by Sophie Jackson
The first time I remember feeling ashamed of myself was when I was six or seven years old and I cut my own hair during class. My teacher made me tell my mum what I had done and I cried as she frowned at me.
The first time I remember trying to be something I’m not was even earlier – maybe five years old. My mum took me and my brother to the mall to see Santa and when he asked me what I wanted I said ‘world peace’ because I thought it would make me look like a good girl. The confusion in the mall-Santa’s voice suggested my plan hadn’t worked.
I don’t know how I got it into my head at such a young age that I needed to worry about how other people saw me, or that I should feel afraid to be my true self. I remember being a very loud and dramatic child; no doubt the adults around me wanted me to be calm and sensible, like a proper little child. Whatever the reason, I’ve spent most of my life worrying about how my hair, my clothes, my accent, my taste in music, my hobbies, my friends, the decisions I make, the language I use – anything I think could possibly be identified as uniquely or oddly me – could be seen as uncool and would strike me at my core to be mocked for. I’ve hidden just about anything interesting or real about myself in the hopes that I could mould to the likes and dislikes of the people around me, to always be liked above all else.
For one day, I dared myself to be exactly who and what I wanted to be. It was a Saturday.
My first thoughts on waking up were anxious ones about what I was going to wear that day and how I could hide my tattoo from my mum. Not the best start. I normally wait to get up until my boyfriend starts to stir, so we’ll be ready and out of the house at the same time. Instead I decided to go out early and run some errands by myself, maybe listen to a podcast on the way. We were going to a Pride parade later that day so I wanted to get things done before it all kicked off.
Spend 10 minutes in the shower stressing about whether my t-shirt is going to cover my tattoo. Decide to forget about it and wear it anyway.
Put on some very bright pink eyeshadow and decide to tuck my t-shirt into my bra to make it cropped. It’s hard to describe but looks unexpectedly nice.
Step outside and realise my flat is right in the middle of where the Pride parade is getting set up. Step back inside in a moment of anxiety and ask my boyfriend to come with me. He says no and I decide to suck it up and go out anyway (!).
I get back from the errands and put up a big Pride flag in our window, facing the main road. It feels like I picked a good day to dare myself to be me and be proud.
I do a small cry at the Pride parade but decide not to be embarrassed about it. My boyfriend goes to kiss me and I hesitate, because I’ve never been with a boyfriend at a queer event and I don’t know for a split second if it’s rude for us to kiss there? I would worry about it but I decide not to care and kiss him anyway. I’m bisexual and he’s my partner, we’re allowed to be part of Pride.
I bump into two friends who look guilty to see me – probably because they didn’t invite me to hang out with them. I resist the urge to dwell on why they didn’t invite me and go off to find lunch.
I felt a bit worried about the birthday present I bought my brother because my dad wasn’t convinced it was the right thing. It’s a frame with a collection of instant photos of our family. I’m glad I stuck to my idea because I think he’ll really like it.
“Being yourself – or maybe the person you’d like to be – is really, really hard.”
I want to post a picture of me and my boyfriend at Pride on Instagram. I feel nervous and hesitant about it because this is the first time I’ve had a boyfriend during Pride season and I constantly go back and forth about how much space I should take up as a bisexual in a ‘heterosexual’ relationship. I write a caption that reads ‘Bisexual and proud. Happy Pride’ and post it. The world doesn’t end.
We arrive, after a lengthy drive, at my parents’ house to celebrate my brother’s birthday. Despite the anxiety I feel about my family and my boyfriend getting along, I do my best to behave like I normally would at home, not be on ‘best behaviour’. I keep forgetting about my dare to myself and slipping into a mindset of trying to make myself disappear. It’s not easy to let yourself be yourself when you’ve spent so many years avoiding it.
We go out for a walk and to buy some dinner. Normally I would rush around and try to keep myself to an imaginary schedule in my head, but I don’t really worry about how long we’re out for. We end up having dinner at about 9pm, but we also got to see some of the town and we ended up cooking ourselves something delicious.
I don’t make any excuses for eating a pizza and cooking hash browns to go with it. I’m tempted to but I don’t.
I expected I might have an epiphany on the day about how wonderful it is to be yourself, but really it was something I had to constantly remind myself to do, to interrogate every decision I made, and often actually forgot I was meant to be doing it all together. By the time I went to bed, I had forgotten entirely and was in my usual anxious mood. Being yourself – or maybe the person you’d like to be – is really, really hard.
As much as we want to be understood, empathised with, and recognised as our authentic selves, I think most of us are too scared to really be the person that at our core we feel we could be. Think about your values, ideas and world views you hold most dear; I would say mine are kindness, community, liberation from oppression, creativity, freedom of expression. Think about how you’d like to feel. Powerful? Unique? Listened to? Happy? Think about what parts of everyday life make you feel more like yourself; is it playing music? Wearing bright colours? Cooking a meal for your family? Going to work? What’s something you don’t do that you’re scared of, because you know it would make you feel so radically you that you can’t bear the idea of letting other people see it and judge it?
Daring to be who we really, genuinely want to be goes beyond wearing bright pink eyeshadow or eating a pizza when we felt guilty about not eating a salad. It’s about connecting with your culture, your sexuality, your values and ideals – it’s about understanding what your ideal version of yourself is (not what society thinks the ideal version of you is) in line with your values and with what you love, and finding small ways every day to live a life that is closer to that. Being bravely and daringly yourself isn’t something you can do in one day. It’s something you prioritise each day. We become ourselves one step at a time: unfollowing someone on Instagram who makes you feel inadequate, or starting a new project that you’ve never even let yourself really think about trying out of fear that you’d fail. Over time you might find that those small dares to yourself, every single day, helped you become the person you always thought was too far away, too different, too vulnerable to criticism, but you so desperately wanted to be.
Sophie Jackson | @sophlynne | sophlynne.com
Sophie is a Kiwi writer living in Kent, England. She writes mostly about what she knows: mental health, pop culture and queerness.