The concept of acceptance – of self, of others – has been pondered, expounded on, sung about, and written about eloquently by far greater thinkers than myself. The concept of self-acceptance seems to be a nearly universal truth – heck, even I’ve written about that before. And yet…it seems to be an elusive goal for most of us – to truly accept ourselves as we are and as we are becoming.
We are a judgmental and competitive species, we modern humans. Whether the result of some latent biological imperative or a product of modern society and the media onslaught with its constant exhortations to improve external selves, or more likely a combination of numerous influences, the fact remains – we are immersed in an environment that reinforces insecurity and berates us for all manner of natural processes from acne to aging, from periods to inconsistent libidos. We compliment people for things they have no control over whatsoever – what pretty blue eyes you have, wow, you’re really tall, your lips are gorgeous! The message this sends is if you were born with traits that deviate from the current standards you are inferior. And we buy it. Hook, line, and sinker. It’s why I still shave my legs if I’m going to wear a skirt or dress (and curse myself while doing it for caving to the societal pressure). It’s why I pluck my eyebrows and cover my greying roots with chemical dyes. We justify this by saying these things make us feel pretty/sexy/powerful. And they do. And that’s OK because after all we do live in our judgmental society and need to be able to navigate it with confidence. But there’s a danger in this line of thinking that is more insidious when we look deeper than external ideals.
Our hidden selves – the way we see the world, the way our brains really work, what we find sexy, or fun, or silly, or abhorrent – we learn very early to keep those things hidden. Push them down deep. The more we perceive that they deviate from what is “acceptable”, the deeper we push them down. Sometimes we even convince ourselves we DON’T really feel/think/love that way.
And that way lies danger and unhealthy habits, and dishonesty.
When we find others who are brave enough to express their “unconventional” inner selves/thoughts/desires, we awaken and begin to think maybe we’re not so abhorrent after all deep down inside our hidden selves.
This has been the phenomenon of the evolution of the kink community. What began with secret meetings of like-minded folks and brown-paper-wrapped periodicals read under covers and in dark rooms, with the help of the Internet evolved into robust online communities where people could talk freely about their hidden selves and desires – in perceived safety behind their keyboards.
But we still judged each other. We pounced upon those whose differences were different from ours. Flame wars and banishments ensued. Drama with a Most Capital D became the new currency of the realm. We pleaded with each other to remember there were real people behind the names on the screen. Safe enclaves were formed where acceptance was espoused, yet few managed to uphold that ideal for very long.
Now we’re in an age where books, television shows, and movies have plots about kink and sometimes D/s. It’s become “hip” to be kinky. Clubs in cities all over the world have “kink nights” and spaces devoted to D/s and kinky play are popping up all over. Munches have exploded and kinky conventions can be found from coast to coast in my country.
And we still judge each other. We have created new norms – from the rope-centric folks to the predominance of male dominant/female submissive paradigms.
There is a backlash against the judgments and Drama, however. Its mantras are YKISNMYBYKIOK (Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Your Kink Is OK) and acceptance of others. Both of these approaches have great intentions but in reality they play out as tolerance. And tolerance is a good start. But it’s a far cry from actual acceptance.
Tolerance says, “I still think my way of thinking/being/doing is superior, but I am OK with you doing your (inferior) thing over there and I won’t try to stop you.”
Acceptance says, “I find value in the person you are. Your way of thinking/being/doing is different from mine but I place no inherent value on that.”
A hugely powerful difference.
On my FetLife profile, I list my personal life philosophy as boiling down to these four points:
- Do no harm
- Meet people where they are
- Accept people as they choose to present to you
- People first, roles second
People who meet me in person often comment that I seem to “get” them. When I’m talking to someone and getting to know them I focus on them and try to really listen to what they are saying. I strive to be “present”, which for me means that all of my attention is on the person I’m with. This is not easy and I am far from perfect at it. But it’s a goal.
Ultimately, I strive to see the person I’m with. Not their fetishes, not their gender presentation, not their preferred relationship dynamic, not their hair color or clothes or kinks. The human being who is a human being just as I am a human being. We share a common humanity. And if that person strives to live with integrity and honesty, and treats others with kindness and openness, it makes it effortless to accept and value them.
Do I still judge people? You bet – if someone lacks integrity, is dishonest, consistently rude and/or bigoted, exclusionary, destructive…yeah, I judge that. I will distance myself from those people. And unless what they are doing is potentially dangerous to others, I keep my mouth shut about it. Because where I draw my line in the concrete is not necessarily where others draw theirs. My perception is not your reality.
The concept of accepting our fellow humans is not new. Jesus told us to “love they neighbor as thyself.” Buddha urged, “As I am, so are these. As are these, so am I.” Namaste is often translated as, “The spirit in me greets the spirit in you.” Psychologists and philosophers have written extensively about the need to suppress the “ego”, to not strive to elevate our “self” over others.
But it’s hard. It’s mightily hard. We are enculturated to hold ourselves up to societal ideals, to judge ourselves against “norms” that can appear to be anything from arbitrary to deliberately suppressive.
But when we meet someone who truly accepts the human being we are, who values us for us and does not judge our kinks, our clothes, our hair, our gender (be it static or fluid)…that is powerful. Mightily powerful. When we are with others who accept us we are free to accept ourselves. We learn what we knew as children and unlearned along the way to adulthood – that we are valuable and good. That we matter.
When we get to that point and really accept our value, we are then able to accept others….and it spreads like ripples in a pond.
And sometimes, someone drops a boulder in the pond and ripples become waves and the circle of acceptance expands beyond imaging. And it almost seems like magic. And we are elated and buoyed for a while.
One such boulder I witnessed recently was GKENE (Geeky Kink Event: New England). Because the event took over the entire hotel, there was no space where people felt they had to hide who they really were. People could express their inner selves in ways they couldn’t before outside of their homes.
There was a ball pit there. Let that sink in for a minute. An actual ball pit for adults. And it was amazingly fun and powerful. In the ball pit, everyone was equal and everyone’s walls came down and it was just people. People having silly fun together. No judgments. Just acceptance.
I’ve been watching the posts on FetLife from people following GKENE. New friendships formed, new connections made. The ripples and waves of acceptance spreading out.
Was GKENE perfect? Nah – nothing ever is. No person is. It’s not about that. It’s about acceptance and creating a space where people can just BE and be accepted.
I’ll add the lessons learned at GKENE to my arsenal against judging others and continue to strive every day to live by my code of ethics.
Because acceptance is a powerful thing.