Hi, there! Got curious about the title, did you? Let’s see if I can clarify it a bit.
In this article, I will try to use my own experience as part of the LGBTQIAPN+ community (maaan, is it me or does this acronym keep on getting bigger?!) and my not-so-clever humor, to let you in on a little secret. Hiding who we truly are behind what is apparently a more comfortable experience of life and avoiding the conflict is, besides a tremendous lack of respect towards ourselves, a way to perpetuate prejudice. Don’t know if you are aware of that, but I surely wasn’t for quite some time…
While this is my own process it can be a common experience. This is meant to be an honest sharing, hopefully, useful not just for the mentioned community but for everyone who reads it since this is about self-awareness and self-knowledge.
Filipa Pestana - Product Designer
Where to start
When you are born, you are this immense whiteboard, full of possibilities. Eventually, you will start getting some drafts and paints, reflecting your context and the mainstream society you belong to, as expected. As a child, one of my most vivid memories is the passion and enthusiasm I felt watching Disney movies. It was so delightful how every story ended up just right, as long as the princess found her prince charming. For a major part of my existence up until that point, this was all I needed to believe in: as long as I’m the princess, my one goal should be to find my prince and live happily ever after.
As I grew older, my purpose became more and more obvious. Led by the hand of the family’s matriarchy, I learned that to attract the utopic prince I would need to know how to sew, how to cook, and how to iron his precious suit. It made sense, I mean, the guy is out there fighting dragons, and riding horses… his shirt and pants are doomed to failure unless his graceful princess takes care of it. And of course, me being the obedient little angel a good girl should be, I accepted my fate without questioning it and topped it off with the joyful ignorance only children can endure - lucky little bastards.
I made it my life’s goal to be a nice, sweet, obedient princess so that I could win over the heart of my perfect prince. Seemed easy enough. But somehow, no matter how hard I tried to fulfill others and my expectations at that time, something just seemed off.
The thing is, the more you grow and allow yourself to open your mind to live outside your little dome, the more you start to be aware of other realities and possibilities. During college, my once-perfect board, carefully drawn and painted inside the lines, could now gain the most vibrant colors and splashes of sparkles! This led me to question what before seemed so obvious and trustworthy since this was coming from my first leaders in life – my family members (and, let’s face it, Disney). But more important, at this time, instead of only pointing the finger at others’ beliefs - that I had so willingly taken as my own - I started questioning myself and my existence. I wasn’t sure about how I felt about boys and if they were actually all that charming. I was very confused about what gender identity and sexual preferences translated to (which led to a drastic haircut and some questionable fashion choices – but let’s not elaborate on that. All proof has been deleted, in case you are wondering). Above all, I was very lost in the whole concept of being myself and what that meant… Of course, in such a tormented moment I turned to those I trusted the most my whole life. They for sure would be able to help me untie this knot in my soul. But their own experience of the world – and this topic in particular – only allowed them to do the best they knew. To fill me up with a fear of the world and the beliefs of others, in such a matter that I and my aching soul were not able to dig ourselves out of that whole of constant self-judgment and inadequacy for a long time.
The art of misconception
Knowing that soon enough I would have to face the professional world, full of people and their own beliefs, ideologies, and questionable truths, there was only one possible thing to do: practice the art of misconception. A vague answer here, an inconclusive act there, and I would easily dodge the bullet of actually being myself. I was quite feminine and bubbly, I would indulge in some innocent flirting, or make some very heterosexual comment (to note: comments don’t actually have sexual preferences, this is only for dramatic effect, ok?) and for some time I kept up the facade.
In all the offices I set foot in I was what people would expect from a heterosexual woman and I obliged with all the stereotypes that even I believed to have to live by. I would feel this inexplicable need to look like my feminine peers around the office: hair and makeup on the flick, excruciating noticeable heels, uncomfortably trendy clothes,… Going deeper into any personal conversations my official statement was that I had a boyfriend, we were happy and that should suffice when it comes to you knowing anything about my romantic life.
