Does Being Shy Turn You into a Radical?

On being rad, rejected, and reflecting

I’m definitely an asshole to come out of a day like today centering myself. But also, I am a human being and we’re all assholes.

I am a human being who was drawn to social justice movements, and continues to feel intimately connected to marginalized people. I wonder often what pushed me in the direction of radicalization, and days like today remind me it’s probably partly due to my painfully shy childhood and enduring social anxiety in adulthood. So while I am at a conference that is fabulously centering the most vulnerable populations, it’s also not out of the ordinary that I might be feeling marginalized myself/ i.e. falling back into Shy Annie’s shadow. Shy Annie was not able to do anything, or talk to anyone, or engage in any activities she truly cared about, because she feared not being good enough.

Today, after a full day and a half of avoiding conversation with kindred radical spirits, I happened into a bar. I wasn’t planning on having a drink today, but after hearing about the prison industrial complex for eight hours, it’s not an out of the question desire. It’s also the only place that I truly feel comfortable shooting the shit with strangers. I know the atmosphere, I know the weaknesses within people who are there because it is in myself, and I know that the beer always helps to take that layer off that’s keeping me from making eye contact with others.

Once the beer is in hand, and my body relaxes, the woman sitting next to me turns to talk. We hit it off, and I’m dreaming of visiting Georgia to drink pitchers all day together, laughing about shit and getting down to the real shit of revolution. About 15 minutes into our conversation though, it’s time for us both to leave and get to the keynote speaker for the conference we are attending. I say something along the lines of, “I came here wanting to have alone time and not talk to anyone. And you’re actually the first person I’ve talked to in 24 hours.”

She maybe nods, and then starts walking away. I follow, because I think we are friends. And then she turns around, and asks me my name, shakes my hand and then turns and walks quickly out the door. In my slightly tipsy state, I realize that I have probably been stood up, and I should probably linger a little bit and let her get a good distance away before I head in the same direction. I, out of anyone, should know how much it sucks to have people latch onto you when you want to do your own thing. I let her do her own thing, and I acknowledge that I might have been rejected, and I mutter negative things to myself, because I am traveling alone and that is how things get when you’re on the road solo. But on the other side of my brain, I’m like, fuck off Shy Annie. Stop being so tender. You want to have a weekend by yourself anyway. And you need to learn to accept that not everyone will love you.

My eye twitches, and I start walking in the direction of the conference. For the rest of the conference, I feel like a freak that no one would ever want to talk to again. I am Shy Annie again, and she’s not going away tonight. I am feeling marginalized. I am feeling like I need to disappear. I am feeling like things would be better without my awkward body here. I am feeling like I shouldn’t feel these things. Why do I feel these things?

This is why I show up for those who don’t have a voice. Because of the times that I lose mine.

Photo: “Shy Swan (8–365)” by The-E is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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