Thanksgiving is fast approaching. While I’m sure we’d all rather indulge in warm fantasies of loving families gathered around the dinner table to, well, give thanks, the holiday season can be a time of stress (and I’m not talking about the stress you feel when your pumpkin pie sets off the smoke alarm!)
The holidays are complicated. There’s an unspoken rule that everyone must play nice, even in spite of glaring incompatibilities among guests.
"Don't talk about you-know-what when grandpa gets here."
"Just act normally so you don’t cause a fuss."
"Can we please - please - try and have a good Thanksgiving?"
Every year, the list of things not to talk about over dinner gets longer as everyone tiptoes around explosive tempers and rampant disinformation.
Thank goodness we only have to self-censor a few times a year, right? Right?
For some people, hiding their true identities, beliefs, and feelings are daily habits. They slip into a persona just the same as they put on clothes for the day. They entertain comments that repulse or offend them all in the name of staying safe. Safe from detection, from criticism, even from abuse.
My self-censorship didn't come with immediate major consequences, but I had a fear of being 'othered.' I'd been on the receiving end of hateful comments and actions before, and I no longer wanted any part of that. My fear kept me hidden and miserable for years before I was able to break my silence and finally live my truths.
What Does Living Your Truth Mean?
To live your truth means living as true to your identity as possible, and doing things daily that bring you happiness and joy, whether that’s in regards to your beliefs, interests, or identity. To do that you must first:
Define yourself for yourself and
Determine what you stand for
Your truth doesn’t have to be loud and public if you can’t or don’t want to do that. Living your truth also doesn’t mean you can live your whole truth 100% every day, all day, everywhere. Some days might require more introspection than outward facing actions. That’s important to remember. You aren’t a sell-out, a fake, or a poser if you take a step back into hiding to protect yourself.
It can be daunting to speak up, open up, come out, or stand in opposition to what is perceived as normal. Not everyone has the luxury to do it. For those of us with more privilege, there are benefits to breaking form and being true to ourselves. If you need that extra push to motivate you, here are four benefits to living your truth.
#1 Code-Switch Less Often
At its core, culture based code-switching is about adjusting your style of speech, behavior, and/or appearance in ways that prioritize the comfort of others and simplify communication. It is similar to language or dialect based code-switching, but can affect all marginalized groups by compelling individuals to hide or suppress those aspects that set them apart from the majority. Many people already do this, formalizing when they enter professional settings or to keep the peace at those aforementioned family gatherings. It is a form of self-censorship. It is work - hard work - not to mention emotionally exhausting, but sometimes necessary. When you feel the need to censor your identity all of the time, however, code switching becomes harmful. Self-censoring can increase anxiety responses in everyday situations, heighten feelings of shame and guilt, and negatively affect relationships.
Living your truth won’t eliminate the need to code-switch, but you’ll hopefully be able to recover better and faster from those self-censoring interactions when hiding isn’t your default state of living.
#2 Take Better Care of Yourself
Especially during the holidays, there is increased pressure to follow tradition whether you like it or not. Guilt is an awful feeling, that’s why most people try to avoid it. But, this often comes at the expense of ourselves.
The past few Thanksgivings, I’ve used my culinary skills to spatchcock or halve whole chickens, quails, and even the turkey. It never failed to impress dinner guests and it reduced cooking time dramatically. Well, I’m a vegan now so, obviously my spatchcocking days are over. This will be the first Thanksgiving in a while where I’m not picking up the cleaver. Thankfully, everyone knows I’m vegan and I never had to feel an ounce of worry over whether or not I’d be expected to perform on ‘Turkey Day.’ When we live our truths, we can expect to spend less time apologizing for maintaining our boundaries and feel less regret for doing things that serve ourselves instead of others.
It also works in the reverse. Maybe instead of declining to do an activity, you are in a situation where you want to participate in or lend your voice to something. If, ordinarily, you would shy away from that sort of thing, maybe taking better care of yourself would include stepping forward and engaging with others in that capacity. For instance, joining a protest or parade, or having a conversation that nourishes you.
#3 Establish Relationships Based On Truth
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being friends with someone who is different from you, but when you find people who match you on deeply personal levels, when you find or cultivate a community based in respect where you feel safe and secure, those are special relationships. If self-censoring and code-switching is about hiding and isolation, finding a community of like individuals can be about growth, support, camaraderie, and confidence.
When you are forced to take a step back into hiding, having even one person who sees you for who you are can be a light in a sea of darkness. Living your truth also means you can be that person for someone else.
#4 Battle Stigma
When we introduce our surroundings to different types of people, we help to normalize intersectionality, diversity, and inclusion. Inspiring change is not easy and it’s not always fun, but it is necessary. When you allow yourself to be unapologetically yourself, you’re helping to pave the way for social change that makes it safer for others to be themselves as well. We already know that when many voices come together, they become a force. We need the forces crying out for positive social change (whether that means a re-evaluation of laws or changing the way targeted groups are depicted in media) to be louder than those that would enforce silence and oppression.
Langston Hughes published ‘I, Too’ in 1926 to express his feelings on black people being excluded from American society, using the metaphor of being denied a seat at the table despite being part of the metaphorical family of America. In 2021, marginalized people are still denied seats at both metaphorical and literal dinner tables. Some people protest or write letters (or poems!) but that isn’t the only way you can make change. Being yourself in any capacity helps.
It will take time to overcome harmful compulsions learned while in hiding, but as that crushing feeling of falseness falls away, you may find that you are better able to champion and support yourself. I have retired a few personas all together, but there are some I struggle to remove, and still others that I roll out for temporary use when I don’t have the bandwidth to stand firm in my beliefs. No matter how I stumble, knowing who I am and holding onto my truths allows me to realign myself with my true north and that makes me better than I ever was.