Jan 072013

Why do we refrain from doing things which give us joy? What stops us from seeking our highest potential?

The words of others, negating our abilities; the words adopted into our own internal monologues saying we are not enough: not smart enough; not sexy enough; not pretty enough; not creative enough; not religious enough; not rich enough; not enough. We are stopped before we can begin, stymied and stifled with fear and shame, absolutely convinced of our own inadequacy. Why do we do this to ourselves? To those we love?

We do it because we want to fit in, and we want those we love to fit in with us. We may do it because we believe that a person who deviates from our definitions of normal is committing an egregious (and often sinful) error, or out of fear that we may be excluded from the afterlife as we understand it. When identifying those we perceive as different – and saying things like “I’m not racist but…” or “that is so gay/retarded/lame” we do it to reassure ourselves of our own normalcy and therefore innate goodness.

We create a valuation system where normal – something which, incidentally, none of us are – is the only good, and deviation from the construct of normal is a failure.  The more apparent the deviation, the greater the shame an individual so perceived often feels, and the greater the derision on the part of those doing the judging. Badness or sin becomes a matter of degree: if you can pass as normal, you’re okay; if you can’t, you’re fucked.  Should you have the misfortune of being poor or physically disabled or old or not white or not straight or not a man, you’re going to be judged as less than.  You will be shamed for the color of your skin or your gender or your sexuality. The beauty industry is built on just such suppositions: spend more money, buy this cream and this rinse and this diet and you, too, can be successful, beautiful, smart enough!

We do this because we are taught that other is scary and that scary is bad.  Fear is something to be met with violence and insults – if we yell loudly enough, the monster in the closet will go away.  And while this may work in the short term – we are reassured of our normalcy, the monster in the closet has shut up – in the long term, it can only bring harm.  By refusing to acknowledge our fears, to confront that which makes uncomfortable with a willingness to listen and learn, we stunt ourselves. We also bring harm to others by lashing out in anger and violence, telling them to shut up, to act more normal, deny their inner beauty.

In denying our fear, we deny ourselves. We reinforce the myth that we are not worthy of love, that we do not deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. That we are all prisoners of shame and the myth of normal.

If there is one lesson this life has taught me, it is that if you ignore something it does not go away. It may recede into the background for a while, but the next time it comes back it will be even bigger, hairier, and scarier than before.  Only in facing our fears – and not with pitchforks and torches – can we release ourselves from the bondage of shame.  And that monster in the closet? It may be your new best friend.

Jan 312012

There’s an interesting new book out called Seeking the Straight and Narrow:Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America. In it, author Lynne Gerber discusses the fascinating correlations between attitudes towards fatness and homosexuality.

In a Salon interview about the new book, she notes “If you think about what fatness and gayness represent, they are similar. One is a sort of excess; the idea that fat people have this excessive desire for food, and gay people are depicted as having this excessive sexual tendency. Excess is directly linked to social efforts to control those excesses, to get fat people down to size and gay people into the ‘correct’ sexual orientation.” (Read full article here.)

Social efforts to control excesses, especially within a religious framework, are generally predicated on the notion that conformity is better than non-conformity. Visible deviance from the norm is often met with disdain; at the least, those who do not conform are treated as less than desirable and at the most they may be openly excluded from a group.

But what I wonder is this: why is conformity so desirable? Do we really want to just see others like ourselves? If I want to see myself reflected back, I’ll go look in a mirror. The universe delights in variety; why should it be any different with people? It is our individual experiences which make us unique and beautiful creatures.

Why, then, is conformity so important?

Belonging to a group confers a sense of security. It provides us with the knowledge that there are people who know us and like us just as we are. In community, we have a validated identity and a bulwark against troubled times. However, that security can sometimes come at the sacrifice of individual identity, as individuals compromise their self-image to the will of the group.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can create conscientious, inclusive community which delights in both the similarities and differences that we, as individuals, embody.

What do you think are some ways we can work to create truly inclusive community?

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