Valuing Validation

I’m still riding the emotional high of an absolutely phenomenal weekend, so this one may be a bit of a ramble…


“I don’t need anyone to agree with me.”
“Your validation is not required.”
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

All true and empowering sentiments, when used in the right circumstances. But I’m throwing the B.S. flag on myself and on every time they’ve been used to justify and perpetuate the fear that isolates us from our communities, from each other.

See, here’s the thing: saying you don’t need others’ good opinion is a great way to shield your heart from disappointment when you don’t get it, and a great way to become smug when you do. But if you allow that shield to harden, it can easily become a prison, trapping you in isolation from those whose opinions do matter, despite your protests to the contrary.

I’ve spent the best part of my youth and adulthood doing this very thing. Through a mix of courage and fear, I’ve built an impressive wall around myself that has kept the world at arms-length, protecting my fragile self esteem and ego from the slings and arrows of a disapproving world. I say mixed fear and courage, because it does take a certain amount of guts to be true to an identity that requires you to be constantly gender non-conforming in appearance and demeanor. But also fear, in using that outward toughness less as a shield against hurt, and more as a barrier to contact of any kind with other people.

But this past weekend went a long way toward helping me realize that not only do I need validation from certain quarters, but also that I’ve found it (and, in my fear, almost missed it).

I’ve just come back from the Butch Voices 2013 conference in Oakland, California, a gathering of butch, stud, andro, ag, trans and otherwise masculine-identified women from all walks of life, plus their allies (including femmes). The conversations were many, varied, deep, light, serious, humorous, tragic and joyous, and covered topics on a broad range of discourse relevant to masculine women and their allies. It was a celebration of *us*, of anyone who identifies under that large, inclusive umbrella of identity and being. The conference was an opportunity for me to meet people of my own ilk, my “tribe” as it were (not meaning to be appropriative in any way).

For the first time in my life, at this conference I was surrounded by people like me: similar presentation, similar identity, similar struggles, challenges and preferences. Though I’ve had camaraderie with school chums, teammates, fellow church members and co-workers, I’ve never before felt as thoroughly expected, as if I belonged there and was a natural part of the ecosystem. It was a powerful feeling and a transformative experience.

I think what brought it home to me, what really made it click in my head, was being stopped with a couple of friends, away from the conference venue and free of any conference-related markers (name tags, etc.), and nevertheless correctly identified as part of that world by a couple of towns people. It was as if the non-conference world recognized in us those specific details that identified us as part of the butch species, rather than as poor, misguided girls confused about what clothes to buy. It was subtle, unsought, spontaneous validation of an identity that is both as natural as breathing and chosen, at least in the sense of presentation.

And then there was the welcome from people I’ve only ever met online. Open-armed and smiling, these kindred spirits welcomed me into their community and conversation as if I belonged there from the start. That assumed belonging among people who, to me, epitomize my idea of “butch”, did more to calm my nerves than any sedative ever could.

Being welcomed, expected, accepted and respected for myself alone cleared away a ton of obstacles to my enjoyment of the conference and to my building of community with others similar to myself. When freed from the burden of guarding my pride and personal dignity from anticipated disgust or derision, my mind and spirit concentrated on the messages right in front of me. When I realized I had nothing to fear from these folks on the basis of my personal identity and gender expression, I felt lighter, more alive than at almost every other time of my life. What’s more, I discovered that even these butch icons had some of the same fears and reservations as I did. The universality of insecurity really surprised me, but also it was a bit comforting.

So, even though I was there to hear about things related to butch lesbian life, like class, privilege, misogyny, visibility, the intersection of butch fashion and presentation, even strength training, the most valuable take-away from the weekend wasn’t in any seminar, but in the interstices, the hanging out and meeting and greeting. For me the most valuable thing was seeing first hand that there is, indeed, a community to which I belong, that I am “butch enough”, that I fit, have a place. What I took away from this weekend is that I am not alone…I have a tribe of fellow butches and we are an amazing and varied species to which I proudly belong .

And, even though I am whole and sufficient without it, that validation feels damn good.

3 comments so far

  1. lulu on

    This is such magic post baby!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Oh, yes. The experience was magic…on many levels. Thanks for supporting me and encouraging me to go, babe!

  2. […] In August, as I previously posted here, I got to attend the amazing Butch Voices conference and meet a few of my Twitter pals for the […]

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