you could flourish as your own tender self and not have to create an outer crust of self-harm and numbing. Imagine a world where we are taught from birth that we get to be exactly who we are, even if who we are doesn’t totally make sense to our parents. Imagine what it would feel like to know that who we are is right, no matter what – and we don’t need to earn the prize of being strong in order to be a valid and acceptable queer.
So, yeah. Fuck being strong. I used to be strong, but now I’m working on breaking down all of the things that strong built up in me. I want to be able to be vulnerable. I want to be able to cry in front of people. I want to be confident. I want to be content. I want to be able to trust that the ones I love will have my back and speak up if they see or hear bullshit.
Strong is not a destination, strong is a byproduct of harm and I won’t romanticize it anymore.