Thursday, July 4, 2013

Secure & Insecure


I just realized something about myself.  It might help you understand me if I mention it.

I have a dual nature.  Despite being innately female, I was forced to grow up as a man.  As a consequence, I developed masculine traits.  I learned how to compete with men and have thick skin dealing with aggression.  It is impossible to upset me by criticizing my male qualities.  I have real confidence in my strength and masculine abilities.  I have proven them many times and am very secure in myself as a man.

On the other hand, my female identity is new -- and I'm insecure about my femininity.  Despite a lifetime of longing to do this, my public display of feminine clothing, makeup and appearance began only recently.  Lacking experience with femininity, and also lacking a mentor to guide and teach me, my female presentation is rudimentary and hit-and-miss.  My first attempts were embarrassingly bad.  With effort, I've improved beyond that but I know I'm nowhere near the competence of a normal woman.  And I may never be, but I strive for whatever improvement I can achieve.

Presenting as female, I feel vulnerable and exposed.  My whole life, especially in my influential childhood, I was told that I'm not allowed to "act like a girl."  So the very fact of presenting as female is something I feel shaky about.  I worry that at any moment cops will barge in and haul me away for crimes against social convention.  At least it feels that way.

It is in this mental context that I summon the depth of my courage and boldly try to create a female identity.  Putting on women's clothing means something profoundly different for me than it does for most people. 

Now to the heart of this post.  A short while ago, I received a mild online criticism of my femininity in a blog comment.  The criticism made me cry like a 12-year old girl.  I reacted emotionally to the remark.  The comment wasn't mean-spirited -- in fact, it was trying to be helpful -- but it pronounced negative judgment on my effort to dress up and the judgment stung me.  After painful reflection, I now realize that my reaction was caused by insecurity within me and not by the comment.  The external comment merely triggered my inner vulnerability.  The comment isn't the problem; I am.

Intellectually, I know the path to growth involves inviting feedback, learning from it and incorporating that knowledge into future action.  I know that.  I welcome your comments, including critical ones.  I learn valuable lessons from your feedback.  So please keep your opinions coming.  They are the key to my future.

I need to toughen up as a woman.  Acquire confidence in my presentation and not be so sensitive to remarks from others.  I need to put on my big-girl panties and stop sobbing like a baby.

This experience taught me that while I'm secure in my male identity, I'm insecure in my female identity.  If I didn't experience that first-hand, I'd question whether such a schizophrenic condition is possible.

Are you secure about some things (like, maybe, your competence at work) and insecure about others (e.g., your appearance)?  Is it possible to be vulnerable in some aspects of life and impregnable on others?  What do you think?

50 comments:

  1. I think you got it right. :-) This is beautifully written, Ally.

    And I think everyone is insecure about something. Especially new things. I know I am.

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    1. You?! Really? You seem so confident and strong!

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  2. Ally, I admire your bravery and your outgoing cheerful spirit every day. I think you absolutely took the right path to accepting and welcoming criticism. It's so easy to take criticism very internally, especially when it is to something you pour yourself into.

    I think that you're experiencing growing into your femininity highly accelerated compared to a cis-gender woman- we got a decade or more to figure this out (some of us took two, haha), and that's something to be lauded.

    I have the honor of calling some wonderful people who are transgender 'friend', and one of the awesome experiences I've had during our friendship is getting to watch as they become more confident, and comfortable in their identities and skin. It's something I wish for every man and woman, and seeing someone build that for herself is beautiful.

    As for me, I absolutely think this dichotomy is possible. I'm pretty rock-solid confident about areas of my life- my athletic ability, physical strength, and having fun with clothes, while I'm regularly a shaking, anxious mess about others- my intelligence and ability to have a career/normal life. Reaching for one helps shore up my confidence in the other- a good martial arts practice helps ground me and work out some of that anxiety on a weekly basis, and of course, the wonderful friends in my life help, too.

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    1. Thank you, buddy. You're right about the pace of my journey -- I use tools I've acquired over the course of a lifetime which aren't commonly available to young girls and I have the impatience of someone who knows life will end. You're also right about how our confidence in some areas can move over and help us in other areas. I appreciate your thoughts. A lot.

