It’s been a week full of lessons.
My grand plans to get up early and exercise didn’t see much follow-through beyond the first week (in part because I got slammed with a cold the second week and never got back into the habit, in part because I just didn’t have the energy in the long-term). I tried not to beat myself up about it too much – now that the weather is (kind of, sort of, maybe) getting nicer, I’m going to be more inclined to go for longer walks and generally be more active anyway. I did find, though, that I missed something about the way getting up early allowed me to ease into my day. I’ve often found myself rolling out of bed and running out the door in the space of about fifteen minutes. Last week, I was late to work almost every single day…only by about five minutes, but it still bothered me that I couldn’t seem to get myself going in the morning anymore.
Over the weekend, after poking around at various online resources, I signed up for The Alternative Tarot Course, because it seemed like a good way to get myself back into the business of meditation and reflection. One of the exercises for the course is to draw and meditate on a single card first thing every morning, as a way to get more familiar with the deck and the symbolism of various cards (whether intended by the artist or interpreted by you). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it, given last week’s track record with over-sleeping, but I wanted to try, and so far…it seems to be working. (Turns out it’s a lot easier to get out of bed to go quietly meditate and breathe and mentally prepare for my day than it is to get out of bed to go force my body to do things it doesn’t want to. Imagine that.) And the timing couldn’t have been better: that return to meditative practice has definitely helped keep my overactive brain from running wild this week…
…which it was especially tempted to do on Monday, when I heard a coworker misgender me to another coworker. This was not the person who I’d had an issue with earlier this year, but it was someone who has done this pretty consistently since I started at my job a year and a half ago. Usually, I just sort of shut down, but this time…this time, I got angry.
I waited until I was able to compose myself enough to be mostly civil, and then I sent him an email, the gist of which was:
I want to be very clear on something: I have never, in the entire time I have worked here, been a “she”. Referring to a coworker by the wrong pronouns is both unprofessional and enormously disrespectful. When it occurs persistently, it can also be classified as harassment. If this continues, I will not hesitate to call in HR – not because I have any desire to “tattle” on you, but because I believe everyone, including myself, has the right to feel safe and respected in their workplace.
It was hard to hit send, but I did it (though, admittedly, I waited to send it until just before I left, because I wanted some more space before I had to deal with any further interaction with this coworker). I received a fairly prompt response insisting that there was no malice behind his actions, that it was a totally unconscious thing, and he didn’t know why he did it. I figured that was probably the best I was going to get, and resolved to continue to advocate for myself if the issue came up again.
And then Tuesday rolled around, and he swung by my office in the morning requesting a meeting for that afternoon. I didn’t want to, but I said yes. And you know what?
I went to the meeting.
I remained aware of my body language and retained an external appearance of calm.
I made eye contact, even when he didn’t.
I didn’t explode when he talked about how his behavior was annoying to him, how, “it’s like a tic, really.” (I wanted to explode. I wanted to tell him to a) not use someone else’s disability as a false defense to hide behind and b) take some goddamn responsibility for his actions. But I did not.)
I was not aggressive, but I explained that I wanted to be sure he was aware that this was problematic behavior.
I thanked him for his apology.
I did not say the words, “It’s okay.”
It was obvious that he expected me to say them. He kept looking at me like he was waiting for more. And my first, socially conditioned response would have been to say exactly that.
But it’s not okay. It’s never okay. And I’m not going to pretend that it is. I am not going to sacrifice my comfort for the comfort of someone else when that person clearly isn’t interested in doing the same kindness to me.
It was kind of a revelation.
I can thank someone for their apology without saying that the shitty behavior that necessitated the apology in the first place was okay. I can be gracious, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up and pretend the hurt never happened.
So I’m learning.
I’m learning to center and to ground myself in the midst of mental chaos.
I am learning how to get angry on my own behalf. Defending others is a wonderful thing to do, but self-defense is equally important.
I’m learning that self-advocacy is still hard, but if I remain grounded and centered, it’s possible to do it. It is even possible to look aggressors in the eye and maintain control of the conversation, if I stay focused.
I’m learning that I don’t owe absolution of guilt to anyone who isn’t motivated to change their behavior (and that a true change in behavior eliminates the need for absolution anyway).
I’m learning. And as I learn, I grow, and evolve, and slowly (ever so slowly), I am becoming the man I want to be.