Fear is such an overwhelming emotion. Fear is something that affects us at not only an emotional and psychological level, but also a physiological one. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about fear is how it’s evolved along with us.
Common things to be afraid of are things that threaten our survival. Humans, like any animal, place paramount importance on their own survival, at a subconscious, biological level. Fear of things like heights, predatory or poisonous animals, pain, or death are extremely common and fairly well understood fears, as they speak to our basest instinct to, y’know, not die.
As we’ve evolved into a civilization, and through technology become relatively safe from most of our own fears—relatively—our fears have shifted to things that are somewhat more ethereal, more abstract. I’ve read that the most common fear among people is public speaking. We’ve become more afraid of each other, of ourselves, of how people perceive us.
Perhaps that speaks to another base instinct in humanity, our need to be social. As much as we are snowflakes or tongue prints, individuals with perceptions colored by our unique life circumstances, we invariably seek to be part of some form of collective. We feel we must interact with other humans, to accomplish things together as part of a greater cause to help others and improve things for posterity.
It is possibly this social drive that generates the vast majority of humanity’s current fears: public speaking, inadequacy, failure, being outcast, loneliness, etc. We are taught from infancy that our worth is to be determined by others: our peers, our teachers, our parents, our employers, etc.
This paradigm is extremely dangerous. What may be en vogue right now will not always be. This culture of unrealistic beauty, staunch—albeit thinly masked—gender roles, racism, classism, and the like are destroying the self-esteem of many people, queer and not. However, queer people are at a particular disadvantage in this climate as there are so many societal expectations that we transgress, ranging from beauty to procreation to our consumer habits. We reject expectations and seek to approach our personal truths.
We are not, of course, impervious to the effects of social conditioning. They are as pervasive and insidious in our lives than in anyone else’s. We may intellectually know that we have the freedom to not adhere to them, but that does not mean we are immune to the intense fears of the social.
Personally, I struggle with this internalized social conditioning as it pertains to strict gender roles and how men and women are expected to behave. I feel as if because I am often perceived as female—not having begun medical transition yet—I am somehow less of a man. I know intellectually that this is untrue, but the struggle and fear crops up every now and again, sometimes due to chronic misgendering or a particularly dysphoric day.
I have yet to come up with a conclusion to bring my rational mind and emotional mind together on the issues of social fear, and I have very few coping mechanisms to combat their emergence. Often, I will write down what I’m feeling and the logical reason why I shouldn’t. Sometimes it helps, other times it does not.
We must always be true to ourselves, and seek to dismantle the hold of social conditioning in our lives. We fear social repercussions for acting outside of the norm, but this is an irrational fear. There are many of us struggling to live outside of the norm, all flailing in certain areas like fish out of water and succeeding in others. We must support each other, and create a social paradigm of our own. If we conquer our fears, we will no longer impede ourselves in living a self-actualizing life, and we’ll all be happier for it.