Whose Acceptance Matters?
By Kate Bornstein
Photo by Danielle Levitt
I’ve spent the bulk of my life chasing after acceptance, and running the hell away from it once I had some. At the age of 65, it’s finally become clear to me that the acceptance most worth seeking is self-acceptance.
We’re born with a need for acceptance by the people who raise us through childhood. In infancy, it’s easy—all we have to do is gurgle and look cute. Bingo: accepted! But as I grew up, I learned that in order to hold on to that acceptance, I had to learn the gender of “boy.” I had to live boy, then man—and in so doing, I lost touch with all the fun parts of the me. After I accepted my gender as not-man, not-woman, life became fun. And my family and I fell back into mutual acceptance.
Seeking acceptance causes us to follow the rules of the people whose acceptance we seek. I’ve contorted myself into many mind-boggling identities by going after acceptance at school, in synagogue, at a rally for this or that, and so on. Most dangerous for me was seeking acceptance by the crowds grasping at the corporate American dream, as promoted on any sponsored media you can think of.
And yet, for all my talk of self-acceptance, I still wanna hang with the cool kids. (No matter how old you are, there are always gonna be cool kids—no matter how old they are.) I don’t mean the richest kids, or the most fashionable—I mean the kind of cool you know yourself to be, despite what’s making you think the cool kids won’t like you. That seems to be the key: self-acceptance of the parts of ourselves that make us feel ashamed, angry, or easily humiliated. The scary life journey of self-acceptance is worth more than all other forms of acceptance combined. And that’s when we’ll get to hang with the cool kids, because then we really will be a cool kid ourselves.
So, my dove—look your greatest fears in the eye, one by one. Determine which is justified and which is prompted by the need for acceptance from someone who’s not you. Solve the real fears, and let go of the need for an acceptance that makes you hurt. Tweet me from time to time, please, @katebornstein, and let me know how that works for you.
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