The Heartbreak of Being Yourself

I was half-way through Cal Newport’s New Yorker article “Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting?” when this video interrupted the text and stopped me in my tracks.

A Gay Farmer on Love, Isolation, and Disrupting the Meat Industry in Australia

Jon Wright reminded me so much of my father.

My father was a burly, six foot tall man, who was a woodworker, hunter, and had grown up on a farm. He was the epitome of a “man’s man”, yet he was a heterosexual crossdresser.

I grew up in a small rural Alberta town. My dad didn’t reveal his secret to me until I was nearly 17 years old. In some ways, it wasn’t a surprise — he was open-minded and always sought to understand the roots and reasoning of why something was as it was. I understood why he had to keep his secret. I understood, too, the heartbreak of never been seen or accepted as yourself.

For much of my life, I saw my dad struggle with loneliness, isolation and depression, and being torn between societal expectations and being himself.

I had a conversation with a friend this week about feeling obliged to live up to the expectations of others. Often the expectations are real and explicit — as outlined in a code of conduct policy or parents listing the household chores of a child — often, however, these expectations are perceived and implied.

Social mores are a group’s expectations of individual members of that group. Often they are unwritten rules that govern acceptable behaviour within that group and are usually accepted without question. Social mores are often demonstrated through non-verbal behaviour — eye contact, avoidance, a smile, violence. Social mores are often slower to change because they tend to function as a cohesive tool for the group’s survival. In days of old, it was safer to be within a group than to be alone. Social mores kept the individual safe by maintaining the cohesion of the group. To ensure cohesion and safety, social mores often implicitly advocate for a homogenous group population — if everyone’s the same, we’ll all be safe. There is safety in the known sameness. The bottomline is that social mores are about the group, not the individual.

Once upon a time, being gay was a crime.

Once upon a time, being an unwed mother meant social rejection.

Once upon a time, hiding your uniqueness meant safety.

From Angus Reid Institute

There are many, many people in the world who are isolated and alone yet live within a social group. Many are afraid that their uniqueness will cause them to be ejected from their group. However, their drive — need, even — to express their true selves is causing great friction both within themselves and within their group. Instead of the group protecting them, the group is now destroying them from the inside out.

If the internet has taught us anything it’s that being different is no longer different. The world is seemingly now filled with people revelling in and broadcasting their differences. Being unique is now common. And hallelujah to that!

Being different no longer means being alone, isolated and unsafe.

The internet has given us a new group, one that will accept us for who we are, unconditionally. We just need to reach out and find those who will accept us. We need to know that hiding our true selves is no longer a safe or healthy way to live. We need to know that being different isn’t just okay, it’s essential. And we can find a group to support us and nurture our health as we embrace our differences.

My heart goes out to Jon Wright, my dad, and everyone else who has or is struggling with being exactly who they are. Thank you for sharing your secret. Thank you for sharing your struggle, internal and external. Thank you for being yourself. You are helping to make the world a better place. It may still have a ways to go, but we’ll get there thanks to you.

Be exactly who you are. The world needs you. And know that you are loved, seen, and part of a group that supports you.

Further Reading

Angus Reid Institute – A Portrait of Social Isolation and Loneliness in Canada today

The Conversation – Social isolation linked to higher levels of inflammation – new study

Greater Good Magazine – How to Find Strength in Being Different

Association for Psychological Science – Social Acceptance and Rejection: The Sweet and the Bitter

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