When I was a little girl, I used to think a person became self-aware when they became an adult. Like…by the time they were 18 or 21 or so, people still may not be established in life, or have their entire life planned out, but they would know by then who they WERE. But I was totally wrong.
Being self-unaware isn’t necessarily bad. You certainly don’t need self-awareness to have a happy or successful life. In fact, sometimes I think having or even seeking it is a burden.
But I crave it anyway. <Masochist…cough…cough…ahem.>
I didn’t even scratch the surface of self-awareness until I was married for almost 2 years…almost 30.
My whole life I’ve been labeled by other people as ‘different.’ Many defining words have been put on me, most of them true, at least on a superficial level, and most of them were used to imply, ‘What’s WRONG with you? Why are you LIKE this?’
Shy. Prudish. Reserved. Guarded. Overly-sensitive. Blunt. Intimidating.
That last one really got to me for a long time. It’s weird, now, decades after the ‘masculine’ label first got assigned to me, reading stories about trans kids getting misgendered, because they don’t identify with the sex they were born into. I have real empathy for them, even though I never struggled in precisely that way. I was born female and self-identified feminine, but lots of other people, including my family, labeled me masculine regularly. I cut my hair short in early elementary school, and one of my grandfathers started jokingly (he thought) calling me by the closest approximate boy’s name to my first name. In middle school (of all times…probably the most vulnerable time for a kid’s self-image), my mom told me, ‘You know your dad always wanted a son, and I felt bad about not having more kids for years. But hell, even if we’d never had <my brother, who was a baby at the time>, your dad would’ve always had you.’ I made friends more easily with boys than girls. I was ‘one of the guys.’ I majored in a male dominated program in college and went to work at a male dominated company in a male dominated industry and seemed to ‘fit right in.’ I didn’t get hit on or harassed, which in an odd way lent more evidence to ‘masculine,’ because I watched my coworkers hit on other women. To be clear, I’ve never envied sexual harassment. But the lack of it in my life surrounded by men did make me feel like something was wrong with me. I guess in some ways I did act ‘like a man,’ but I never wanted to BE a man, and I never saw myself as masculine, so there was a lot of obvious disconnect. Now, I read about the gender spectrum, and see more people asserting that style, actions, and interests aren’t inherently ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ I always ‘knew’ those things, I guess, but I didn’t get that validation until my 30s. I always sort of felt like I had to defend my femininity.
‘Masculine’ was the defining word that irked me most, but the other words other people gave me bothered me too. Then, after I became a parent, I found out two more words to define myself while helping friends do advanced academic work in psychology.
I’m an INFJ. Oddly, in this weird little niche I’ve found in the online universe, that’s NOT exceptionally weird, but in ‘real life,’ I’m the only INFJ I know. Apparently, INFJs are rare. My friend doing the research immediately picked it out as an anomaly and (to make sure I didn’t mess up her work), I took the test a couple more times, just in case. Same results every time though. I’m not sure if it’s my <lack of> social skills, or the area I live in, or just circumstance, but in real life, I only know 2 other IN-anythings: J and my best woman friend (birds of a feather, right?). But I’ve found in kind online forums, a startling number of the people I’ve encountered or interacted with or who follow me are INFJ’s or -P’s, way more than the 2-6% of the human population estimated to be those types. I was only 6 credits short of a psychology minor in college myself, so the fact that Myers-Briggs personality tests or types never came up for me in scholarly pursuit amazes me now. I wish I had these results in high school or college. They’d have explained a lot…the constant feelings of being an outsider, my intrinsic inclination to put up social walls, the distaste for performing and seeking attention while still craving attention, the eerie ability to ‘feel’ other people’s emotions, and sometimes to even project future events with accuracy. Putting an explanation on things would have made me feel way less like there was something WRONG with ‘shy’ and ‘guarded’ and ‘sensitive.’ It would have made relating to people easier. But I was 35 when I took my first Myers-Briggs test. I know it’s not a defining tool in psychology, and some academics put no stock in it at all, but for me, most of my life started making sense. I’m an introvert. I’m an empath. Why had I never heard those terms before?
And then there’s ‘prudish.’ Like most other people, I began to see aesthetic beauty in other humans, particularly men in my case, in late elementary/early middle school. I made (a few) friends (I’m pretty introverted), and I dreamed about romance with someone I could be friends with that I found aesthetically pleasing. But I never wanted sex. I dated (a few) guys who were kind and respectful, but until J, I truly didn’t ‘want’ them to touch me or kiss me. It was something I gave informed consent to because I knew it was socially expected, and I liked them and wanted them to like me back. I didn’t feel pressured…I intellectually ‘wanted’ to, but…there was no desire there. Most of these guys could sense my disinterest, and they were (understandably, I suppose) insulted by it. Some of them asked if I’d experienced past trauma or abuse that ‘made me’ that way, but I hadn’t (unless you count touch starvation, but…that’s not what they meant, I know). I DID sincerely feel something was wrong with me, though, and I did a lot of introspective soul searching trying to figure myself out. Why did I want friends, romance, and beauty, but not want the sexual contact? I had only ever been romantically attracted to men, but I even seriously considered for a while if I was somewhere other than ‘hetero’ on the sexuality spectrum (I DID know about THAT, mostly because my interest in hobby and media consumption skewed ‘masculine.’ That, plus the seeming aversion to sexual contact made folks ask me if I was gay). Maybe the reason I didn’t want sexual contact with men was because I’d been socialized to want hetero romance, but was really not a hetero person. But I’m hetero. I’m just also demisexual or ‘gray’ asexual, depending on which description you read. Things were different with J. We met online, and spoke a lot before ever actually spending time in each other’s presence, not to mention the differences in demeanor and behavior J had from the other men I’d seen. It made the deep emotional bond I needed to feel sexual attraction and desire happen. I wanted J to touch me on our first date (though he did NOT). That was something that *never* happened for me before.
No one ever talked about any shade or form of asexuality around me, even in a negative way, though. Like…I didn’t even know this was a possibility of something a person could be. I identified myself as gray-ace *two years ago*. If I knew what ‘demisexual’ was in high school and college, it would have been really helpful for me and my own self-acceptance.
Now, I know there’s nothing WRONG with me. I like the new defining words I found; I find them helpful. I think labels can be good…as long as they’re used for self-discovery and definition, and aren’t placed upon a person by someone else.