The Joy of Acceptance

I’ve written about acceptance before. About how widespread awareness of autism, gender variance and other ways of differing from the majority is a valuable first step but far from enough for us to achieve the kind of inclusive society where differences are visible but not used to judge a person as being “less than” anybody else.

But I have never written about how acceptance feels on the receiving end. I could write about privilege and society, and probably lose half my readers before getting to the end. But I’d rather try to explain in terms that don’t require a degree in social science to understand!

When somebody accepts me for who I am it is not accompanied by pomp and circumstance. There is no fanfare, no ponderous announcement extolling my virtues, no pageantry or bestowing of medals and honors.

The point of acceptance is that it can pass unremarked. That it does pass unremarked. I am just another person going about life in my own way. The way I act, the way I look harms nobody. Acceptance can be a passive act: it can simply mean that I am left to get on with my life without adverse comment.

As somebody who does stand out in public for a number of reasons (I’ve been laughed at by kids outside a local shop because of my physical appearance, and been described as weird because of my poor social skills) it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I step outside my front door. I am never quite sure whether I will face ridicule or even threats of harm.

When I presented as male I looked the part (even if I didn’t act it consistently). There is a power that derives from being male in much of the world, especially a large male. A threat implied by one’s very existence that serves to deflect confrontation. That makes others wary of offending you: a kind of “don’t f*ck with me” aura. It’s not a perfect protection: there are still plenty of people who feel strong enough to attack you with words if nothing else.

I frequently used to wear a leather biker jacket because it made me feel more secure. Even discounting its physical protection it suggested a particular character. As I donned it I took on a certain confidence: its padding emphasized the torso and arms and made me look bigger and stronger. I know it wasn’t real but I would try to project that strength and hint at potential aggression. To be honest, several of my friends secretly hated that jacket and thought it ugly.

But it did engender a sense of security that has diminished considerably since I transitioned. I did not realize beforehand that I would feel more exposed, more vulnerable as a woman than as a man. It is because I no longer have that protective camouflage: I am no longer hiding behind a costume. I am no longer acting a role: the person people see is the unvarnished reality of who I am.

Without that illusory shield I am more sensitive to potential threats around me. I view every stranger with suspicion, expecting to be insulted indirectly if not to my face.

My actual experience has been more positive. Most people I encounter don’t seem to notice me. The few who do speak tend to express either honest curiosity or positive support. Work has been especially good: people I’d not spoken to before have approached me to wish me well or otherwise offer support. Our neighbors have also been very accepting.

Acceptance makes me happy. It creates a sense of safety: it allows me to feel that I don’t need to hide behind masking behaviors. I don’t need to watch every single move I make, everything I say, in case I let my guard down and draw attention. I am free to act naturally, to truly be myself without fear of being mocked, criticized or otherwise made to feel that the way I am is somehow “wrong”. That is acceptance.

What does it require of other people for acceptance to happen? Not much — only that they allow me to live my life my own way. So long as it doesn’t harm them, what possible problem could they have with that? Unless they’re insecure, closed-minded, prejudiced bigots who see a threat in anything that is different from their own limited experiences. But there can’t be many people like that around, can there?

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7 thoughts on “The Joy of Acceptance

  1. Hi Alex, unfortunately, you know, there ARE many people like that; it boggles my mind. All my life I’ve been desperate to be accepted and it wasn’t happening. Finally I realised that the entire problem was that I desperately needed to accept myself, and to accept myself, I first and foremost had to learn to live authentically, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, started out as a nightmare! I stuck to it though, and bit by bit it became easier; the more I accept myself, the less it bothers me what others think. How weird is that!

    • Yes, there are a significant number of people like that out there. I feel that it is most important that everybody has the right to go through life free from harassment for simply being themselves (with the proviso that they are not harming others).

      It is important for your own wellbeing that you accept yourself for who you are. I am as happy as I can be in myself — I do accept myself, which is not to say that I do not feel the discomfort of the disparity between my self-image and the body I have. But there are many in similar situations (autistic and/or transgender) who suffer discrimination and abuse for merely trying to live an authentic life. I believe it is important to work towards general acceptance for all.

      • I hear you, Alex, I really do, but what others do is a reflection of themselves, and unless they find help for their own demons, they are always going to find victims to torment, to hide behind. I have seen folk much uglier than myself escape discrimination and abuse simply because they present themselves with confidence. I know that I present as a victim, which means I am a sitting duck. I still do not know how not to do that entirely, but, in the meantime, I have found that the more I allow myself to be vulnerable, the less it bothers me when others are abusive.
        Have you read ‘Dibs: In Search of Self’ by Virginia Axline, first published in 1965, at time when Autism was not recognised for what it is today. It is the extraordinary true story of a 5 year old who, with help, was able to find his inner self, in so doing changing the family dynamic, one of fear and abuse. That, is what I think we should be striving to do for ourselves and for others.
        I am not sure if this can work for those at the extreme end of discrimination; I would really like to know what you think please.

  2. Reblogged this on bunnyhopscotch and commented:
    Yet another beautiful piece by Alex. Please take time to breathe this in, and let it inhabit you slowly. There is so much in here, woven into the apparent simplicity are rich threads of resonant meaning.

  3. I remember, from an earlier post on your blog, that leather jacket that you put on before going to the pub. I remember that I was moved, but it stopped there.
    Now that you mention it again and explain in clear words the purpose of that leather jacket, I remember vaguely that my idea then was: if he needs to put on a leather jacket to go and have fun in the pub, where is the fun?
    I remember that I used to wear a jeans jacket and a bicycle chain around my neck when I went out to have ‘fun’ in a major European city, in a disreputable part known all over the world. I felt safe in that attire and nothing ever happened to me. As a woman in her fifties, diagnosed autistic a couple of years ago, I now look back to that woman in her early twenties as someone playing a role… a clown pretending…
    And yet, had I missed those moments, I might not be the woman that I am today, confident talking about the differences, the little things that make that I am different from many (1 in 68 children is the latest number I have come across). No, I do not mention the a-words, autism, Asperger, I just talk about me being afraid of something, oversensible to something and thus having to work hard – invisible to others – to overcome my worries, fears before I and the others embark on the same task. And people seem to understand.
    Thanks for reminding me of the difference!

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