Guys, if you tire of reading about the same dang thing, let me know and I’ll stop.
By now we all know that about five and a half years ago I made a huge life change. I left a career path that had been in my bones until about a year before I decided to abandon it. My wife and I moved to a different part of the state, she started a new job, and I went boldly into the unknown. With the fresh start I had, I set out on a journey towards authenticity. As I take account of the last 5 years (Jason Robert Brown, anyone?), I’m beginning to be able to name all of the things that I’ve felt for a while that had been innominate. It’s interesting, really, because all of this is basically happening in retrospect. I guess hindsight really is 20/20.
I’ve learned that I’m somewhat introverted (and I don’t mean that in the “It’s cool and different and trendy to be introverted” thing that’s been happening lately. And I don’t possess ALL the qualities of an introvert; just a few, and at varying degrees.) I’ve attained the ability to identify my emotions (which is weird, sometimes). My mind almost always goes too deep for normal conversation, and most of what I think is veiled when spoken…mainly because the thought of explaining myself is too exhausting to even take a stab at it. My eyes have been opened to how human we all really are. I’ve seen how selfless I am capable of being, and that even when it shows sometimes in my actions, my heart still has a long way to go. I’m still learning to be satisfied, to aspire to greatness, but moreover, to keep sight of reality. I’m realizing how important the things that I delight in actually are in my life, even if they’ve caused me great angst and pain in the past. But probably most of all, my confidence in being who I am is ever increasing.
I realize that the preceding paragraph might have sounded entirely boastful. I hope that’s not what you take away from it – be sure that the lessons that I’ve learned during these past 5 years typically came from a place of being humbled in some sort of way. I considered adding “pride swallowing” to the list above, but that’ll be a lifelong battle, and the fight against that nasty beast is a constant struggle for me.
There are three things that seem to stick out in my head as avenues by which I came to these beginning phases of authenticity. My goal in sharing these things with you is to hopefully inspire you to turn inward and get a better grip at what actually happens on your insides. I still think that if we were all completely authentic, the world would actually be a better place. I’m finding that true authenticity is a journey that will last a long time, and quite the difficult one at that. In the very least, maybe something I say will resonate with you that may challenge how you think, or allow you to see somebody in a different light. Or maybe none of that, and if you read the rest of this, I think you’re awesome.
Consider this part 1 of a 3 part series.
I’m an anomaly.
An anomaly is something that deviates from what is standard or expected.
I don’t know, guys, what is actually expected of me? Just because something is standard, is that what our expectations are? I don’t know. All I know is, for my entire life there has seemed to be a standard to meet as a man, and for most of my life I haven’t met it. As it turns out, I was never actually “less than,” and “not meeting the standard” doesn’t mean I fell short. I’m just different, I guess.
I mean, I’m a ballet dancer. I know I know, you all know that bla bla bla, shut your mouth, Terence, we get it – but let that sink in your brain a little bit. I would imagine that some of you might find it quite odd, even though I keep beating you over the head with it. And I know this because that perception makes up a vast majority of the response I have gotten to my art form for basically my entire life. It’s not normal. The art form itself is not normal (even though it ranks right up there with singing/using your voice – we are all given the tools to dance, so it seems quite primitive to me) – you’ve got girls and guys dancing around in tights, the girls standing (and turning and moving) in deathboxes of shoes on the tip of their big toe, guys carrying girls over their heads (sometimes with one arm), girls with their legs up by their ears, guys soaring through the air – sometimes with a 720° added to it – THIS IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR. Even less normal, speaking in terms of the dance world, are male dancers. Women are a dime a dozen, and it would seem that men are somewhat of a precious commodity. Even still, in our culture, being a male dancer is an EXTREME deviation from what is normal or expected.
