A woman of color stands resolute against a wall, her face proud, her eyes closed. Her shirt reads, "Fragile. Who?"

A woman of color stands resolute against a wall, her face proud, her eyes closed.   Her shirt reads, "Fragile.   Who?"Growing up, I was acutely aware that I did not belong.  The proverbial elephant in the room, my identity was carved out of all the things I definitely was not.

I was no one in any books or movies I watched.  I was nowhere in conversations about what I could and could not do.  I was nothing like the majority of people that interacted in my world space.

When your entire identity is based upon the shadow— the negative image— of the world around you, it is no wonder that that hole gets slowly filled with shame.

Shame has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.  Shame fills my lungs so that it is hard to take a deep breath.  It weighs down my limbs so I cannot act, even when I know something good could happen if I do.  It blocks my thoughts because I feel like I shouldn’t deserve to think anything good about myself.

Because shame says I am bad.  Because people have shown me I am not worth it.  Most people don’t say outright, You are a bad person! But it is implied when people do say things like, Don’t do that, Do you want people to think you’re crazy?, Just try harder, or the silence that says, I don’t think you are worth talking about.

Most people assume that most people are like them.  It seems basic human nature that people gravitate toward those in whom they can see themselves reflected.  So when someone comes along who projects an image that does not compute, people get defensive.

They get defensive by dismissing my accessibility needs, assuming they know how best to operate in my body, and refusing to hear my perspective on what is or is not working.  All of these messages add up to the simple fact that who I am is not good enough, therefore I must not be good enough.

But this post is about pride, right?

Yes, in the same way that the moon needs the sun to be seen in the night sky.  Shame, for me, is the antithesis of pride.  Which means that there is so much space taken up by shame that pride can barely exist.  But it does.

Pride is stubborn.  Pride is that force that celebrates those rare few characters that actually are like me.  It is the times I raise my hand and say, “Actually, that isn’t helpful.”  It is the way I allow my body and brain to do what they will when everything outside is just too much.

It is the tears I cried when I learned that this fundamental difference I have always known actually has a name.  It is the way my heart beat louder when I spoke the names of the parts of myself I have always known but never knew as mine.  It is the sense of belonging I feel to have found a community of people who share the weight of this name.  It is the weight of the name that makes me stand up taller.

It is interesting that pride is often thought of as something negative.  Growing up I knew pride as the thing that comes before the fall or the deadliest of sins.  And much of the arguments I hear against pride celebrations, regardless of the community, is that it is a chance for people to flaunt the aspects of themselves society has chosen to see as not good enough.

But lately, I have come to understand that this idea of pride is based in a tradition of oppression.  We teach our children who do not love the way we love or interact with the world the way we interact with it that they need to change the way they are because we are powerless otherwise.  If the loudest people won’t stop talking long enough to hear the quietest people, of course they would pressure the quiet ones to speak up.

But as one of the quiet people, I say that it is time for the rest of the world to listen.

I have pride in myself and in my community, not because I think we are above or deserve better than anyone else, but because we are still here.  Because, despite people erasing us, despite people refusing to treat us with dignity, despite people constantly talking over us and relegating us to the sidelines, we still speak out.  We still question.  We still advocate for those within our community whose voices are not heard at all.

We live in a world that is not set up for us and interact with people who force us to deny who we are in order to make them comfortable.  We carry mountains of personal and communal shame and still go on.

Growing up, I knew I did not belong.  But now I know I was just in the wrong community.  I grew up thinking I was the elephant in the room, when really, I am a part of a memory of other elephants.  Our memory holds pain, violence, separation, and isolation, but it also holds healing, celebration, chosen family, and strength.

I still carry shame, but now I see that it drew me to the people who have helped me to also embrace pride.

Who I am is not a choice.  But how I embody who I am is a choice.  I choose to be proud of who I am and the communities I belong to.  I choose to advocate for the marginalized voices like mine.  I choose to acknowledge the years and decades and centuries of shame my communities carry and to start filling up the holes that shame has eroded in myself with pride.

Because maybe I will never truly belong to the world at large, but maybe, the world at large needs to reorganize itself so that there is space for me and the communities I call mine.

This post also appears on A Prism Uncovered.

4 Comments

  1. This is beautifully written.

  2. I’ve actually got tears in my eyes.  That is so beautiful.

  3. I know just what you mean.  Learning that I was autistic meant that I wasn’t broken, and that fundamental truth that I had based my world on became a lie.  Everything changed that day, although I still struggle with a lot of shame.  But I’m still here.

  4. Wot grace said!

    I could relate to soooooo much of this …  I don’t know the writer, but i KNOW the writer because in so many ways i AM the writer …  or a person just like the writer!

    And THIS is just the story of my life:

    “Most people assume that most people are like them.  It seems basic human nature that people gravitate toward those in whom they can see themselves reflected.  So when someone comes along who projects an image that does not compute, people get defensive.”

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