I had finished wrapping the food in foil and putting it in a sack. I said, “Yeah I offered some to the others, but they were good so I have plenty.” I laughed with a sad defeated breath. Smiling, as I always do, I handed the sack over and my friend looked at me:
“Why do you care so much about them? Why do you keep doing nice things for them? It doesn’t matter what they think about you. They don’t matter.”
I was taken aback for a second. It was said with such reverence. I wasn’t even offended or mad because the tone was caring, not scolding or condescending. My friend was being genuine in his want to know what it was that made me hell bent on being nice to people who didn’t give a damn about me. I didn’t even have an answer.
But I kept thinking about it. I kept hearing that question replay in my head Why Do You Care? Because I want to be liked. Why do you care? Because I’m trying to make friends out of enemies. Why do you care? Because I’m trying to prove that I’m more than how they view me and how they think I carry myself. Why. Do. You. Care?
You see my mentor in undergrad taught me that you can’t ask yourself a problematic question just once. You have to ask yourself again, and again to get deeper and deeper to the root cause of your pain, of your suffering. I know I’ve hit the answer when I have that flushed sense of shame, the sting of holding back a few tears, and the familiarity of feeling inadequate.
I care because in my mind, in my brain I have deceived myself into thinking that their acceptance will validate my masculinity. Why do I care? Because as a rape survivor masculinity has always been something I struggle with. Studies have been done that show that we as male survivors don’t get assimilated into masculine culture because of our soul seared brands of victim.
And its this ostracization, this exclusion from having male friendships and male bonds that leads to drug abuse, addictions, loss of identity, alcoholism, depression, and suicides. We feel rejected by our own communities, not because of a choice we made as autonomous individuals but because of a decree that someone else owned our bodies. So we search, and pine, and beg, and pander for love from our hyper-masculine counterparts because we want to be normal.
But once you’re touched by demonic hands you will never be normal again. So theres a battle within us. On one side we are taught to love ourselves, to embrace our vulnerability, to open up and share our stories. On the other side we are reprimanded, ridiculed, bullied, made fun of, called weird, gossiped about, and hated by our male counterparts. How can we embrace ourselves, roll up our sleeves and bare our scars when the people we need understanding from the most are predisposed to not acknowledge our pasts?
In my experience, I can tell people about what happened to me, how its affected me, how its changed me forever with literal structural changes in my brain architecture. But it seems to be forgotten all to easy. I try to form friendships and connections with guys, but 9 times out of 10 they take my kindness as flirtatious behavior. You do one nice thing for a guy and they assume you want to bed them.
Although I may laugh outwardly when I talk about these things to people, inside I hurt. I weep, I scream, I yell, I break things, and I wrack my sense of self trying to figure out how I can be perceived different. How can I find meaningful connections with men without compromising who I am: an altruistic, kind, caring, loving and empathetic human being to everyone — not just a specific gender.
I broke down, because I realized I was doing these things for these people because I was still unloving to parts of myself. I still wanted to be perceived as normal. I wanted these guys to validate my masculinity, as if that would mean something to me. As if that would erase the years of torture I endured. Even though deep down I knew that their words would be empty.
So why do I care? I care because a part of me feels empty for being robbed of a normal childhood. Theres a void in me for never having a group of guys to have a guys night with. Its only ever been filled with painful attempts at finding meaningful connection with these men only to be ridiculed and hated. My emotions have always denied me entrance.
I’ve learned that we get to choose the people we want to be around. We get to choose the people we love and we get to choose who gets to love us in return. I know I didn’t have that choice as a kid, but its the most powerful choice I have now. So why not start with me? As RuPaul says at the end of every episode of his show
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?”