This week, one of my close friends “came out of the closet,” a prime time considering that same-sex marriage was legalized in all fifty states shortly afterwards.
My friend (let’s refer to him as “C”) admitted few days before the momentous day that he was uncertain about his sexuality, but knew that he was certainly attracted to men. A couple of days later, he called me again, saying that he had dated women before, and he was still attracted to women. The day after, he said he felt pansexual after being “desexualized.”
If everything seemed overwhelming for me, I can’t possibly imagine how it must have felt for C. However, what really challenged me in my limited encounters with these scenarios was the term C used: “desexualized.” We’ve talked about sexuality existing on a spectrum, and this dynamic identity that may or may not change as we age. Wanting to be supportive throughout the whole process, I was calm, understanding, and most importantly, actively listening. But I admitted to both him and myself that I was confused about “desexualizing.” I was afraid to admit that I didn’t know and still don’t know how to help C, who seeks my help and my comfort in figuring out his sexuality or even asexuality. But I felt guilty of trying to place him into a category, defining people when I don’t understand enough.
One of the many facets that allow us to differentiate from other beings is compassion.
The real life carework practiced at the organizations the Moxies are partnered with exemplify that the most human trait that we can do is empathize. And by definition, to empathize is to attempt to understand others by identifying and sharing in their feelings. But not all situations demand empathy, and it may not even be the best course of action—something I found shocking.
While I’ve always thought that empathizing would be an effective approach when comforting someone, it is also important to acknowledge what one is going through instead of trying to relate to my own personal experiences.
Even with my work at National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, before I get ready to interview domestic workers and home caretakers, I’ve been informed that I shouldn’t empathize all the time but rather listen. I’m not supposed to comfort someone who’s crying and say “It’s okay! Don’t cry, you’re not at fault!” Instead I’m supposed to acknowledge their sadness or frustration, and let them know I understand their feelings.
The road to self-discovery is not an easy one. Many pit stops are along the way: we go back on what we say, what we’ve promised ourselves; we “double think” by questioning and reanalyzing what may have been previously thought as certain elements in our lives. We may only take a certain path for a while, then switch to a different one. It may just be a phase. But as the youngest person in the Moxie group, and perhaps the most naïve, I realize that it’s okay to not know. College is the time when you question everything about yourself and what you want to do. This is the time where everything gets confusing, but instead of being afraid, I’ve come to the revelation that not knowing is a freedom, a luxury, that I can afford at this time and space.
This uncertainty that would have caused me anxiety not so long ago, has evolved into positive energy. I’ve felt safe admitting that I don’t understand. I don’t need to always need to have an answer, to speak up. Strangely enough I do find myself able to empathize, because I am also confused. That itself is a way to demonstrate my care, instead of trying to redirect someone’s feelings back to myself.
I’m confused, and I don’t know the answers. I may never know. And that’s okay.