It is a word that is thrown around so often and it is also one that I have been reflecting on quite frequently over the last month or so. As with any reflection, I find myself asking many questions that swirl around my mind……..
How do we show our authenticity? What does it look like to others? What happens if we say we are authentic when maybe we are not? How can we deal with any fear that may arise from being truly vulnerable and stepping into our authenticity?
So how do we define authenticity? There are many different variations but the following is my favourite.
Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.dictionary.com
There is a clear correlation between being true to our beliefs and values and our mental health. The more we are true to ourselves, our values and beliefs, the better we feel about ourselves. By being authentic, it can increase our self-esteem and help put those around you at ease, enhancing those strong connections we have with others.
Authenticity can show people that there are others out there that share the same values and beliefs and that aren’t afraid of being who they truly are. At times it may be difficult to move into your authentic self, especially if you feel pressure to act otherwise. There may be conflict if some of your values don’t match those of other people and a fear of what others may think if your authenticity takes you away from our “social norms”. This fear can create barriers and if we let it take centre stage, it can start to impact our sense of self, self worth and in turn, our mental health.
I’ve always felt that I have been authentic. I have been true to myself and have never apologised for who I am. Though recently, I know that there is one area that I need to deal with so that I could truly be my authentic self. That area is at work. A few months ago I did a podcast and used the she/her pronouns, mainly because I didn’t want anyone from work to know that I actually use they/them. I wasn’t ashamed, I was scared.
As a teacher, I’ve always believed that I needed to keep my professional and personal life separate. No one needed to know about who I was outside of the school gates as it wasn’t something that would determine how well I could teach, or how well I could do all of the other aspects of my job. Though, on the back of that, there has been an underlying fear that if it was ever explicitly known about my sexuality and gender identity, it would impact on what the school community would think of me. Although I have never completely hidden who I am, it has never been explicitly mentioned. My close colleagues and friends all know, and I’m sure assumptions are made by the student body, however, that little pocket of fear has stopped me being “out” and in turn, not being true to myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate and ally to the LGBTQ2IA+ community within the school. I am outspoken and passionate when it comes to ensuring we create a safe learning environment for all, though I know that this is no longer enough. Our school isn’t seen as a safe space. Our students are not confident in being their authentic selves. Even though the younger generations are more accepting, and there have been more celebrities and public figures embracing their authenticity, where I teach, there is still fear. For me, I can no longer just sit back and be an ally, I need to let these students know that I am part of their community. It is time to be vulnerable and step into my authenticity. I may not be a celebrity or a public figure but I am someone that they see nearly every day. I am hoping that if they can see that their teacher is living in authenticity, being out as genderqueer and using they/them pronouns, that maybe, just maybe, they can feel a little safer.
I am willing to take the hits if they arise. I know that I have the resilience, the support network and the strong connections that will be there for me if my fears come to fruition. I am willing to stand up and be their voice and even though they might not be ready to be “seen” themselves, they may see that it will be ok.
I am ready to truly be me.