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  3. Hey, I'm practically 58 and I still cry like a 12-year old girl when someone criticizes me - whether it's helpful criticism or not! So when you figure out how exactly to toughen up as a woman, maybe you could share that info with me! LOL

    Although (and I'm probably going to get criticized for THIS comment), I've never felt that being overly-sensitive is necessarily a bad thing. So maybe the female side of you is exactly right already. :o)

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    1. That's a good point. In fact, a very good point. Thanks.

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  4. Indeed, I believe that you are moving towards the path of becoming female with a lot of speed. Please do not be afraid to show feelings. All women cry like little girls when we are criticized somehow. I can be very strong when I need to defend someone else ... however I only feel frustration when I can not defend myself. Yay! Women are complicated, welcome to this possibility.

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  5. this is a beautiful piece of writing, it really touched my heart - as a 12 year old I was desperately ashamed of my blossoming body and 'well-meaning' comments were stinging and harsh, however at 13 I didn't give a toot (Boy George was my fashion influence, I remember my brothers disgust! I thought I looked fabulous!)I don't like admitting when I feel vulnerable and strive to be strong and respectful - i suppose my insecurity is that vulnerable is weak x

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  6. Ally my friend - Tell me who it was so that I can beat them senseless!!

    I don't know of anyone who does not have insecurities. Some areas we're sure, others we're not. We're all constantly measuring ourselves up against others in every aspect and I do believe that women do it far more than men (I.M.H.O.)

    I am in awe of you often and love that you put yourself out there as you do and can imagine how scary it is.

    Hugs my friend

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    1. Hugs back at ya. Your friendship gives me courage, Wendy.

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  7. Read this in the morning, and it immediately came to mind this afternoon. A co-worker said she didn't like the faux hawk that was accidentally styled in my hair (rough day at work = constant running fingers through hair = accidental faux hawk). I mentally freaked out, having been doing a lot of faux hawks in my personal life. It took me a while to realize that a) it doesn't so much matter what she thinks, if I like it and b) she hasn't actually seen me rock a faux hawk. And of course c) she likely meant it lightly as a way to let me know that my hair was a little out of control. Afterall, I'd pointed out the spinach in her teeth by telling her that her mouth was mouldy. Welcome to being a girl, Ally, I really wish I could tell you it gets better! While we females may be a sensitive bunch (and I wouldn't say you nor I are cry babies!), we're also a logical bunch. With enough time and distance, we figure out why a comment hurt so much, and often, start to feel better about ourselves in the process.

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  8. Oh lots and lots of hugs. I've shown your blog to many of my friends. And it's always met with admiration.

    Personally? It's part of my anxious nature to be emotional at criticism. I hardly ever take anything "well". But when it comes to my CLOTHES (not my physical self), I can happily tell people to fuck off with a big middle finger and wear whatever makes me happy.

    It's when someone critiques my body/face or my work (whether it's art/writing or my retail service) - I get so emotional it's hard to let it go.

    I think of you as one of the most balanced and amazing people in my life. I look up to you for your acceptance of both of your "gendered" sides, but also the personality that's purely you, whether it's male or female or something else. You've helped me accept the parts of myself that don't feel as "female" as I am, and that I can have those feelings and keep being myself too.

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    1. I'm glad to have had a positive influence on you, Megan.

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  9. {{{{{{{{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

    I still struggle with being a woman. I work in a very male-dominated profession (engineering) and at times I've been the only female around. The only girl in my engineering class, the only female engineering design teacher at the technical college I taught at. I had to subjugate any "girliness" to even remotely be accepted as competent.

    you inspire me so much ally--you are the definition of brave!!

    And you have legs that make me seethe with jealousy at their fantasticness!

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  10. We all have insecurities, but most of us are not brave enough to expose them publicly, as you do. I have insecurities about my profession - some people are "natural" teachers, and I've figured out I'm not one of them. :p
    Personally, I think your sensitivity can be your strength. Your vulnerabilities, I think, have helped you develop empathy and an openness in communication, as evidenced by your thoughtful posts and the great conversations you start here. Your capacity for hurt is likely equal to your capacity to feel gratitude and receive and give joy. :)

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    1. Thanks. I think you're right. I wouldn't trade my empathy for anything, not even the avoidance of pain.

