Whether you were amongst them or not, it is likely that millions of Americans tuned in last night to watch the highly talked about interview where Bruce Jenner, recently one of the nation’s most controversial figures, publicly opens up with full disclosure addressing the rumors that have been circulating for some time now regarding his gender identity.
Although I wasn’t anticipating this interview nor planned to watch, I found myself tuning in along with my parents as we listened to him tell Diane Sawyer and the rest of America how he has been living a lie for the last sixty some years of his life. How he has never had the freedom to be who he truly felt and feels he is in the depths of his soul, and has thus lived out the majority of his life caught in the middle of a somewhat true and somewhat false identity.
He recounts how he avoids social situations, feeling out of place, and reading between the lines of the few wrinkles he still has left, I can see the exhaustion in his eyes of maintaining the masquerade that must drive him to that isolative state.
Ironically, he has been an integral part of one of the notoriously explicit, “anything goes,” and revealing shows of this century. Even those who appear to be in the middle of it all, however, are often the ones who feel most alone, most misunderstood.
Recently, names such as the late and great Robin Williams also come to mind, and it seems this industry is plagued with story after countless story of lives that have been lived in fabrication of the truth. It seems we are all, in some measure or another, hiding part of our truest identity from the world. Whether it is in subtle omission of our secret beliefs or convictions that we keep from surfacing in order to maintain favor with the popular circles we attend to, or flat out falsifications of the very nature of our identity, such as we see in the case of Jenner’s story.
Initially, when I opened my laptop to type this morning I had no intentions of talking about identity or even the latest news in pop culture for that matter. But my Source of inspiration had other ideas in mind for me. Lately, I have felt incredibly irritated at maintaining this imitation of myself others have come to expect and exhausted at the mere thought of entertaining any of the social engagements that might arise. When a friend suggests a meeting I immediately feel the urge to withdraw to my tortoise shell of protection to keep from having to pretend everything is all right even though it’s not.
More and more in these days of maintaining appearances, perfectionism, and creating a persona to display to the world (don’t our Facebook profiles and feeds say enough?), it seems that it is concurrently becoming more out of fashion to be anything other than great. The dreaded, “how are you’s” that we all ingenuinely throw at one another don’t leave even the slightest bit of room for a response of anything other than “good.”
“Oh I’m good,” or “I’m doing all right,” are the most common answers to that dreaded question. Why do we even ask if we don’t care enough to listen to the real response hiding behind the hesitation of our “Oh, Okay’s?”
Is it just me, or has it become socially in-acceptable to be anything other than good? Is it completely out of the question these days that someone might in fact be NOT okay? With the rise of the new age movement, everything has suddenly become so feel good, sing songy, all is well with the world, even though it more often than not is anything but butterflies and rainbows.
Socially acceptable or not, I’m sick and tired of feeling guilty for not having the answer that everyone hopes to hear for fear that they will have to engage the truth that may be hinted at through those hestitations. The reality that your friend may in fact not be that eternally brilliant or chipper person that she portrays to the world and might in some seasons need a little anchor to lean on. Because don’t we all go through seasons of drought and withering alike the popularly showcased seasons of harvest?
Like it or not, the fact of the matter is that truth isn’t popular, it isn’t in vogue because it requires transparency and it requires pulling off the mask and facing the ugly reality straight on. And doing so demands responsibility. It demands that people step up and respond to the repercussions of their questions. It requires authenticity in relationships which scares the majority of the crowd who wish to remain in the outer circles of appearances rather than the inner depth of sharing life, true life with all its ups, downs, twists and turns, with one another. That’s what true friendship consists of and is at its core. That’s the design which our Creator had in mind when He knit us together in the depths of the earth.
One of the first flaws in Creation that God pointed out was this issue of isolation. He didn’t intend to be isolated from His creation no more than He intended for His creation to be isolated from itself. “It is not good for man to be alone,” says the Lord in Genesis 2:18, and so He made a helper.
In a similar way, doesn’t Jesus extenuate that notion by surrounding Himself with a group of intimate confidants, those of which He breaks bread with and lives life among and alongside. Even in the midst of His darkest hours, He brings His closest friends with Him to pray, with Him in the solitude and the secrecy of His despair. You see, even in our greatest struggles we aren’t meant to live life alone. Yet so often these days that’s just what we who face these giants and Goliath’s in our lives find ourselves doing. It’s what our roaring enemy wants; for us to be alone. Not just to feel alone, but to desire that aloneness.
