The “support” that hurts worse than hate

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I came out publicly as agender almost two months ago. It’s been an intense experience interacting with so many people with so many opinions over something so personal. But it’s growing me into a stronger and more compassionate person, so I don’t regret it.

Through this process, I’m not just learning about myself, but about the human condition.

The latest lesson I’m learning is about what’s going on under the surface when some folks are attempting to express support.

Painful words that are meant well

In the last few weeks, I’ve had a wave of people in my life speak to me in very hurtful ways without realizing it. It’s not that they were pushing hate on me. Strangely, that would be much easier to deal with.

It’s something more complex.

Typically it goes something like this.

The person will bring up LGBT rights. They’ll start talking about how they wish they could speak up for LGBT folks, but they can’t. They’re too afraid of being judged or rejected by their community for it.

They want me to recognize their tough situation, and for me to affirm their intentions and say “that’s OK, you’re still a supportive friend anyway.”

But I can’t do that. What they’re saying is far more hurtful to me as their friend than they realize. 

Here’s why.

1. What they stand to lose, I can never have

These folks are coming from a place of belonging to a group that has already completely rejected me. I don’t relate to what they have to lose: I already am barred from having it.

I’m already beyond the “stakes” they talk about, and they don’t even seem to realize that. I’m already locked out of this group. 

If loving me makes your position precarious, then make a choice. Choose to either love your friend or to be secure in the group. Don’t justify your lack of support to me by telling me how insecure it would make you to express it.

I never got to choose security. If you choose security, that’s just your call to make, and I can’t thank you for what you wish you had the guts to do. Intentions don’t help me. Help helps me.

2. They’ve prioritized my oppressor

When someone shares this thought with me, they show me that they care more about staying comfortable on my enemy’s side than they do about helping me with my fight. They’d rather continue gaining the benefits of being accepted in a group that believes I don’t deserve rights than stand up for me (and risk losing those benefits).

I never got to choose to be in this fight. But I’m in it whether I want to be or not. And people who stay on my enemy’s side just make my enemy stronger. It’s sad to find out that even my friends will do this. If you choose to stay on my enemy’s side, I can’t thank you for your desire to be on mine. You’re showing me who you really stand with.

3. It’s about me thinking well of them

I don’t ask anyone to tell me whether they’re standing up for me or not. When people tell me “I would … but here’s why I can’t,” it’s never prompted. And they’re not saying it to help me. It’s to justify themselves to me.

But I’m their friend. I don’t want their self-justification—I just want their help, because this is hard.

If you’re my friend, and you know you’re not going to help me, that’s OK. Just don’t help me. Please stop explaining why. You’re just putting a burden on me to make you feel better about yourself. And this is already exhausting.

Supportive friends make all the difference

There’s a huge difference between supportive friends and people who want me to think well of them. If your priority is me thinking well of you, please just let me be. You’re hurting me more than you’re helping.

Supportive friends are invested in my well-being, and in making sure I’m doing OK. They stand up for me because they care about me, not to prove anything to me. They don’t tell me what they would have done if they could. They just do what they do. And they don’t need me to assure them they’re doing a good job being supportive—because it’s not about how they see themselves.

I’ve been blessed with some very supportive friends. I’ve needed you, and you’ve inspired and encouraged me probably more than you realize.  Thank you for not making this about what I think of you.

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