The Political Preventions of Self-Acceptance

Lately, I’ve felt envious of certain women. What is it about these women that I envy? I envy their total comfort with their own non-normativity, particularly around gender expression. What I mean is that women are expected to be feminine, and our culture has very particular (although often tacit) prescriptions for how that femininity should look and act. Yet, there are women who depart from these expectations and seem so at ease, at peace, and confident in doing so.

Meanwhile, at my therapist’s office, we chat about the importance of accepting and approving of myself. Seems like good advice. But I struggle still to accept myself as a woman who is a noticeable mashup of masculine and feminine, who often is read as more masculine than I feel, and who often feminizes my expression to ward off judgment/rejection from an imagined critic.

I have often wondered why I don’t have the self-possession and self-esteem to be totally comfortable with my gender expression. But that question, I think, presupposes that the qualities can develop and sustain totally apart from political realities. When I say “political”, I mean it in the broadest sense: power. To understand politics is to understand power structures. And I think what I am realizing is that there are indeed political factors that prevent self-acceptance of queer, Black, non-normative me.

In this white supremacist context, I face constant dismissing and devaluing of blackness. In this heterosexist context, I face the pathologizing of queer desire and queer family. In this patriarchal context, I contend with male privilege, the policing of female bodies, and narrow conceptions of what constitutes a socially acceptable woman.

Suddenly, the self-acceptance imperative is much more complicated than psychological actualization.

I do not think self-acceptance is radical. I do think it is exceedingly difficult, and that difficulty is an extension of our political conditions, which are best understood with a radical analysis of power. The political conditions literally prevent self-acceptance. They are vaccinations against love of blackness, love of queerness, and peace of mind about a self liberated to be whoever it wants to be. I think folks like me will struggle with this until the conditions are different.

I don’t have the solution to this problem (revolution notwithstanding, ha). I think I will just be less hard on myself about the envy I feel and the struggle I face to be okay with who and how I am.

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