Permission to be Human

Before I say anything, I want to say thank you. To those of you who have witnessed, held space for, and/or responded gently to me over the past week, I am eternally grateful. My mental health took a sharp swing, and I’ve felt like I have been grasping: grasping at connection, grasping at distraction, grasping at anything to help calm what felt like a forest fire on the edge of being out of control. I’ve feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to keep flying embers from lighting everything up, only I can’t decide if that was just in my head or not. It’s not over, certainly. But it’s better.

Last night, I had a conversation with a dear friend who has been helping me process through a lot of what’s going on. We were talking about a whole slew of things connected to desire, communication, openness, and assumptions as they related to a particular situation. He’d been trying to get through to me for a while, and I bantered back with every thought, fear, insecurity, and “What if?” that my mind could conjure (and there were plenty of them).

And then, out of the blue, he says something that made everything go still. I stared at the text for a minute, and I tried to banter back, but in truth, I felt like I’d gotten the wind knocked out of me.

He said, “It’s ok that you want [this].”

That was it. It wasn’t “It’s ok to want things” in a nebulous, abstract way. It was, “It’s ok to feel exactly what you are feeling in this moment. It is ok that you want this thing, this particular thing, right now.” My specific desires, in this exact moment, were not something to shirk from or fear, were not overwhelming or terrifying, were not assumptive or inappropriate. He gave me permission, and a safe space, to feel what I was feeling.

I keep repeating it, over and over in my mind. Because he gave me permission to do what I could not give myself permission to do: to want what I wanted, even when what I want doesn’t make sense and isn’t perfect. Even when what I want is complicated and feels scary (the way vulnerability often does). Even when it doesn’t make any sense at all. Even when it’s hard, it’s ok that you want this.

As a future-oriented person, living in present-moments are hard. I’m always worried about what will come, and this small, simple sentence grounded me in the present moment. It’s ok that you want this (right now).

But it also went a step beyond that- it isn’t just permission to want, but permission to allow myself to be, conceivably, wanted.

If you don’t know me well, this sounds suspiciously like fishing for compliments. It’s not. It is simply that I see the flaws in myself, all the reasons and all the things that would make me undesirable. I see every piece of the bad, without pausing to remember that others see every piece of the good.

To allow myself to want, in this moment, means I have to be willing to allow myself the idea that I might be desirable. I have to believe that others see the good in me as fiercely as I see the bad.

The truth is, I don’t know how to want without reciprocity. I don’t know how to want something without the desire being returned. Only when I know it’s reciprocated do I feel remotely safe expressing where I stand. But because it’s based on external affirmations, there is still the nagging part inside my head that reminds me that it’s just because people can’t see the whole picture yet. When they do, once I fuck up or slip up and show something real, that’s when they’ll really see the truth. They will understand that I’m not want-able. And it turns out I shouldn’t have allowed myself the luxury of desire after all.

It’s not the fear of rejection, exactly; it’s the expectation of it. When the baseline assumption is that expressions of desire will be met with rejection, it hardly seems worth it to put myself out there. Do I know that this is ridiculous? Logically, absolutely. But desire and logic often find themselves on divergent paths, and trying to build a bridge between them is no small feat.

Ridiculous or not, though, I assume that the simple act of stating a desire pushes a boundary for other people (because I inherently assume that others do not view me in a desirable light). I assume asking about a desire will make things awkward (because I assume that people will respond from a place of, “Oh… I’m sorry, I think you completely misunderstood/misinterpreted my interest in you.”)

In short: I remove the capacity for other people to be autonomous human beings with my deep terror of vulnerability. I decide how they do (and don’t) feel. I redefine words and context because I do not know how to process the truth I am hearing. I do not give myself permission to want because I inherently believe that no desire I experience can be reciprocated.

It’s ok that you want this.

Whether or not desire is reciprocated. Regardless of the outcomes. Not in spite of imperfections, but because of them. It is ok that you want this.

“Want” is defined both by what it is and the sum of the parts that comprise it. Want is scary and wonderful and vulnerable and exhilarating and nerve-wracking and…

Want is so many things. I tend to focus on the scary, the vulnerable, the nerve-wracking. This is why I almost never ask people to play, and why I am so quick to give so many outs when I do (“Do you think you might want to maybe do a thing sometime? Also, it’s completely fine if you’re not interested or too busy, and ‘no’ is a completely fine answer that doesn’t need to be justified, but in case you were possibly interested, I thought I would put it out there that that’s a conversation I would be interested in having.” is about the only way I can ask.)

There’s a reason why, when I reach out and ask those questions, I don’t follow up. (Well, they said yes and they know I’m interested, and since I’m the one that reached out in the first place, I don’t want to seem pushy or anything, so I’ll wait until they bring it up again.)

It’s why I can’t interpret casual flirting. (That’s not flirting. That’s just sharing information about their life and experiences, which is awesome! I’m glad to get to know them better. Well, yes, they asked if I wanted to play sometime, but lots of people play platonically, including me. Why would I assume it would be sexual unless they explicitly said they were interested in a sexual component?)

It’s why, when people say, “Hey, I’d love to do a thing!” I think, “Yay!” but don’t assume there is any attraction there, even when those around me tell me that quite obviously there is chemistry and attraction there, how are you so oblivious! and look at me with a mixture of love and exasperation and I’m confused about what just happened.

It’s why I don’t understand why people are intimidated or nervous to come talk to me. I see myself as the least threatening person of all time. What do you mean I project confidence and self-assurance and (as one person informed me) a general sense of being a rockstar? Are you kidding me? I’m just a geeky queer perfectionist who can’t live up to their own standards and expects everyone else to see, obviously, that I’m permanently failing at life.

It’s ok that you want this. Which is to say, it is ok to let yourself have a moment of desire. To experience the giddiness and glee and silliness of it all. It’s ok to think, for a moment, that desire doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and you are more than the shortcomings you are so prone to seeing.

It’s ok that you want this. It’s ok that you want to let yourself be wanted. You have permission to be giddy and excited, nervous and ridiculous, over-analytical and complicated, beautiful and broken, too queer and not queer enough, to want hard things and be present in that desire. In short, you have permission to be human.

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