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  11. Even though I understand the "welcoming opinions", I find it heartbreaking to think of criticism reducing you to tears and crushing your joy (even if only momentarily) in something you're discovering and reveling in.
    I totally understand the insecurity. Any slight criticism or supposed constructive opinion and it's on my mind all day. I may feel defensive thinking "I can see what I look like. If I like it, then why be a douche and act like you're Miss Fashion Expert and tell me this that and the other about my outfit...etc., etc., etc." I like all lollipops and roses in my world. haha
    I do feel better about myself than I have in many, many years and I have someone in my life who loves me just the way I am...so that has helped (to some degree) for me to be able to blow things like that off a little easier than I used to could have though.
    I cannot even bear the thought of you hurting and crying. We love you EXACTLY the way you are and what you choose to put on each day is your very own delightful journey. Don't ever forget it.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. Your compassion touches me.

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  12. Absolutely. I am confident in some things. And totally shy in others. I love myself in some ways. And hate myself in others. I suffer from anxiety - sometimes I can take everything life throws at me, other times I want to hide under the duvet and cry myself to sleep.

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  13. I think everyone struggles with some sort of insecurity, and hopefully eventually over come it as life goes one...


    Xo, Megan, www.TfDiaries.com

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  14. I wanna beat that person up. Unless it was me. It wasn't me, was it? Huh? Are you sure?

    So much for insecurity...

    You are venturing into new territory. It would be odd if you weren't a little afraid and a lot uncertain. But that's how adventures happen, and I've loved following yours. You are a beautiful person, in any way that you present yourself.

    We should go to San Fran on vacay. I thought of you often when we were there. So many peeps out and about, literally and figuratively. You could take those beautiful legs and high heels to the streets, and not only be yourself - but be appreciated and welcomed.

    Love you, sweetie,
    Lynne

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    1. Ha! You made me laugh.

      And, yes, most cities are welcoming to people who don't fit in elsewhere and it's no secret that SF has a large GLBT population. When I visited a decade ago, that was obvious.

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  15. YES. I am fairly confident in many things, but I have insecurities too. And would you believe they're all centered around whether or not people like me? It's kind of crazy when you think about it - but I think it's fairly normal too. We all want to sit at the cool kids lunch table, you know?

    I admire you so much Ally. Everything about you. You are beautiful inside and out and I always look forward to reading your posts and what you have to say.

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  16. You are so brave, and I think that it's okay to cry like a little baby sometimes. I wish instead you having to toughen up, the rest of the world could soften down a little.

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    1. Oh, if that were only an option...

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  17. I am so proud of you for being who you are. In blog land, we are exposing ourselves in one of the bravest ways possible. Inviting opinions and feedback and sometimes one of those comments hits us right where we are most insecure. Just keep doing what you're doing. You will develop a thick skin for this too and there's nothing wrong with utilizing those traditionally masculine skills to defend your newly debuted feminine traits until you blossom into being fully secure in both.

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  18. I think that, as you grow as a woman, your insecurities will lessen and you'll develop a thicker skin. I know that most teenagers--being on the advent of womanhood, as corny as that sounds--are VERY insecure. Why? Because all of this is new for them. I remember crying my eyes out and being very depressed when I was about 13 after a group of kids had a heyday commenting on my physical appearance. The same thing happened a couple of years later and not a tear was shed. Did it still affect me? Sure. But things change and confidence is gained along the way, not only mentally, but in more superficial ways as well (e.g. applying make-up).

    I also think your experience provides a good example of how different criticism men and women traditionally receive, and perhaps also how different responses can be for each gender, as well as area of criticism. Would you be sobbing if someone verbally tore your suit and tie a new asshole, even if they were your absolute favorite? Probably not, because appearance isn't as important in the male sphere. In the same respect, although I put a lot of time, effort, and value into working out, if someone commented negatively on my physical ability, it wouldn't so much sadden me but straight-up piss me off. However, if someone were to comment how stupid my hair looked and I'd spent a good deal of time on it, that would get to me. We're still definitely bound by gender roles, even if we don't want to be.