And that’s just where I find myself these days, as it’s so much easier to live life honestly amidst my family and the few who really care to know rather than hiding in the facade and trying to live up to the expectations that my “friends” have come to know me by.
In the strangest way, I understand in some degree how it must feel to be invisible amidst the crowd. People see past what they don’t want to acknowledge, and they pick out the most attractive parts that uphold their false reality or beliefs about a person or a situation. They ignore what comes out of the mouths of their friends and stand by only what they see on social media, holding by that as truth and skirting the other to the wayside, back underneath the mat of denial and suppression.
I am here to say, however, that just because life isn’t okay, doesn’t mean life doesn’t go on. Life isn’t okay, but the bills still have to be payed. Life isn’t okay, but grocery shopping must still be done. Life isn’t okay, but you still have to push through and make it to work each day because there’s no other way. Life isn’t okay, but you still have to smile. Life isn’t okay, but you should still be allowed to have fun, and even if you do that doesn’t and shouldn’t obligate you to pretend like everything is okay again. Life isn’t okay, but you still have to act like it is because that is what is expected of you.
But I am done living up to those deathly demanding expectations. I am here to say that all is not okay but that doesn’t mean I am any less deserving of real, authentic relationships and real, authentic living. It’s okay to not be okay all the time. I give you permission. I dare you to give yourself permission. This is not an invitation to whine, or complain; it’s simply a call to be real and to let yourself be known, truly known. Which is what I am attempting to do, one conversation, one blog post, one day at a time.
It’s hard to explain to those who have never lost anything they loved. It’s also hard to explain to those whose character and the very essence of the person that they thought they were isn’t challenged and shaken to its very core. Many years ago I thought I was the ten year old girl who could outrun any boy on my block. At fifteen years old I thought that I could outwrite and outscore my biggest competitors in the classroom. At twenty, I thought I was the girl that could outdrink and outlook any other rival that got in the way of the boy I put my sights on. At twenty-five I thought I could push through any pain and forge my own paths in life. I thought I was invincible and I thought, subconsciously, I could pretend until the end, to “fake it” until I made it.
Well, I’ve reached a point in life where there is no more faking. There is no more pretending to be strong. There is no more perfection reflecting back at me in the mirror. There is no more validation in my body, in my appearance, in my performance, or in my self-reliance. God has directed me through this desert to break me and then remold me into the person I never could have thought I would become. It’s humbling and highly interrupting when God calls us out of the shadows and into the light of His refining fire. He is no respecter of persons, or situations, and His timing often comes right when we think it couldn’t be anymore disrupting. But He disrupts us, disrupts our perfectly calculated, planned, put on lives to save us from ourselves, from our own self-destruction and self-denial. And the truth is that there are many of us who are living behind a false identity, whether we acknowledge it or not.
So whatever issue you may be struggling with in your identity, because if we are all honest we all do to some degree, let us embrace the reality of truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. Whether you agree with the lifestyle Bruce Jenner leads or not, we can all learn a little something from his act of bold honesty, in his attempt at full disclosure whatever the consequences.
What I’ve learned through the hills and valleys of my solo struggle the past year is that life is still painful and sometimes you can either live carefully within the confinements of those limitations or you can jump the fence even if it’s going to make the pain worse for a moment, because living locked up is no way to live at all.
So even if my best attempts at honesty won’t get me closer to authentic relationships at least it will uncover the truth about who really deserves to be at arms length in life at all. And for the first time, I’m not afraid of what I might find, I’m not held captive by keeping up appearances to make everyone happy. I’m not okay and if you’re not okay with that then I’ll rest secure because I know the best friend, the closest confidant, the nearest help is just a prayer away. And no matter what I do, no matter how I feel, He is always pleased and He will always look lovingly on me.
And He waits in longing to bestow the same on each one of us.
“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12
So I will rest there, between His shoulders; rest away from the crowds if I must, rest away in the secret place where I hear His voice. But I also won’t rest until I make it known that this new identity that He is forming within me, the one which says I am His beloved, that I am worthy, that I am His child, won’t stand for anything false from this moment forward.
Let’s all stop pretending and start living like we were meant. Let’s stop wondering what our friends will think of the truth, wondering if they’ll like our “real” me’s, wondering if we’ll still be accepted or embraced despite our struggles. Let’s start loving one another regardless of the answers that lay on the other side of our, “How are you’s,” and let’s love like the one who is Love Himself: unconditionally.