By Sarah Rutledge Fischer
I grew up in a very conservative family where any deviance from traditional gender roles was considered unnatural and evil. I’ve spent years educating myself and peeling away layers of bigotry. Every time I think I’m good, I discover more layers that I didn’t even know were there. Last month, an acquaintance posted something online about non-binary gender identity, and I made some unintentionally offensive comments. Her friends quickly piled on and let me know how wrong-headed I was. I was so embarrassed. It was awful. Since then I’ve learned more about gender identity and can see how hurtful my comments were. I sent a message to this woman apologizing, explaining the context of my ignorance, and expressing a hope that we can continue as friends. But she hasn’t responded at all. I feel like such a jerk. What can I do?
Still Learning About Gender
Ooof! How embarrassing. Social media can make the blunders of our growth so much more painful and public. A poorly thought out comment may have once been a fairly private shame, but online it feels like every statement has an audience of thousands. Let’s see what we can do.
First, take heart that you are on the right track. The very best function of embarrassment and shame is to be the impetus to correct bad behavior. Here, when the ignorance of your comment was brought to your attention, I’m guessing you felt defensive and angry, but your better self won out. You did some soul searching and research and came out on the other side a more educated, socially conscious ally. That’s fantastic!
It is normal to want your acquaintance’s understanding and forgiveness, but make sure that you are not seeking her forgiveness in place of your own. Think about why you need her to affirm your path and accept that she may never do so. Your current stage of growth, no matter how sincere, may be the trigger for her own issues and struggles.
So, let go of your wounded pride. Forgive yourself. When we hold on to shame beyond its usefulness, it can make us risk-averse and actually impede our openness to growth and new ideas. Remember—your mistake was the catalyst for new growth and find a way to be grateful for it.
Still got some energy left over? Dive deeper into understanding your revelation. What were your beliefs before this happened? What pieces of information helped you cross the bridge of understanding? Can you communicate that information to people who still lack that understanding in a way that they can receive it? Start conversations. Take risks. When others blunder, be patient. When you make another mistake—because you will—listen, engage, be grateful for the opportunity to grow. Keep going.
That should get you started.
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