An open letter by Cathy Garcia, 20, dance student.
Back then, I wanted nothing else but to belong—to fit in the crowd, to feel recognized, to be loved by you. It was unlike me to crave so much approval, yet there I was: dressing how you wanted me to dress and changing the way I talked. In the process, I grew to dislike parts of myself that I never thought were problematic until you pointed them out: my personality and how expressive I was. Not once, not twice, but more than I can count. You may not remember them, but I do.
I used to think it was my fault that your opinion mattered above the tiny voice in my head that was telling me: You don’t have to change for them. When my conscience would sit with me, I would look the other way. I would continue hanging out with you, sitting with you at lunch, showing up at your parties, telling you my secrets hoping you would open up the same way. And when you would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough, I would shut out from the world and tell myself: They’re right: I’m not good enough.
But some weeks ago, I was reading about Kevin Balot. You’ve probably seen her name on Twitter, since she trended on social media nearly a month ago. She’s a transgender beauty queen—Miss International 2012, even—who’s had her share of pain and discrimination. For a time, after coming out, she was rejected by her own family. You may not have felt the same isolating loneliness, so let me tell you that it feels like being in dark, deep water with no surface in sight, the kind that pulls you further in as you try to find a way out. And when I saw her recently viral Pantene commercial, where she comforts and embraces three people who've been rejected for who they are, I knew that I had to swim my way out instead of letting myself drown. I have to be myself to be truly happy. And I am writing to you now because I realized that this is the healthy way to break free and move on.
You, who cannot love me: I do not need you to feel loved. And you, who cannot respect me: I do not need your admiration to embrace my own worth. And you, who cannot accept me: The truth of the matter is, I have always belonged to myself. I will stop apologizing for who I am, for my strengths you claim as imperfections, for my merits that you’ve tried to crush.
I will not give in to anger or resentment, because that will only mean you still have a hold on me. I have chosen to forgive you because you have taught me the meaning of true, genuine self-love.
Self-love, which is not at all selfish, is true acceptance. It’s when you no longer need approval from others, because you can finally listen to yourself clearly. It’s when the high waters clear and you can finally feel the warmth of the light above. It’s when you no longer feel that paralyzing sense of loneliness, because you are free to spread your wings and be yourself.
As Kevin says, “When you can stand up for yourself, no one can bring you down.” At the end of the day, I can only feel gratitude. Thank you for inadvertently showing me what it means to be stronger and more self-assured. Thank you for making me feel this kind of pain, so that I can turn out better—not for others, but for myself.
And if this letter has reached you, then know this: I wish you the best, and I wish you that same kind of sincere, genuine love I've been giving myself for I am stronger now.