The suffocating need to meet these imagined expectations got me so blinded, that in the presence of my male superiors, I would shoot myself in the foot and gladly shut up in the light of any arguments they would so eloquently spread upon my far less superior mind. Unknowingly I kept perpetuating the objectification of womanhood and spreading the gender norm misinformation. Not that my male colleagues – and some female colleagues, to be honest – needed any help with that.
Being oneself would simply have to wait, given the urgency I felt to fit in all these little boxes - the ones where everyone fits others to make sense of the world. It took me a while before I felt like a character at my workplace and faced the fact that I was extremely unhappy living that way. After all, as I would discover later in life, all these boxes are nothing but invented concepts from the still-evolving minds of one’s species. But I would eventually find out there is only so much you can take when you are tricking yourself.
In this game of misconception, it’s relevant to point out the importance of the companion you have on your side, if you have one. Yes, I’m talking about that “other half”. I wanted to be loved, just like anyone else, independent of gender or sexual preferences. Let me tell you that when your significant other is quite comfortable living in this facade, deliberately avoiding any complications derived from actually living a truthful life, and mastering the art of misconception, it becomes easier for you to keep feeding the fear and depression inside you. And yes, you got it right, that’s a red flag. But can one really identify a big-flashy-pompous red flag when one is simply trying to survive their misplaced fears and find love?
Unpleasant (but necessary) awareness
When I joined MB.io, I was still deeply buried in confusion. Thick darkness would fall over me after a long day of pretending. I would look in the mirror, face washed out, drowned in my tears, completely oblivious to the cause of my pain. Living a double life can be quite exhausting. You need to carefully curate the content of the life you want to project on all fronts. You need to prepare your speech when inquired about your “other half” during lunchtime gossip – because God forbid you could suffice for yourself. And there’s, of course, the continuous perfecting of the always popular excuse for distant relatives that had known no boyfriend of yours (tip: always point the finger at your career and long working hours. That’s always a big hit).
Somehow, something started to feel different around this new group of people called MB.ioneers. These were people led not by their irreproachable truths, nor fed by their insecurities, but they thrived in this unconventionally heterogeneous environment, full of potential and risks. They actively looked for failure so they could iterate, try again, and evolve in the process. And they did it all with welcoming open arms to difference - in points of view, in experiences, in nationalities, in religions… - disarming any trail of conformed thinking. I wanted so badly to be a part of this new plot and leave my character in the past where it belonged.
The immense power of choice
The good news is that you can break this cycle at any time, because none of it depends on your lover, on the overly male chauvinist company you work for, or the family that raised you.
Facing the risk of sounding too much like one of those self-help books on the shelf of a convenience store, your well-being and psychological safety depend on you. You have more control over your own life than you care to imagine. Of course, it would be great to have the advantage of being super well received as you are, wherever you go. Of course, it would be amazing to not have to deal with homophobic comments because everyone is engaging in the motto “live and let live”. It can’t hurt to have the right work environment or the support of your loved ones. Sometimes even professional help is needed (therapy is not just for crazy people in case you didn’t know).
YOU are the one controlling your actions when that great-great-great-aunt asks you for the millionth time about that non-existent boyfriend of yours. You are in control of your narrative when a colleague makes a gay joke – which is an insult in a very cheap disguise, by the way. You are in charge of being your own person whoever you choose to be. Remember yourself and others that you are more than your gender, your age, your religion, or your sexual preferences. You are all that and so much more that makes you unique. That is so worth fighting for, even when you need to fight against your own discouraging beliefs. You can’t control the actions and minds of others, but you can choose to act differently when facing injustice and prejudice.
It will hurt, it will be hard to manage and at times can have bigger consequences than what you anticipated, but that’s also part of the change. In you, and others.
Picture by James A. Molnar
_This article has b_een written by Filipa Pestana