This bleeds into other areas of my life. Music, TV, fashion, hobbies, interests, social life, relationships, jobs, and on and on. Even though I like Mario Kart from time to time, you’re not gonna find me “hangin’ with my buddies playin’ video games” or “catchin’ the football game.” Is that how you say it? Catchin’? Speaking of which, I don’t even know how to speak “typical male.” Do I call you guys “bro” or “man” or “buddy”? “Sport”? Forgive me if I don’t address you specifically beyond a “hey” next time I see you. I don’t wind down with a beer, I don’t have a desire to play 9 holes (nor could I, really), and don’t ever, EVER, ask me to play basketball. I’m tall, yes, and mega coordinated, but I’m gonna save myself the embarrassment and just stay away from that whole thing altogether. (Unless my son wants to play basketball, in which case I will absolutely take necessary interest in it and go to as many games as I possibly can.)
I know it sounds like I’m bashing all these things. I’m not, and truly speaking in jest. While these things don’t reflect much of my personality, I don’t think they are bad in any way. Actually, I think it’s kinda cool that there are certain characteristics that mark the male gender as a whole. For example, when I look at the sports that most guys take great interest in, what I really see is passion that is almost unrivaled. I see it in the players, the coaches, and the fans. I can identify with that. I also see a great sense of community. Sports have a way of drawing people together (men and women, and men and men) in a world where most everything else divides. I can identify with that, too. Obviously, this passion can be taken WAY too far and crossover into something stupid and nauseating, but I love that it exists.
I’ve known these things about myself for a long time, but being able to have peace about my anomalistic nature has been a struggle. Imagine if the things that you love, that feel most natural to you, were under constant scrutiny. Imagine if that scrutiny made you feel separate from the rest of the world. Imagine if the constant destruction of the things you hold dear, that you take great delight in, that you pour your heart into, were used to make you feel not good enough, sub par, not worthy, less than, vapid, and of little value. The hardest fight I had was in middle school. So much changes in our young lives during those years, and I had to fight for my own legitimacy at 13 years old all by myself. My family was most definitely supportive, but during those years the opinion of your peers is more important, even if it shouldn’t be. Still, there is some importance to feeling like you have a specific role in the community around you. I am still not sure I ever did back then. I wonder if that season of life cemented who I was to become. Most directions I turned were dead ends and I was only left to turn inward – to my own heart, my own brain, my own emotions…to this day I am incredibly independent and internal.
It’s interesting, though. The things that make me an anomaly are the very things that were despised about me; the things that made me retreat. Yet those exact things are what should’ve been turned outward, shared, and appreciated. Right? Forget all that, I was rarely even respected for them. Somehow when I was open with myself, I must’ve been “gay” or “girly” or “weak.” Nope. The things we love don’t actually define us. This isn’t a “gay or straight” issue, but as an example, there are gay and straight male ballet dancers. “Male ballet dancer” isn’t enough to draw any concrete conclusions about a person’s identity, and I certainly felt that being labeled because of it (or anything else I’m interested in) was unjust. And you might, too.
Side note: I have realized that I am probably more tender, soft, and emotional that a lot of men. I’ve also realized that this actually serves to highlight my masculinity. Thanks, wife, for changing my mindset about that.
Look, y’all. There is a perceived standard for a reason, and it’s because most people fit it – and it isn’t bad in ANY WAY. However, I know that EVERYONE has something kept in the corners of their mind, the darkest chambers of their heart, that makes them deviate. And that is AWESOME. It’s time to bring those to the surface. You know that thing I’m talking about. The thing that, when you think about exposing it, makes you feel that slight tug of fear. The thing that, when you are full engrossed in it, YOU COME ALIVE. You don’t have anything to lose, really. And as I am finding, as you grow in the peace that comes from accepting that this thing MAKES YOU “YOU,” you’ll find authenticity in so many aspects of your life it’ll make your head spin.
Then we’ll be a world full of anomalies. (I know, then we wouldn’t actually be anomalies since that would be what is standard. Just go with it.)
I hope that made sense, guys.
And I promise I tried to remove any tone of self-absorption or pompousness, so if any of it remained, please excuse. This is my diary out loud. Isn’t that a song lyric?
My poor brain is gonna explode one day. I just know it.