When I was a wee one, I had a realization that left me angered and confused. My mother told me I couldn’t play soccer at recess because only the boys were allowed to play. This was back in 1982, so gender equity was not where it is today.
I was pissed.
1. Why couldn’t I play too?
2. What do you mean I’m a girl?
This initial taste of the double standard around sex and gender and it being supported by the person I trusted most in the world was nothing compared to the fact that I hadn’t even known that I was a girl in the first place.
It was at this moment, the ripe old age of 4, that I understood that I did not feel like a girl inside.
As time marched on, this truth haunted me. On picture days I fought being put in a dress. I entered classroom after classroom where I was told to act like a lady. I came to expect the look of confusion and irritation on my teacher’s faces when I didn’t conform to the way they thought I ought to be.
All of it told me one thing… you do not belong here kid.
Belonging is one of the most important aspects of human development. As referenced by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, belonging ranks in the top 5 needs for healthy individual growth after only physical needs like food, shelter, and safety.
An inherent sense of belonging is not only essential to an individual’s survival and ability to thrive in life, but also to the groups.
I knew to keep this revelation a secret.
As I went through those formative years, my gender ‘secret’ imprinted on my consciousness again and again – I could never really belong to this group called humanity. So powerful was this belief, that as I grew up and adapted into a loving human in society, I could never fully receive the love and acceptance shown to me by so many amazing souls who crossed my path.
I used isolation and masking myself as my greatest coping mechanism.
I became a homebody and went out very little and when I did (school, parties and social events) I tried my best to be the person I thought I was supposed to be.
I realized some things doing this.
1. Reflection is the master of all deflections.
- I came to think of myself as the artful dodger. When I simply and kindly told people what I saw in them, they would cease to see me as much. I drew the conclusion then that being seen was much more erotic and addictive than seeing another.
2. Most people who feel truly seen want you around.
- It became a measure of self value that I could be loved and included, even though I actually offered very little personal information of my true self. Because I had this secret, I learned to be funny and light. I learned to move on quickly from anything that would potentially require more of me.
3. Being loved as you are while not allowing another to truly know you is an excruciating experience of chronic loneliness.
- The deflection and deception of who I was and how I felt inside only served to create exactly the environment I hoped for, and none of the relief I needed inside. Instead I continued to be haunted by the specter of being othered. This would manifest as a feeling of a hole in my chest, a dark and depressed mood and a certainty that it would never change. Despair became a constant companion, one that I believed no one could really understand.
It took me until 18 or so before I started to tip the scales. At university, I took a risk, kissed a girl and began to identify as LGBTQI, amidst much initial shame and confusion. I knew I was on the right track because I felt such unparalleled joy that it was undeniable to me.
And so I began to do the self work that was necessary to allow this pleasure without the shameful and guilty side effects.
This monumental decision began my journey of truly discovering what it meant to belong. It took me through many ups and downs – from great loves and heartbreaks to learning to love my shadow and about the necessity of reciprocity in relationships and in all of natural life. It became less about who I loved but rather how I let myself be seen.
The journey showed me the collective pain that we all hold and the desire to truly be known; a desire I have come to realize is in fact a need.
Belonging is defined by Merriam Webster as – close or intimate relationship.
Fast forward a decade of intentional self work, plant medicine ceremonies, training in a variety of disciplines in the art of loving, four years at a transformational energy medicine school, hundreds of books from self help to the science of anatomy and physics – all were my friends on my path.
I developed and maintained a strict discipline of meditation and honest self reflection in my daily life. And I met so many beautiful teachers and friends who inspired me and kept pointing me back to myself along the way. But the most important tool I developed was compassion and self forgiveness. The power of this alone can move mountains of loneliness and disconnection.
And you know what happened?
The mean inner voices and nights of loneliness started to fade. The hole in my chest filled when I wasn’t looking. Instead, I began to see the interconnectedness in all things. My relationships became clear and honest. I felt known, loved and vital in my life and filled with purpose and direction.
And it isn’t easy. It requires daily recommitment to myself, the ability to weather all the internal storms and to be brave and honest in my relationships. But it’s so so worth it.
In doing all of this, I also came to realize one of the great paradoxes.
While we all need community and to feel like we belong in order to thrive, we can’t feel truly known until we know our own hearts, our own vast inner landscape. No matter what happens, my truest home is within myself.
No matter where I find myself, I finally know that I belong.