I forget what it’s like to worry about fitting in. What it’s like to “put my face on” before heading out into the world.
Don’t get me wrong–I know those trying-to-fit-in-and-scared-that-I’m fucking-it-all-up-feelings sooooo well.
As a pudgy, unathletic kid, those feelings stalked me every time Mrs. Kriebel yelled “Run 3 laps!” during fifth grade gym class. Those feelings crept up the stairs with me as I slunk to the library during high school lunch rather than try to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria. And those same feelings surfaced in college, a plastic smile glued to my face and my green suede boots sticking to the gummy floor as I pretended to like beer and care which Sigma Nu pledge was the hottest.
But at some point in my mid-twenties I got tired of being stalked by my fear of social disapproval… especially since coloring within the lines wasn’t actually making me a happy person.
I realized I didn’t want to waste my life hiding my true self or, worse, wishing I was someone else.I was tired of only being accepted when I was pretending to be someone I wasn't... Click To Tweet
… and not actually enjoying the acceptance I was getting for all my fakery.
It was time to come out of the closet.
Over the next decade, I practiced being me. I dated men and, oh-my-gawd, women; I stopped pretending to like piss-water beer; and I walked out in the middle of the dinner rush in solidarity with a server who was being racially targeted by the restaurant management. I lived through the six months when my mom wouldn’t talk to me and the six more months when all we did was cry and fight.
I’m now forever grateful for the strength my mom grew into. She knows I wasn’t going through a phase–I was transitioning from a phase.
I asked her once if she’d visit me if I was jailed for murder.
She was appalled. I don’t know, she stammered.
Mom, I’m your daughter, I said.
But you murdered someone, she protested.
The point is you should know me well enough to know I wouldn’t murder someone without damn good reason. So if I’m in jail I was either falsely convicted or I murdered the person who was about to slaughter a bunch of kids or something.
I put my integrity above my upbringing and decided my internal moral compass trumped social mores… and I insisted that those who loved me saw me fully and didn’t brush the parts they didn’t like under the rug.
It was hard work. But a heck of a lot easier than pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
Common wisdom insists that you are loved just as you are. But let’s be honest (’cause that’s what we do around here):
People in your life often love the you they choose to see or the you they wish you’d be.
Being honest about who you are isn’t about easy. It’s never been about easy. But our society moves forward only if each of us is willing to be real and honest and true. Only if each of us in some small way pushes the needle forward.
We take a stand not only for the integrity of our own spirit, but to make it easier for those who come after. Every time a battered woman leaves an abusive husband, she makes it easier for her daughter to live a life free of abuse. Every time a woman says no to sexism in the work place, she makes that work safer for the women who come after.
Martha Beck, who wrote a very brave book about leaving the Mormon Church, says the magic in sharing her story was that it allowed others to share theirs, it encouraged them to speak up, if only to whisper me too.*
I think about this when I get the inevitable emails from women in Witch Camp wishing I’d change the name.
I know so many women who would join if it weren’t called Witch Camp, the email goes.
I want to tell my friends about this but I can’t because it’s called Witch Camp.
I get these emails from Witch Campers. From women who have already committed but are scared or ashamed of what they’ve done. They’re half in, half out. Wanting, longing, to say yes to the part of themselves which opened up when they saw the word witch. And still scared of being judged by friends and family.
So instead of sharing what the word witch means to them, they hope I’ll change the name.
The funny thing is, these women are in Witch Camp and yet they assume that whatever drew them to join won’t also draw their friends. They think they’re the only ones hiding a witchy side.
And here’s the thing I tell those women:When I started saying witch, women started whispering back me too. Click To Tweet
If I’m not brave enough to use the word witch, then those whispers will be muffled and all those women will feel alone; they’ll never realize what they feel is felt by so many of us.
Maybe you’re not ready to say it yet. That’s okay. We all choose where we want to make our stands, what’s worth fighting for. Just be willing to stand for something because figuring out what that is, what you’re willing to speak to and who you’re willing to speak for, lets you know who you really are.
Write your manifesto so you can begin to make your truths manifest in the world.
Me? I stand with the woman who needs to see beyond cultural norms so she can find herself. I stand with the woman who has been hurt or simply unhelped by our healthcare system and needs an alternative. I stand with the woman who can’t stomach off-the-shelf spirituality and needs to map her own path to the ineffable.
Me? I stand by the woman who is scared but willing to whisper me too.
love, love, love–
* P.S. This blog post was inspired by conversations with my Witch Campers and by an AWESOME podcast with Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle Melton and Linda Siversten, which you can find here.
If that was scary for you, congratulations on taking a step toward finding your voice. Listen carefully: someone will be whispering back me too.