Taking compliments

One of the hardest things for me over the last few months has been responding politely to compliments.

What? Is that me? Is that some residual blokey hang-up? Is it me hating the idea of being thought special? I dunno, but I have been thinking for a while that maybe I ought to stop being so dog in manger about people being nice.

Partly, because I can see that not simply taking a compliment can itself be almost insulting. Someone I respect a lot (well, one of the film people, actually) made a remark a few weeks back about feeling honoured that I was able to say something to her/them. I brushed that off. I hated the idea of feeling as though what I said had that import to it.

Then I realised she hadn’t just been making conversation: that saying what she said meant something to her. So I garbled out an apology for my apology. And she, being in some ways similar, sort of apologised back. We ended up in an apology loop which just felt ridiculous.

Then at the weekend, someone else put me firmly in my place on the issue. I hadn’t seen them in two or three years. They saw me at a fun London event we were both partying at, and made some lovely comment about how I looked. I squirmed. I know I did – inwardly at least.

How could ANYONE look at me and see prettiness, beauty?

I don’t know. Some of this is a lifelong rejection of being special, coupled with wanting to be taken at face value. So-o, I’m middle-class in origin, brought up privileged, in the sense of no financial worries as a kid – but not so middle-class that my future was assured by family connections or dad being something in the city.

The best I ever scored through paternal connections was a short stint working as a nursing auxiliary in a geriatric hospital facility – and even then, the most my dad did was alert me to the vacancy.

I am bright. Scoring an Oxford scholarship on the back of next to nil preparation for the exam is probably a good indicator and I know, at times, I’ve defended my intellect strongly. Less, of late.

I’m good at analytic stuff – but therefore reject the idea of being analytic as particularly worthwhile. I see it as a cul-de-sac, distracting people from living or worse, walling them off from interaction with others.

Mostly, I esteem helping people, looking after people and.. . being with people. The standing joke round here is that had I been born and lived female, I’d have ended up as a beautician or some other sort of therapist. But for me that’s not a joke: I love the sense of well-being that results when I give a massage or repair a friend’s nails.

Oh. I can sense grown-up sisters shaking their heads in dismay. Proof positive that us trans women are prepared to sell out feminism at the drop of a hat. But I don’t think so. First, because I am well aware that if born female, I might have had different views, different ambitions.

But second, because if I didn’t, there is no inconsistency here. Feminism is about the right to choose: the right to be a nuclear physicist if that fits – not the obligation to be one!

But back to compliments. Somewhere along the way, I learnt to push them away: to downgrade, to deconstruct, to distrust.

That may or may not be a gender thing: but I guess that I need to learn now to do the opposite, because whatever else it is, rebuffing someone else’s efforts to be positive is just rude. So its well time for me to start being a bit politer.

Without becoming big-headed in the process.



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Megan said,

    I can totally understand what you mean, I do the same; I’m always pushing back the comments from my partner and friends. Why would they even think I look good when all I see if this horrid (to me at least) non matching exterior..I hate myself so how can anyone else think the opposite.

    But they do and they are still there by my side so the least I could do is to take their compliments as they were intended 🙂 it’s hard to do after so long of acting this way this but I’m slowly learning.

  2. 2

    Lois said,

    It’s all to do with how we’re brought up, I think. I was never complimented by my mother, unless it was backhanded, and so have continued to not know how to handle them. In fact she still has a tendency to give ‘non-compliments’ to this day. Add to that the fact that I was always the ‘odd’ one at school so tended to be bullied and belittled. Now, after intensive counselling sessions, I am starting to work on this aspect of myself, it’s hard. But you’ve achieved so much already, you truly deserve the compliments. As an attractive, confident woman. Enjoy them xx

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