I received the following email from a high school senior (we’ll call her Angie), replied to her, she appreciated the response and told me she’d be cool with me sharing it with you folks in case any one else might be able to find it useful.
I need tips on how to thicken my skin.
Here’s my issue. I’m taking Gender/Sexuality Diversity in Literature (basically Gender Studies), and there are kids in my class who don’t believe in bisexuality, let alone *my* sexuality (aka. pansexuality). I’m an easy crier and I just know that when this rather basic problem surfaces–because I’ve only ever heard these kids mutter their opinions under their breath–I won’t make it through the conversation. So, tips?
I’ve thought about coming out to the class (I’m out to my friends, family, most teachers, and Facebook, but most people don’t know) but haven’t. I want people to step on eggshells because they’re being inclusive, not because I’m in the room and they don’t want to offend me personally.
Any thoughts? Totally fine if not. A snarky one-liner would be just as welcome, because you’re hilarious and shit.
The best tip I can give you on thickening your skin = don’t. That is, don’t thicken your skin. Having a thin skin means you’re letting the world in, you’re letting what’s out there affect what’s in you. It means you’re connected. You’re open. You’re considerate and you’ll consider it — whatever it might be. Having a thin skin may be dangerous, sure, because you might take in so much that you pop, like that blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. But life is dangerous.
A thick skin protects you from everything, but it also protects you from everything — from the gentle touches of life, from the subtle emotions of others, the deep connections, the meaningful interactions.
That said, if you’re going to have conversations about contentious stuff, like sexuality and gender, you’re going to need coping mechanisms to prevent letting it get to you too much. To help you with that, following are my top ten suggestions to not let someone ruin your day:
10. Pet a puppy. If you don’t have a puppy, steal a puppy. Then pet the puppy. Then give the previous owner a copy of this list.
9. Realize that people are probably not actively trying to hurt you or your way of life. They probably think they are actually protecting/helping you. And, in the event they are complete assholes and they are trying to hurt you, they’re not worth your empathy. Assholes.
8. Remember/focus on the people who support and understand you, like your family, your friends, and Neil Patrick Harris.
7. Get angry! Find productive and healthy ways to let the anger out. Popular choices are exercise, ANGRY TEXT MESSAGES!!!, and violent ceramic sculpting. “Are you making a… coffee cup?” “No, that’s a fist hole.”
6. Learn to find humor in and laugh at everything. Sometimes I’ll be reading an email on the bus from a crazy person who tells me I am “not worth the air I’m breathing” and I “should kill [my]self” and I’ll start laughing at the irony, then realize how crazy other people on the bus must think I am and start laughing even harder at the double irony.
5. Let a big friend punch you in the head. Super hard. Getting punched in the head by a giant puts everything in perspective.
4. Come to grips with the simple fact that not everyone will ever understand or agree with everything you are passionate about. Ever. So focus your time on the people who may. Assholes.
3. Still have that puppy you stole? Donate it back to its original owner. Isn’t charity fulfilling?
2. Keep putting yourself out there. Every time you do it, you’ll get better at being able to do it, and to predict and mitigate any negative side effects that might come your way. Like hurt feelings. Or seasonal diarrhea.
1. Know you’re never alone*.
Hope that helps, Angie! If it doesn’t, please don’t tell me. I’m not sure if I can emotionally handle that right now. I just had my puppy stolen.
Best of luck!
*Not in a creepy “someone is behind you as you are reading this very sentence” kind of way, more in a if you ask for help there will always be someone who can hear it way. Actually, that’s creepy, too. Forget it — you’re on your own.