Vulnerability is a weird thing strive for. It’s something most people are hesitant to approach because of how scary it can be to put yourself out there. But I think we put ourselves in vulnerable positions more than we might realize and give ourselves credit for. Asking a question, telling people what to do, and asking someone out; all involve times when someone could feasibly laugh in your face, ignore you, or make a judgment about you, and suddenly you start questioning how you see yourself. But I’ve found that the most transformative moments in my life have happened when I push myself to take the right chance on being vulnerable, especially with the right people.
What that kind of vulnerability looks like is different for everyone. I have always found playing tennis to be especially vulnerable. It’s just you out there, and it can be hard to separate the result from how you see yourself in the heat of a match. Any time you compete, apply for a position you want or even open your art gallery, if that thing is essential or central to you and how you think of yourself – chances are we want other people to see us, positively, in relation to that thing. For me, it was when I came out to my fraternity that I remember feeling pretty darn vulnerable. Growing up, I would tell myself that being gay wouldn’t be who I was just so long as I didn’t tell anyone. It seemed simple enough. That would be me, to the extent that we are who others recognize us to be. I saw myself in a mirror of heteronormativity. More plainly, I grew up reading about the hero getting the girl, the man marrying his wife and their cheerful biological family, and so that’s how I always saw myself growing up. When I first realized that I didn’t find what I was “supposed” to see in girls, the friction between the life I saw for myself and the life I knew felt right clashed and seeped into other parts of my life. It was not a great feeling.
Even before telling my house, I was sick to my stomach thinking about coming out might affect how my Brothers thought of me. How it might undermine the relationships I had already built. But I embraced the vulnerability and took the step and told my pledge brothers and then the rest of the house, and got an answer to a question which ate at me for so long. If you had told middle school Liam that he would be telling his fraternity brothers he was gay, he would have rolled his eyes. Middle school Liam was an experience, but I think it would have been pretty great to know how I felt after being met with nothing but love from his Fraternity Brothers. But you won’t know until you take the chance and choose to be vulnerable with the right people. That underlying friction or inconsistency in our perceptions of ourselves can easily seep into other parts of our lives. Before I came out, I had some pretty severe anger issues on the court. I will be the first to admit that it substantially hindered my success in matches. After coming out to the tennis team, I ended last season with the most wins on the team and a much calmer demeanor on court, most of the time! I think a lot of that frustration which spilled on court was rooted in this deep seeded contradiction.
Now, all of this isn’t to say you need to share your deepest, darkest secrets with everyone. Rather, sometimes it’s important to take the step into vulnerability. Seeking out discomfort with enthusiasm is sometimes what it takes to prove something to yourself. I was fortunate to be met largely with support when I came out, but even in just taking the chance – you can learn a lot about what you’re made of. I’ve found even when people don’t react well, it’s how we respond and choose to react. In my life I generally operate under the notion that you’re never wrong to do the right thing, and lead by example. However, you decide to respond; even that can help us show ourselves who we are when things aren’t easy, and I think in those experiences can provide some of the most important information we can learn about ourselves. Because you never know – you might just surprise yourself.