Have you ever sat down and told someone something deeply personal? Or have you been thinking about doing just that? Your heart pounds, your palms sweat, and in that moment you truly wish the Doctor would come with his Tardis and take you anywhere but here. The apocalypse would do. You’ll find yourself avoiding the issue with general chat, even making yourself busy doing that one chore you’ve been putting off. Anything but talk about that one thing.
I’m not going to lie to you and say there’s an easy way to tell someone something difficult. You are going to feel like someone just burst in on you singing into your hairbrush in front of the mirror. Naked. And for a moment, you’re going to have to deal with that vulnerability, as does anyone who needs to share something of themselves. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are things you can do to make it easier for both you and the person you’re talking to.
Is It Confession Time?
Growing up, you were handed down a paradigm of how you should be. Perhaps you always got the message that boys should be boys and girls should be girls, or that it’s not ok to look different.
But what happens when you find out you don’t fit that paradigm? For you, it might be discovering that you’re transgender. For someone else it might finding out that they’re Pagan. For us it was discovering that we were more than one. When you know something is a fundamental part of who you are, it’s natural to fear rejection, but it’s worth doing.
It’s Scary But It’s Worth It
Having conversations that start with “I have something to tell you” is scary. It’s very scary. But living with the fear of being discovered is worse. Spending every day hiding it, watching what you say or hoping you don’t get spotted in the wrong place or with the wrong person feels like living under surveillance. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder. You’re constantly wondering what would happen if they knew. It’s no way for a person to live.
Yes, sometimes you will lose some people along the way, and I’m not going to minimize the pain of that, but in the long run you will gain something valuable beyond measure: People who love and accept you for exactly who you are.
Three Things You Can Do To Make That Conversation Easier
1. Pick your moment and your time carefully. If one or other of you is tired, hungry, in a bad mood or about to run to an appointment, it’s not the right time. Wait till you’re both in a decent mood with plenty of time.
2. Don’t rush them. If the other person has questions, answer them as much as you’re comfortable with. If they are stressed out, don’t yell or accuse them of not loving you. Offer them space to think about it. Suggest picking up again when they’ve had some time to think, even point them to some useful resources. Remember, you’ve lived with this for a while, but it’s brand new to them.
3. Take things in the spirit they’re meant. In this beautiful TED talk, Ash Beckham gives the delightful example of a wedding guest, stumped for how to react to Ash being a lesbian, exclaiming “my husband wears pink shirts!”. We’ve had more than one person say “oh, like Norman Bates?”. No, no I can assure you our shower is a decidedly murder-free zone and we live far enough out in the sticks to not even be in sight of a hotel. The thing is though, the people who say those things aren’t trying to insult you. They’re trying to understand as best they can. By all means, offer the facts, but do be gentle, won’t you? Trying to relate is an act of empathy, not of attack. Look for the spirit behind it.
Your Most Important Tool In A Difficult Conversation
I’ve had several hard conversations over the years (there’s really no easy way to say “guess what, I share my body with other people”), but I’ve found there is one thing that makes a really big difference: Your attitude.
Think about it, if your best friend started a conversation with “this is going to be really difficult for you to hear”, wouldn’t you be going into it already stressed? Now if they changed that to “I have something I’d like to share with you, and I think you’ll find it explains some things”, wouldn’t you feel a bit more reassured?
If you can change your approach from “I’m terrified to say this” to “I think you’ll find this helpful to know” or even “I have something to tell you that I think makes me much easier to understand and I’m excited to share it with you, even if I’m a little bit nervous too”, you’re giving your conversation a better chance of going the way you want it to.
Peeling away the layers to reveal who you really are isn’t easy. It’s one of the scariest things you’ll ever do, and sometimes people will find it hard to accept. But if you can accept yourself, if you can stand proud in who you are, you will find there are people out there who will love you for you, and that living in fear is truly no way to live. Be brave – being your honest self is one of the most freeing things you can do.
What traits in yourself do you need to value more? Has someone surprised you by being more understanding than you expected? Let me know in the comments.