I’ve written about acceptance before. About how widespread awareness of autism, gender variance and other ways of differing from the majority is a valuable first step but far from enough for us to achieve the kind of inclusive society where differences are visible but not used to judge a person as being “less than” anybody else.
But I have never written about how acceptance feels on the receiving end. I could write about privilege and society, and probably lose half my readers before getting to the end. But I’d rather try to explain in terms that don’t require a degree in social science to understand!
When somebody accepts me for who I am it is not accompanied by pomp and circumstance. There is no fanfare, no ponderous announcement extolling my virtues, no pageantry or bestowing of medals and honors.
The point of acceptance is that it can pass unremarked. That it does pass unremarked. I am just another person going about life in my own way. The way I act, the way I look harms nobody. Acceptance can be a passive act: it can simply mean that I am left to get on with my life without adverse comment.
As somebody who does stand out in public for a number of reasons (I’ve been laughed at by kids outside a local shop because of my physical appearance, and been described as weird because of my poor social skills) it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I step outside my front door. I am never quite sure whether I will face ridicule or even threats of harm.
When I presented as male I looked the part (even if I didn’t act it consistently). There is a power that derives from being male in much of the world, especially a large male. A threat implied by one’s very existence that serves to deflect confrontation. That makes others wary of offending you: a kind of “don’t f*ck with me” aura. It’s not a perfect protection: there are still plenty of people who feel strong enough to attack you with words if nothing else.
I frequently used to wear a leather biker jacket because it made me feel more secure. Even discounting its physical protection it suggested a particular character. As I donned it I took on a certain confidence: its padding emphasized the torso and arms and made me look bigger and stronger. I know it wasn’t real but I would try to project that strength and hint at potential aggression. To be honest, several of my friends secretly hated that jacket and thought it ugly.
But it did engender a sense of security that has diminished considerably since I transitioned. I did not realize beforehand that I would feel more exposed, more vulnerable as a woman than as a man. It is because I no longer have that protective camouflage: I am no longer hiding behind a costume. I am no longer acting a role: the person people see is the unvarnished reality of who I am.
Without that illusory shield I am more sensitive to potential threats around me. I view every stranger with suspicion, expecting to be insulted indirectly if not to my face.
My actual experience has been more positive. Most people I encounter don’t seem to notice me. The few who do speak tend to express either honest curiosity or positive support. Work has been especially good: people I’d not spoken to before have approached me to wish me well or otherwise offer support. Our neighbors have also been very accepting.
Acceptance makes me happy. It creates a sense of safety: it allows me to feel that I don’t need to hide behind masking behaviors. I don’t need to watch every single move I make, everything I say, in case I let my guard down and draw attention. I am free to act naturally, to truly be myself without fear of being mocked, criticized or otherwise made to feel that the way I am is somehow “wrong”. That is acceptance.
What does it require of other people for acceptance to happen? Not much — only that they allow me to live my life my own way. So long as it doesn’t harm them, what possible problem could they have with that? Unless they’re insecure, closed-minded, prejudiced bigots who see a threat in anything that is different from their own limited experiences. But there can’t be many people like that around, can there?
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