The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone (Backflips included)
A non-binary divorcee’s journey towards finding radical self-love
A month ago, my partner of 11 years and I decided to break up. I shared what that meant for me in this Medium blog. I opened up about how much my partner and I loved each other, my non-binary(ness), and my plan to reclaim my story by running a marathon in high heels. At this point, nearly 500 people have seen that story, many had very affirming responses. “Live your truth”. “Proud of you”. “So brave”. It’s the most reactions I’ve ever had to one of my posts. The Go Fund Me to get my two front teeth back has already hit $1,200!!! I really am deeply grateful for all your support I’ve received.
I’m lonely though. I feel shame in saying that, due to all the support, but it’s the truth. I started writing about this loneliness yesterday, and I’ve been gently challenged to dig a bit deeper into that reflection. Am I lonely, or just alone? How do I distinguish the difference? My initial response is that I am often alone, and that aloneness often brings me peace, clarity, and self-love. But, increasingly in this last month, my loneliness has prevented me from really living in my moments of aloneness. I have so many supportive friends, but that’s not the same as a romantic, intimate, sexual connection with another human being. I’ve always enjoyed spending time alone AND spending time with another. A month ago, I naively thought new love would be eagerly waiting for me on the other side of our decision, in the greener grass; but during winter in Alaska, there isn’t much green grass. I am fairly certain I am struggling mostly with loneliness, and not an inability to enjoy life when I’m alone. Today’s reflection is about exploring and explaining that.
I continue to remind myself to be patient, focus on myself, and just enjoy life. While doing that, I’m also grappling with loneliness. I know who I am without romance, intimacy, and sexual connection; but does that mean I shouldn’t long for that connection? Am I’m wanting it too quickly after the break up? Do I love myself enough? I don’t want to feel ashamed of desiring that connection anymore. I accept I won’t connect with another person quickly, but the wait really didn’t begin only a month ago. Most people read that initial blog post, and probably thought, give it some time, learn to be alone, and reconnect with yourself before trying to connect with another. It’s divorce 101. I get that, and needed to hear it. But, loneliness isn’t new to me. It didn’t start a month ago. I’ve been coping with loneliness for a long time, trying to “be positive” and “patient”, waiting for romance, intimacy and sex to return. So, why is loneliness overwhelming right now? Here is what I came up with as I dug a little deeper into what I wrote yesterday.
The way the world treats non-binary and trans people creates loneliness. We need not to confuse that with my ability to be alone. In 2014, when I finished grad school and attended a national job placement exchange, I had over 20 interviews in a weekend, and I wore high heels to every one of them. Aside from the smiles and affirmations, “Yes! You givin me Prince vibes!” (I really enjoyed that one), nobody asked any questions. Actually, somebody who became a close friend of mine, assumed I was gay (that’s a story for another day). Nobody asked about my gender identity, and I left the exchange with no job offers. Months after the conference, my partner told me about a conversation she had with a friend of ours (a mentor of mine in the same field as me). ALL the schools were talking about me after the placement exchange. “What’s up with that guy wearing heels?” I belonged to a national field of work, but it’s still a very small community, where people talk. My partner told me all the ways my mentor was trying to advocate for me in those conversations, and I was grateful to them for doing so, but then the last thing that was shared with me really hit me deep. My mentor asked my partner if ‘she was okay’. What hurt the most wasn’t all the gossip about me, and not getting to share my voice (I assumed that was happening); it was how that question showed who matters. To this day, that mentor has never asked me if I’m okay (and I was the one trying to figure out my gender identity on my own and coping with the impact of the gossip). Then, that mentor cut me out of their life and blocked me on facebook, after a trivial disagreement about a damn cat meme. I apologized and tried to reconnect in all the ways you can imagine. I even bumped into them in person, years later, but they said they “still needed more time”. I was livid! And, heart-broken. They still needed more time?!?! Getting cut out of lives that mean a lot to me, creates loneliness. Not being valued as much as a cis-gender person, creates loneliness. Not getting call backs because my of my clothes choices, creates loneliness (this wasn’t the only time this happened during a job search… that’s definitely a story for another day). I did finally get a job offer, one offer, weeks before graduation, and I quickly accepted it.
Let’s fast forward to a month ago when I came out as non-binary. A close friend of mine (we’ll call him Jimmy) shared a conversation they had with one of our mutual friends (we’ll call him Gene), about me and my gender identity. Gene shared that he didn’t know me anymore and only “remembers me as a badass”. Now, Jimmy immediately saw all the messedupness of that statement, and probably said something like “What in the fuck!” Can I not wear a dress as a “man” and still be a “bad ass”? Now, I know I don’t to prove myself to anybody. But, I did just run 100 miles in 37 hours a couple months ago, which an actual friend described as, and I quote, “badass”. I can’t know why Gene drew this conclusion, because Gene never shared their thoughts with me (I probably could guess though… I’ve been studying gender for some time now). Already, you can probably see how this can make a person feel lonely. I was not only excluded from yet another conversation about my gender identity, but Gene never valued my opinion enough to talk to me about it. This isn’t the whole story though. Just like with my mentor, Gene unfriended me on Facebook some time ago. I didn’t even know they unfriended me; I happened to notice that we weren’t friends one day. Jimmy talked to Gene about this too. Basically, Gene unfriended me because my “political” views didn’t align with his… You know, things like me suggesting they shouldn’t use the n-word as a white person, or that Black Lives Matter, or that trans people should be allowed to exist freely in the world. Ya know, the real controversial topics that people often “agree to disagree” on (I’m still frustrated). I wasn’t seeing their posts anymore, because they too cut me out of their life, yet another way to show me how much non-binary people matter. Jimmy shared what Gene told them as a justification for unfriending me on Facebook. “Justin and I can be friends, just not on Facebook”. That sounds logical. Of course, that can happen, but, can we? Can we really? Are we? Like the mentor, I haven’t heard from that “friend” in years.
So, yeah, I’m lonely. I am tired for waiting for a human to love all me, while dealing with all that stuff too. It’s why I wrote the song “Be Brave Enough”. I am ready to romantically and intimately connect with a person who sees all my non-binary attributes as beautiful and badass. I have been ready, and waiting, and being positive, and patient. And, I’ll continue to, but I will also say it like it is. It’s lonely sometimes, which is very different all the times when I have chosen to be alone.
Today, I wasn’t invited along for the group bike ride. And, that is okay! My friends are going to read this and I do NOT want them to feel sad. They are four of the most supportive people in my life right now. I love them. I completely understood and fully supported their trip. It was a couple’s ride, just the four of them, to have time to connect. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t upset about not going, so I went outside and went about my day. I was going to be alone today and I was okay with that. I can do rad things when I’m alone (might I say, even badass things sometimes). Today, I built bike ramps and did some backflips.
I never mustered up the courage to backflip the bike, but I also decided, I got nothing to prove to Gene…. I often CHOOSE to be alone, and enjoy it. I run, sew, hike, bike, build furniture, write, sing, play music, cook, take bathes, read, think, plan, dream, listen, and watch emotional stuff on Netflix. Being alone isn’t a problem for me. I often thrive when I’m alone, and there is a distinct difference between being alone and feeling lonely. The truth, is that sometimes I’m alone and I thrive (like today), and sometimes I’m alone when the loneliness overwhelms me (like yesterday). And, that’s okay too. For now, I’m looking ahead to Spring, when the snow melts, and I’ll get to enjoy some of that green grass I’ve heard so much about.