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    1. You're right, on all counts. Thanks, Ashley.

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  19. Oh goodness, I totally understand this!!! Yes, I am really confident about some things a and then others, I am a wreck! My vicar at church recently said that he doesn't understand how I can be such an astounding musician and yet, when I am asked to play piano at church, that I become all nervous and shy, when I play piano at school all the time. He couldn't understand it. I maintain that, whilst, flute (and recorder and singing) are things that I have done well all my life, piano is something I have had to really really work at and I find it hard, and I make mistakes at it all the time. I find it a lot harder too! And it's really obvious when I make mistakes.
    It's great you are aware of your insecurity as a woman because it is something you can work at if you are now aware of it (or more aware!!) Thanks for sharing! xx

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  20. Oh I am sorry to hear this - the way you explain it makes all the sense in the world.
    You are a strong grown up male but Ally is just a child.
    I have to admit to many insecurities, however I try to keep a lid on them as i tend to think that the moment i put them out there, it will work against me... so I am just very careful on who i share what with.

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  21. There is always insecurity. I've not yet been able to do anything for myself until recently, in the last couple of years. It will always be there but you've got to work through it and take a step each day

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  22. i'm secure when it comes to my beauty knowledge and such, thus allowing me to come across as secure on my blog. but in real life, i'm very introverted and shy. i'm very insecure about my looks. people are so mean to me in person, even as an adult. it isn't every day, and it isn't every comment i receive, but it still stings. i'm a beautiful person on the inside, but i long for the day to be seen on the outside as such.

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  23. I think balance is the key. If you feel like sobbing - do so. If you feel you should be angry at that point - feel so. If you don't want to pay attention - get thicker skin. I think it's just a point of view. It's not about gender at all. Female or male we are different. Some of us more sensitive, some of us not. For me criticism is not a matter of any emotion at all (or I may be grateful) but when it's coming to 'you can't do that' I may sob like a baby (esp if I actually can't). Taking the other point - my husband. He feels very upset when it goes to criticism like 'your shirt doesn't go with this outfit' but feels nothing when someone tells him that someone does something better than him or he is not able to do something etc. it's just a point of the safe place as you've shown. What does Ralph feel if someone says e.g. 'your tie doesn't go with this suit' thing? Is there a point where Ralph doesn't feel safe and Ally does? (sorry for making a double you here).

    oh and if someone hurts you bad - you know I'm very skilled in punching and can make it look like it's not menmade :)

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  24. You are so positive and really put things into perspective. I can definitely relate. Fashion and dressing up is the only thing in the whole world I actually feel secure about, everything else I have extreme insecurity and anxiety over. If someone didn't like what I was wearing I wouldn't mind because I feel confident in that area. But if someone criticised me in any other way I would go away and cry about it for days. I hope you continue to grow and gain more confidence with your female identity. I know you are already coming so far.

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  25. I have crippingly low self esteem and have done since I was little, there isn't a thing about me that people (including 'friends' and family) haven't ripped apart at some point. I do struggle quite a bit but for the past few years believe I have finally found me which gives me the confidence to continue on as I am, even if I have transgressed back to how I liked to dress when I was ten!

    I do have wibbles though, big wibbles, especially when a remark or judgemental stare from someone resembling the sort of stranger that would criticise me in the past sparks the bad memory.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that. I hope things improve for you. I never heard the word "wibbles" before but can infer its meaning from context. Thanks for sharing.

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  26. Ugh, I have so many insecurities. But I think I hide them well. Knowing you has taught me so much about life. I'm glad we met. :-)

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  27. Ally, I truly admire the way that you so frankly, sincerely open up your heart and soul to us on your blog. You make me feel more comfortable to do the same online myself, too.

    One of the most striking areas where this kind of duality has always surfaced for me relates to confrontation. I have a massive fear/dislike of almost any kind of negative confrontation and try to avoid it like the plague when it comes to my own interactions with people (though, if push comes to show, I will). However, I will happily defend and go to bat for someone I care about with every inch of might and fight in my being. It's as though I have zero qualms with defending those I hold dear, yet get often tongue tied (no joke) if I even marginally find myself in a confrontational situation. I think part of this stems from the fact that, growing up, I always fiercely protected my siblings (I'm the oldest child) from my tyrannical (biological) father as best I could, as well as trying to shield and defend them from anyone, or anything, else that could have caused them harm.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. I understand how you became this way: I have close friends who grew up with the same difficult family-situation and developed the same traits. Thank you for sharing, Jessica.

