I’ve certainly spoken before about double standards; generally those that are found in the context of navigating society as a very open, visibly queer or trans person. For example, how it’s much more difficult for us to access safe & dignified healthcare, or how many hoops we have to jump through in order to get identity documents, or how we’re often subjected to invasive, inappropriate and degrading questioning from total strangers.
Today, I want to talk about double standards again. But this time, I’m not dealing with the ones that society subjects us to. Rather, I want to discuss the ones that we hold ourselves to.
I’m pretty certain that we all have baggage, to one or another extent. The specifics of it might differ – where it came from, how it arose, that sort of thing – but I think it’s probably a very common and very relatable peculiarity of the human condition that we all have our points of insecurity. Those things that make us feel as though we just aren’t good enough, or that we never deserve any better.
I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, but I think I recognise that much of my own baggage comes out of my childhood. From isolation, from emotional abuse, from fear. From being conditioned to take the blame and shoulder the burden of responsibility whenever my father lost his temper. Most often, it really had nothing to do with me; I can see that clearly in retrospect, but at the time, such a thought never even entered my mind. I just assumed (and this is so often the pattern in any kind of abusive relationship) that whatever transpired was my fault, and that if I behaved differently (or better), perhaps it could be avoided.
I hated conflict. I was afraid. In my recent years, I’ve become a lot better at feigning confidence. And in some instances, even in fostering actual confidence. But I still avoid confrontation when I can. If a principle of mine, or someone I care about is threatened, then I’ll bare my claws without hesitation. But if it’s just about me? More often than not, I’ll back away and let it go. Because it just isn’t worth it. Sometimes, because I’m just not worth it.
And being queer doesn’t help. Or, more accurately, the way society treats queer people doesn’t help. Already, I come from a space where my default reaction is to attribute blame to myself (because that was the pattern for so many years). It’s often illogical and utterly irrational, but it’s like a reflex. It just happens. And the queerness and the gayness and the transness… each of those is just another reason to feel guilty. Because, as I’ve frequently discussed here before, it’s very unusual for queer people of my generation to not have any hangups over their identities. After all, we are the ones who are always portrayed as villainous, or as sick, or as objects rather than people. We’re the characters in the story who never get a happy ending. It almost goes without saying – we don’t deserve a happy ending.
Of course, it’s not just my generation. This kind of damage is still being done to queer youth. We’re making progress, but there is still a very long way to go, indeed.
The conditioning is powerful, but that isn’t the only phenomenon at work here, either. Sure, I was taught (explicitly or implicitly) all sorts of harmful ideas about queer folk, and I apply them all to myself. But, over and above all that, I also have a wealth of personal experience to reinforce it all. I’ve lost friends. I’ve been rendered unemployable. I’ve been stared at and spoken about. I’ve been degraded by doctors. I’ve been spurned by partners. The common denominator in all of these occurrences? Me. Sure, the people in question might hold prejudice or hate or whatever-ugly-qualities in their hearts. But it’s really difficult not to think – not to feel – that had I been different (or better), these bad things wouldn’t have happened. But, because I’m not, of course they did.
Of course they did.
Because… I deserved it.
I wouldn’t exactly say I have many friends, but I do have a few, and they’re wonderful people for whom I am really grateful. Some of them are queer, some of them are straight, some of them just defy labels altogether. The point I want to make really isn’t whether or not they’re LGBTQIA; it’s that I don’t think any less of them based on who or what they are.
Of course I don’t.
Because I know that making judgments about people based on criteria like that is absurd. Because I would never do that. Because queer is beautiful, and diversity is to be celebrated, and because there’s no shame in being who we are. I don’t just know it intellectually. I feel it, I believe it, with all my heart and every iota of my being.
And if one of those people in my life is upset or sad or angry, or feels like they aren’t good enough because of who they are… I’ll remind them that it isn’t true. That it’s a voice in their head, spewing poison that’s been brewed up by a hateful and intolerant society. Or that it’s a product of bad experiences that they were subjected to, that they never should have faced. That they suffered – unfairly – because of individuals or society or whatever. That none of it is a reflection on them, and that they aren’t to blame.
Of course I’d say those things.
They’re true. Totally, utterly, completely true.
So. Why. Can’t. I. Say. Those. Things. To.
Not to be awfully boastful, but I’m told I’m a pretty smart girl. I have a lot of insight into the human condition. I question a lot of things. I’m extraordinarily self-aware.
I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’m horribly unfair on myself. I recognise the double standards. I know exactly where they came from, and I can pinpoint why I have the reflexes and the reactions that I do.
But I’m still subject to all of it.
Breaking those patterns is difficult. Of course, we all know that we’re supposed to be immune to what other people think of us. That validation and affirmation should come from within and not from without. But those ideals aren’t always very practical. When we’ve been beaten down so many times before, the risk of having it happen again becomes all too real. Maybe there’s some part of us that just believes it’s better not to build ourselves back up; that living amidst the insecurity and the inadequacy will at least spare us the pain of another potential fall.
Breaking it down like that, it’s hard not to see the tragedy in it. In knowing that we deserve better, but refusing to believe it lest we fall victim to further abuse. That the risk of getting hurt again outweighs the constant pain and melancholy.
It’s an oversimplification, needless to say. Because it’s not just a simple matter of making a choice to love oneself more and being done with it. It’s a constant process, one that takes persistent effort. One that becomes tiring, sometimes. One that requires energy in abundance, and that can quickly exhaust us, especially when we’re trying to conduct it within environments that are already hostile.
I don’t have many answers. Unsurprisingly. I’m puzzling my way through this day-by-day and bit-by-bit. Reminding myself when I’m unfair to me. Learning to let other people back in. Listening to them when they tell me that I am worth it. Trying to believe it, instead of just knowing it.
I don’t expect it to be easy, or without hiccups, or speedbumps, or maybe even mountains in the way. But maybe, if I can work on it, I could get just that little bit better. Maybe some of the fear and apprehension might give way instead to hope. I think it’s something worth trying for, at the least.