Flexing new muscles

I was taught from an early age how to anticipate the needs of others and mold myself to meet them, which also means that I was raised to hitch my happiness and self worth to my ability to keep those around me happy.  At times this history feels like a gift- these skills that were instilled in me from the moment I was born make me a good listener, a good friend, and a perceptive person, and they make me good at my job as a social service provider. I can read people and social dynamics quickly and fluently.The problem is what comes after the read, or simultaneous to it: the impulse to change myself to accommodate the needs that I perceive. More often than not I make these changes subconsciously: shifting my body to more fully face the person that I am talking to, because I can sense that they need reassurance, or subtly changing my tone to be more gentle because the person I’m addressing seems taken aback by the force of my words.The content of each of these incidents is harmless, and viewed alone they are no cause for concern. It’s the quiet creep of a lifetime of these little moments that freaks me out. Billions of moments like these are why I often find myself, in my late 20s, bewildered by my lack of ability to parse out my genuine reaction from the one I believe I’m supposed to have.

Talking about what I am not sorry for is a way of articulating who I am in the face this alienation from my own feelings. As a wise human told me recently, figuring out who we are is a two-fold exercise: understanding what we do want, and understanding what we don’t want. Often the second part comes first- I am able to begin to recognize what I want to say “yes” to once I’m clear about what my hard “no’s” are. For me The Not Sorry Project is both processes at once. “I’m not sorry for loving butch women” is as much a statement about what I don’t want and will not make space for in my life- shame about my sexuality and the people that I choose to love- as it is a proclamation about what I do want: to openly and joyfully acknowledge a piece of myself in the face of potential shame and hatred.

Given that I've spent 27 years downplaying my genuine physical and emotional reactions to all kinds of situations, I am also finding undeniable pleasure in the act of asserting myself through my Not Sorrys. I’ve noticed lately that this firmness, this taking up of space, has started to inform my interpersonal interactions as well. My assertive muscles are getting stronger, and some days I'm a little drunk on this new ability to more fully inhabit my own body and mind. It feels like a step in the right direction.