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  28. This post really spoke to me. Something about revealing the extent of your vulnerability and your determination to grow out of your insecurity is so beautiful. It's something I can relate to, and therefore I really appreciate your openness on the subject.

    In regards to your schizophrenia comment, I feel I understand where you're coming from. I too have felt the fear of potentially having a multiple personality disorder resulting from my inability to merge my personality into a single package. I've often feared not knowing who it is that I really am versus who I've been conditioned to be, which ... isn't a pleasant feeling.

    I hope that in time you may be able to develop the ability to feel confident in your feminine self. I would imagine part of the process in this would be to be more public with Ally.

    I received your fun La Poubelle card. Thank you! The photo really looks great printed on luster paper.

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    1. Thanks. We're complex people and I accept that. Fitting our pieces together isn't easy but I don't want to be a simpleton like others out there. I'm okay with struggle if it leads to enlightenment.

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  29. I've been thinking about how I want to respond to this, so sorry for the late comment.

    I think you've really touched on a nerve of what it actually IS to be female. That is, words tend to hurt us a lot more than they hurt men. I have such vivid memories of reading some comment on MySpace/AIM/whatever that was negative about me, and feeling like I'd been punched in the gut. And crying and crying and crying about it.

    Not that it's a good thing that you feel this way. Embrace the emotionality, because that's such an innately feminine thing, but learn to view criticism not as an insult, but as a chance to improve. You have a unique struggle in that you're something of a pre-teen girl (learning the "rules of femininity," as it were) while also being a mature adult. It's not easy, but you're incredibly brave to face a world that is less than accepting.

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    1. Thanks, buddy. I appreciate your perspective and personal experience. Yes, I'm in an odd position of being both immature in one way and very mature in another. Reconciling those things is interesting.

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  30. Wow, I'm so glad you wrote this post. I'm sorry that you were hurt by the comments of someone apparently not blessed with much tact. Thinking of you crying based upon that makes me want to comfort you and I have no idea how. Being secure in yourself is something that is fought for everyday. Insecurities are what make us sympathetic and kind toward others too. Feeling hurt can help mold our behavior to not hurt others (including ourselves). I'm insecure about everything and am continuously fighting those insecurities. I still feel them, but I progressively and aggressively fight them. If I start feeling insecure about my body, for example, I confront those feelings head on and tell myself that I'm beautiful and actively try to change my feelings. Man, sorry about the long and somewhat confusing pep talk! Ha! I just want you to know that femininity comes with many insecurities and you don't have to feel alone in them or let them make you feel unsure of yourself. If you feel good, that is all that matters. You are one of the kindest people I've met in the blogging world and I've always taken your encouragement with delight. Let me encourage you now. You. are. beautiful.
    -Jamie
    ChatterBlossom

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    1. Thank you, Jamie. Such sweet words.

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  31. Ally
    I totally get the nature of your duality. As a hard charging guy I have to be tough. In my practice I am always honest but as a defense attorney I have to take a lot of hits filling in for the clients that I represent in civil matters. I cannot say that the abuse and the slings and arrows do not hurt...clearly they do...but, from my old sporting days you can never let them see you sweat...never let them see fear in your eyes...never let them think that they are getting to you. Without being able to maintain the wall around us, the aura of invincibility neither you nor I could have remotely succeeded in our profession.

    On the other hand we need an outlet. A safe place. A place to vent. A place where we can shed the armor and expose ourselves to the sunlight.

    In my suit and tie I need to be a champion on behalf of my clients. You have that same primary responsibility. By changing to a dress, hose and heels we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We can turn off the hard realities of trying to make a living and trying to do well by our clients and we can find a place of peace, serenity and beauty.

    I more than enjoy my girl time...I often need to jump out of the tasseled loafers and find myself in a cute pair of pumps.

    Pat

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    1. Thank you, Pat. You're one of the rare people who get it.

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