It is much easier to feel free to do what you want in the world if you don’t give shit if anyone likes you or not. As long as you believe you are playing for the authoritative audience, like a vengeful God or a manipulative boss, you feel covered in acting large and pissing off the little, stupid people.
For most of us, though, we find it important to be liked. Not only does it feel better, it provides us with the human networks that can give us what we need, from love to money.
According to the people around us, trying to be liked starts with the apparently simple injunction to not do things that piss them off. We shouldn’t irritate them, shouldn’t scare them, shouldn’t embarrass them, shouldn’t challenge them, shouldn’t show them up, shouldn’t be too queer, all that.
People are more than happy to tell us what they don’t like about us, what we are doing wrong. If we want to be liked, they tell us, the first thing we have to do is police ourselves so that any bit that might be offensive or too big is modulated, cut down and erased.
When we want to be liked, no, when we need to be liked, in a family, in a peer group, in the work place, we start to desperately police our own choices, working hard to tamp down parts of us that others have found too strong over the years.
It is at this time many of us adopt an imp into our life, an inner pet we feed whose job is to chew away at our ego, to remind us of the dangers around us, to suck up the energy which might make us stand out too much and be unlikable. Our imp is the voice of our training, mixed with our fears, the toxic blend we keep around to eat our own life force so we stay sweet, small and welcomed.
Growing up in a family where being liked was just impossible, I struck my claim early on being respected. We were iconoclastic individualists, with no extended family or local community, no visitors, just the wail of a mother who was sure everyone was out to ruin her life.
Her problem was that she wanted to be liked, but as a Aspie, she didn’t know how to do that. That broke her heart and she wanted people to know it, so she took her pain out on everyone around her.
Like her, though, as a woman, I want to be liked. I don’t want to have to be the big, bold, brave, ballsy one, not caring what anyone else thinks of my choices in the world. I did that, thank you very much, and it never got me seen and valued for who I knew myself to be inside.
In the end, it turns out that people like us for who we are rather than for who we aren’t. As much as we feel battered, suppressed and humiliated by our imp trying to keep us nice, sweet and appropriate, that suffering can never make us likeable, successful or happy. It doesn’t matter that we conspire with our imp to stay small for reasons that seemed to make sense at some time, we can never claim our power and grace in the world by cutting ourselves back.
Even through we may know that truth, telling it to our imp is almost impossible. There is always someone around who doesn’t like us, who isn’t happy with our choices, so by focusing on those negative people we can get instant emotional proof that we need to be slammed down in order to be liked. I get slammed by anxiety, others get slammed by feeling like they are a sucker, working below themselves and there are plenty more ways the imp finds to sabotage us, to keep us small and broken, abject enough to be harmless and cute, or at least that’s the pitch our imp makes.
Following the rules only helps us avoid losing. It is in going beyond the rules where we claim winning, showing our individuality, creativity and excellence. It is in going beyond the rules that we reveal ourselves.
As transpeople, we know that we we are already breaking rules big time. We were shamed into the closet early, understanding that our heart broke the rules of the binary system all by itself. It feels like in just being visibly trans our margin of safety is used up, that we deserve whatever shit we get.
Our imp knows this well. It was there to help drive us into the closet, there to warn us about being visible, there to justify & rationalize what we do to stay small and hidden.
When we try to get support for emerging as trans in the world, what we most often get is other people feeding our imp. They warn us, they worry for us, they tell us scary anecdotes they have heard, they tell us all the possible ways to fail, they explain how we are doing it wrong, they tell us that we can never win, that we will remain abject, lonely and freakish.
To be big in the world we have to confront our own fears, which is tough. To support us being big, other people have to confront their own fears, which is much tougher because they don’t feel the price of our playing small on their skin like we do. It’s easy for them to urge caution and restraint because they don’t have to pay the price.
When the ones we love hold fears for us we learn early that we cannot afford to alienate them because we need what they have for us, the connections, the sharing and the love. We need them to like us because if they don’t, we are out there shooting the moon.
“If you are bold enough to transcend gender, then you must be bold enough to not worry about people liking you!” others say, thinking of how they have listened to their imp, have played by the rules, have stayed small.
But we want and need people to like us. We feel like we have used up our quota of wildness because that’s what our imp tells us all the time.
If only we didn’t want people to like us, we wouldn’t be human.
And human is what we are.