by Janet Treviño-Elizarraraz
Womanhood is simply complicated! As a young girl I learned the importance of being popular and the sacrifices I had to make to have friends. At the same time among adults I was expected to be quiet and obedient. As I grew, I began to understand the role men play in defining who I am—I learned to speak their language and model their ways in order to advance in their world.
I then add some charm, maintain good body form and a stick of lipstick, and I can “have the world.”
At least that’s what I was told.
And when I ran into my girlfriends, I learned how to dumb myself down so as not to stick out. A false humility so that again I can find approval among my “friends.”
I found myself lost. Who am I? How really did I get here? It’s tragic really, but I’m convinced this is a common story.
I made a special turn in this narrative. From a young age I was isolated for being different. In response I emphasized the masculine within me. I prided myself on my strength, and others were intimidated by it. I didn’t have time for weakness in others, much less in myself.
And as much as I “loved” myself and who I had become, relationships with women at church (a community where relationships are expected) were not always satisfying. Or to say it bluntly, just didn’t work. Women I related with felt this tension, and I just didn’t understand the source of the problem. They’d tell me that I didn’t care or that I was self-centered. That’s all I knew.
In the fall of 2011, I was invited to participate in the Values-Based Leadership Program, thanks to Mennonite Church USA, where I was given the opportunity (through various resources and exercises provided) to truly see myself as I am. Faults and triumphs, I could see how others who are not like me see people with my dominant characteristics.
I was shocked to be momentarily “labeled” as the most extreme in my personality type. Standing next to a middle-aged, white, business male, no less! [Laughing out loud!] We stood next to each other, and were a distance from the others. I cried and experienced hopelessness as I opened up the program binder and found a full analysis of who I am.
On a positive note, my journey has made me a person who values action, challenge, and results. I have the passion to make things happen. My extroverted-ness and physical attraction helped me make connections and I ran with it. But along the way, I was hurting because I didn’t understand why I was viewed negatively by other women.
That weekend at VBLP opened my world to seeing how they saw me, but more importantly how they saw others, each other, and the world. Suddenly, I realized how they experienced care for one another—listening and seeking each other out. Creating a cohesive, supportive culture was more important than one’s individual idea. The time given to listen and to be aware of the dynamics at play were as important as reaching some arbitrary goal. A goal that people like me had created in our own minds and in isolation from others.
Asking questions and waiting for an answer at some later date was okay now. I could let go of my need to control. I could allow things to just “be.”
Since my experience at VBLP, I’ve had opportunities to grow in grassroots leadership positions in my community with food preparation workshops, food cooperatives, women’s circles, and health education. I still maintain my style that seeks to challenge the status quo, values making decisions that produce action, and focuses on results.
But now, I also now know how to hold that loosely when a friend is simply looking for me to listen and wait with her. I know how to ask questions and, above all, to give others the freedom to be who they are. There is no hurry. Where I once was lost, confused and isolated… now I think I have found my true self without denying who I am, and I am no longer alone.