Can you be your most authentic self everywhere?

Recently at work we had a discussion about Inclusion, and what it means and how we apply it in our everyday work life, and this (or a version of this because I forget her exact words) was a question posed by our DEIJ Librarian who was leading the discussion. I had a lot of thoughts about this question, and I still have a lot of thoughts about it, some informed by the discussion around this question, and some just my own thoughts as an invisibly disabled queer woman.

My initial thought is that it’s actually a disservice and inappropriate to the people around you to be your most authentic self everywhere. This is not to say I think we should be “fake” or “inauthentic” or whatever, but that dealing with the full authentic reality of a person is an incredible act of emotional labor. Every person comes with a host of quirks, disabilities, fears, and trauma responses, and laying that bare for every other person to see all the time is both incredibly taxing to the person laying it bare, but also incredibly taxing on the person who is receiving the brunt of this. There is a reason why we all wear many faces and code-switch depending on the situation we are in. We wear faces to protect ourselves, and also to protect others from our own internal rough edges. The person we are in public is not the same as the person we are at work, and that is not the same as the person we are with our closest family. This is not to say that everyone is faking in public. I think most people are their genuine selves in public….to a point.

My second thought about this is that who we are in public in relation to our most authentic selves is often complicated by a lot of factors, from race to sex/gender to sexuality to ability-levels and on and on. Each marginalized identity, or otherwise “othered” identity that we carry around is another level of difference that we have to decide whether to embody in a given space or flatten into the “norm” so as not to draw attention to that aspect of our “authentic” selves. There are times and spaces where it is actively dangerous, physically or psychically, to display all our authenticity, purely because of the axes of marginalization we inhabit. With some marginalization, such as race, we cannot hide our authentic selves completely, but we can still flatten and sanitize them for consumption. With other marginalizations, like sexuality, it’s often easier just not to bring it up in certain situations.

I am a very “out there” person in some spaces, and as quiet and unassuming as a little mouse in others. I tend to live my life out loud online, but in-person I often smooth myself out and perform a certain level of “normalcy” to protect myself from the prying of strangers. In online spaces I can both connect with people whose authentic selves complement mine, and easily disengage if I need space to contemplate or simply need privacy to protect a certain aspect of myself. In-person it’s not so easy to disengage like that, so it’s often safer for me to hide away the difficult or ugly or unusual aspects of my authentic self. Those are not for public consumption anyway. I am always authentic, but I am only completely authentic with a few very close people: husband, girlfriend, best friend, etc. Learning how to navigate that is a part of learning how to protect your own privacy in an increasingly un-private world. Pushing back against the encroachment on our privacy is important, and rejecting the notion that we have to be our most authentic selves in every situation is part of that.

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