To Hell With Behaving


"When we go here, be on your best behavior," her mother said as she straightened the young girl’s dress and tightened the ribbons holding her pigtails. The girl stood in agreement with the plan her mother just declared, while thinking to herself what her best behavior would be like.

The last time they went out she got yelled at for touching things at grandma’s house she had ‘no business touching’. Prior to that she was scolded for speaking her mind at a community barbecue, because Aunt Sylvia’s dress was too tight and she had to let her know. The time before that, she got caught running around wildly in her new dress, you know, being a child, and wasn’t allowed outside for a week. This time, things would be different. She was dedicated to sitting still. She knew that if her ‘bad’ behavior was touching, speaking, and running while looking pretty, that her best behavior must be the opposite. The young girl dedicated the next 3 hours of her life, to being still, being quiet, and being on her ‘best behavior’. Those 3 hours turned to 3 years…then 30 years…then 33 years.

That once young girl, would find herself being still and quiet for the many years thereafter. Her mother wouldn’t know what those words would do to her or her self-expression. She had no idea how much getting her daughter to practice ‘good behavior’ would affect her ability to be herself in open spaces.

Growing up we were all fed a list of rules. A list of things not to touch in the grocery store (don’t be curious), a myriad of words not to say to an adult no matter how honest or well-intentioned they were (don’t speak your mind), a series of behaviors that are unacceptable – such as running with kids, dancing to music, or singing at the top of your lunges. These things, though harmless at the time, stuck with many of us as we grew up. We held onto the behaviors that were communicated to us as most desirable. We wanted to be well-behaved, so each time we went into public we brought these lists with us. Venturing into this world still and quiet, we’ve held ourselves captive in our own bodies at the expense of trying to be mannerly.

Many of us shut ourselves off when we exit our homes, and turn ourselves back on the minute we return. All to make those around us comfortable. To appease their desires. To make them feel like they don’t have to worry about us; that we won’t be a problem; that we were well-trained. Amidst wanting to appear as refined as our parents expected of us, we made a habit of suppressing ourselves. We didn’t know that’s what we were doing as children – we simply didn’t want to get in trouble – but as adults we’re reminded of the fact that our desire to be well-behaved comes at the expense of relinquishing parts of ourselves, because that was the only way we learned how to do it.

We’re reminded of this every time we want to run free but convince ourselves not to. We’re reminded every time words of honesty are at the tip of our tongues and we shame ourselves for wanting to share them; for feeling bad for wanting to be authentic, and vulnerable, and genuine. We’re reminded every time we want to let our hair loose, but are forced to tie it up into a bun, or a ponytail, or some goddess braid that we had to watch 5 YouTube videos to learn to do; we're reminded every time we want to let out hair loose (figuratively, too) and are told that we're 'better than that'. We’re reminded every time our best friend tells a funny joke and we try not to laugh as hard or loud as we want to. We’re reminded every time we leave the house and feel like we have to ‘put on’. We’re reminded every time we want to share a story, a picture, or a piece of our truth but decide it’s too bold; we’re too bold; or too loud; or too happy.

We let these rules dictate who we should be in public – both back then and today. We followed these rules to help our parents manage us in public; their lives were challenging enough without having to worry about us kids getting into something. But we’re grown now, and we no longer need to be managed.

So, to hell with it all. With feeling that being you isn’t well-behaved enough. With thinking that being exactly who you were created to be shouldn’t be translated into the public you’re walking into. To hell with feeling held captive in your own body. With putting the comfort of others over the expression of yourself. To hell with buns, and quiet laughs. To hell with not asking questions, and not challenging the status quo. To hell with not decorating your work desk, your car, or yourself with things that represent you. To hell with not rocking your pride (be it black pride, LGBTQ pride, or religious pride). To hell with not sharing your stories, your life, or your lunch with whoever the hell you want to. To hell with feeling like you should share your stories, your life, or your lunch with people you don’t want to. To hell with forced smiles, and small talk. To hell with being who you aren’t, to appease the people around you. To hell with accepting society’s standards of what we ought to do and who we ought to be. To hell with allowing what we were told as children to control us today. To hell with not being curious, and not being honest.

To hell with not running free.

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