You Should Be … Totally Free To Be You

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Existence. Being human. Having rights. Being free to be different. If you are here on this planet you have a right to be here. Just like any other species even the zebra or the aardvark.

The anniversary of the Stonewall Riots marks fifty years since one of the more important events in the history of human existence occurred. It is one of many in our evolution that ultimately launched a validation process for yet another facet of human differences. Not unlike the civil rights or feminist movements. It makes me wonder why we make it so difficult for each other to exist? Shouldn’t we have learned by now, even based on historical events, that we are not all going to fit into one and the same box? That we can’t force another human to be something they are not and expect good outcomes?

This weekend as we celebrate Pride, and especially if you are not, this article may be for you. This anniversary also marks an important shift in professional practice for psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. There was a time almost fifty years ago when we were held to diagnosing homosexuality as a mental disorder. A disease. An illness. It wasn’t until after the Uprising at Stonewall that the conversations began to change and slowly over twenty years the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders changed and finally removed the classification. It makes you wonder what else is in there that maybe is ill-placed (pun intended).

While I’m not an official part of the community myself I have the privilege of working with treasured colleagues and friends over the years who are. I have and continue to serve the LGBTQI community through my work with clients. Clients who enrich and have added significant value to my professional experience and informed me as a fellow human. Individuals who showed me the difference between love and acceptance and mere tolerance. Many who helped expand my thinking about the richness of that diversity. Who helped me understand a fight to simply “be”.

Unfortunately, many clients from the LGBTQI community who come to see me do so because of social dictates that have challenged their sense of self-identity and broken their spirit. Being boxed, labeled, dismissed, and set aside. Often not being understood or having to explain their existence. Although, no one should have to justify who they are, some are even being categorized as having a mental illness because of what they “should be” and don’t measure up to. The stress and pressure is simply too much. Environments that seed and breed disordered anxiety and depressive experiences yet then classify and medicate for having an adverse response to it all. Environments where love, acceptance, and belonging does not exist. Yet the clients question themselves and internalize it because they want to fit in and belong to what they want to love even when that involves rejection. They can’t make sense of the incongruence and begin to feel bad about self. Everyone from later adulthood to the young teen struggling in the same way and shouldn’t have to. No one should have to feel bad for their existence. It is unimaginable that we as a society and culture allow that type of environment to exist.

All clients inevitably come with fears of, or having experienced, rejection from the ones they love and hold as most important in their life. Their own parents, family, or friends. Fear of being “put outside the gates”, kicked out of the house, or being alone. Not being able to be a part of their “tribe”. Something that we all want and need in order to thrive. For some it is a religious restriction or other belief system that creates a barrier. Even though all religions advocate for love we put restrictions even on that.

There may be many out there reading this who do not support the community. I can understand that change is never easy, and it can be difficult to feel connected to something we don’t understand. As humans we tend to be drawn to what is familiar and easy. It takes intentional effort to adopt new views and explore new sides to our and other’s existence. However, once we put aside “right vs wrong” we can begin to see what is through someone else’s view and to do so without judgment. The saying that “you can’t please everyone” and “everybody is not going to like everything” is very fitting here. It all starts with wanting to see. To lift our veil of perception to believing that even though someone has completely different way of living and experiencing the world, doesn’t make them wrong. We must choose to look outside of our own inner world.

If you are struggling with this it may help to think about what you love about being you, your life, your preferences, freedoms, and abilities. If you have none, then that may be a problem in and of itself. If we are unhappy with ourselves and have our own limitations it can be easier to be critical of others. To ride our own high horse and look down on others. It may be the only way we feel we have power. But, what if what you loved and valued came under scrutiny, ridicule, and limitation? What if you were abused for being you? Would you feel emotionally and psychologically compromised? Yes of course you would. We want to do what we love and be who we are. We all want to know that we are ok and not have to struggle to be something else.

This is especially true in our early developmental years. We seek to find a representation of how we feel and what we think. To see ourselves in the world and to fit in. Even Sesame Street teaches that “one of these things is not like the other” almost establishing perceptual limitations. Albeit with good intent. No matter who you are or what orientation you are of, you know what that is like. Not fitting in or not having your go-to group of friends. Maybe it is being invited to a gathering. Maybe you don’t go because you don’t know anyone, or you are frustrated standing in line when suddenly someone strikes up a conversation, even if it is complaining about the wait, you find that you have something in common, and after a while the line becomes bearable. What changed? You found a fit. This is all we are looking for. No matter gender, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or any other classification of human difference.

Pride is about life experiences that keep us feeling connected. Having a community. A tribe to belong to. That validate who we are. It is central to our existence. Unfortunately, we count quantity not quality. Just because something is the majority doesn’t make it better. It just makes it more frequent. Look at online “followings”. The more the better? Maybe but that depends on how you define “better”. Through history we have equated better with more. This is a mindset that defeats our ability to see beyond a norm to appreciate that which isn’t common in our life. People gravitate to that which speaks to them. Negativity and being rejected does not. No matter who you are, being in that environment will cause you to feel ill, either physically or otherwise. It does not mean we have a disorder. It means we have conditions that are not optimal to thrive in. As a society we must do better. We must be quick to recognize the boxes we put people in, often in an attempt to make ourselves feel comfortable. We must find ways to break free and allow others to be free. Rights is more than equality. It is having an equitable and positive human experience. After all you won’t see a lion say to the Giraffe “be a lion or there is something wrong with you”. Nature has its way and as humans we have a choice. To embrace life’s beauty in all its forms or live in our darkness.

So, what can we agree on if we don’t like certain things? How can we validate each other’s existence and make it easier for each other? By recognizing something we all value. Freedom. Today as the Pride community celebrates and we are around the corner of celebrating Independence Day, we can stand together in support of continued striving towards liberty and rights to be free to be who we are. If you take a moment to think about all the times you’ve either complained, criticized, or argued with someone over these types of issues you know how exhausting it is. When we are busy trying to convince people, it means we are also busy forgoing a day and opportunity to enjoy our life. To celebrate our own freedoms and let people have theirs. If you think you can’t identify and celebrate with the Pride celebration, I encourage you to think again.

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit in or belong, or were limited in what you were allowed to be or do, you are someone who can identify with the Pride community. Even if it was a long time ago as a teenager and your parents complained about your long hair, torn jeans, or friends, you know what the experience and those feelings are. Tap into that aspect of yourself and recognize how others have larger battles even into adulthood like that of the LGBTQI community. Battles for even the simplest of rights that you and I take for granted. This is what it is all about. The equitable human existence. It is something we can all understand and respect no matter our religion, beliefs, or opinions. We can choose to embrace our differences not in tolerance but in love and acceptance for others right to be a human in the world we live in. To be what we aspire without judgment. Life is difficult enough – let go of hatred, let go of labels and scripts. Free humanity into all its beauty to blossom and ride its rainbow! You included… Let it go. Celebrate!

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