Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Message from Black

This one from

Sara : Blend in, or shine differently?

I've stood out my entire life, whether I wanted to or not (and I rarely ever wanted to). I'm 6'2" now and was always the tallest girl in my class as well as taller than almost all of the boys. My elementary school let me skip grades, so I was two years younger than all of my classmates. I graduated high school and started college at the age of 16. My last name was Lebanese and drew a lot of negative attention and Arab insults. When I started college, I was majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in math – two fields where I was often one of only a handful of women in a large lecture hall. Now I am a middle school teacher whose students frequently ask me questions about my tattoos and piercings. At most meals, I am the only vegan at the table. And everyone I run into seems a bit taken aback by the fact that I am an amateur Muay Thai kickboxer.

When we're younger, it seems that we make note of people's differences in order to tease them for the ways in which they are not like us. Being called "towel head" and "camel jockey" all throughout grade school certainly seemed to prove this point to me. So did being made fun of for my height and having men constantly imply that I was a lesbian simply because I was of larger stature than almost everyone else around me. The more I stood out, the more I wanted to blend in. I was always shy and a bit of a bookworm, so having attention drawn to me for negative reasons just made me retreat that much more. I was really fortunate to find a group of friends in high school that began to slowly draw me out of my shell.

As I've gotten older, the teasing and insults have given way to a whole new realm of issues concerning the ways that I stand out. The most noticeable area of my life where this occurs is in trying to start new relationships. I'm a combat-wounded veteran of several different dating sites, currently holding steady at one restraining order and a list of blocked phone numbers the length of my arm. Over years of dating, the one constant comment that I have gotten from potential suitors is that they are "intimidated" by me. Most of the time, this was based on my height and came from people that felt insecure about the idea of dating someone taller than them. Lately, I have also been getting the word "intimidating" thrown around because of the fact that I kickbox, regardless of the fact that I've never punched anyone no matter how badly a first date was going.

For a time, I was really bothered by this reaction. My first impulse was to change my profile – edit out the bits about my kickboxing, or being a vegan, or having an opinion on politics. Keep myself bland and neutral and, most importantly, unthreatening. Let me people find out about me just a little bit at a time, in tiny increments that they would hopefully be able to handle. Perhaps stop listing my height as well -- just leave it blank and let them discover this the first time they met me.

This all felt wrong though. Why should I have to hide who I am? And why would I want to get involved with someone who was so threatened by the person that I have turned out to be? It has taken a while, but I've finally started to come to terms with the fact that I will always stand out from the crowd in some way (and this will always be a bit scary for me, but that's okay). I've learned that the people who really matter will be able to view the things that set me apart from others and love me for these things, rather than feel threatened or intimidated by them. Most importantly of all though, I've learned that there is never a good reason for me to dim my own light simply to make other people feel more comfortable. To do so would be a discredit not only to myself but also to the people in my life who already love me, just as I am.

Bold emphasis mine! Did anyone else have this powerful message to Be ThemSelves when working with Black? To confront their deep dark secret Selves and Be OK with it? It seems like all I'm working through this time around...

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