I recently started watching the new Queer Eye, and I love it. It’s so so good and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already watched. Something the Fab 5 always say is that vulnerability, while often associated with weakness, is actually a sign of immense strength. In one episode, they were talking about how when we try to guard ourselves against other people, we end up closing ourselves in. Building walls against the world mean we end up alone behind the wall, unable to form meaningful connections and losing out on potentially great friendships and relationships.
Some people are bad at being vulnerable. I’m one of them. I often err on the side of not being vulnerable, not opening myself up to be hurt, and I only trust people in so far as they haven’t given me a definitive reason to not trust them. Some people would say this is a problem. Some would say it’s smart to protect oneself. I recently watched Call Me By Your Name, and there’s a beautiful interaction at the end where the Professor says:
In your place, if there is pain, nurse it. And if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out. Don’t be brutal with it. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything ― what a waste!
What I love about this speech is that he’s encouraging vulnerability. He’s encouraging his son to rest in pain and frustration rather than attempting to squash such feelings. The sentiment of ripping things out of ourselves to be cured of things faster is an interesting one. People who have been hurt often carry that hurt with them, even when it’s dormant and no longer felt. The memories of pain and allowing someone enough power to hurt us informs our decisions in the future as to whether we’re willing to give someone new that power again. I once told someone that I didn’t feel people intentionally hurt other people (unless they’re a sociopath). Most people don’t go into things with someone with the intention of hurting them in some way. Sometimes we figure out what we want too late. Sometimes we figure out what we don’t want too late. Sometimes people change and people no longer fit. Sometimes the universe intervenes and too many factors add up to destroy whatever you have. Sometimes people’s pasts are too present and create a barrier that is impenetrable to a new person.
But here is the kicker: we build up walls because we want to avoid pain. We don’t show vulnerability because it’s often a sign of some sort of weakness, as the Fab 5 in Queer Eye articulate at least once an episode. I think in many ways we believe that refusing to show vulnerability is protecting ourselves. But in reality, refusing to be vulnerable is two-way protection. We protect ourselves from being hurt, but we also protect the other person involved from being hurt by us. If we’re not vulnerable, we aren’t showing our cards, the other person doesn’t know where we stand, and then they end up pulling whatever cards they’re holding close to their chest, unable to know if they’re worth showing us. It’s a vicious cycle, really. And then, in small moments of openness, we see their cards or they speak their mind and we’re left even more uncertain or confused than if everyone had just played their hand at the beginning of the game.
I think being vulnerable and being transparent are not equivalent actions. While being vulnerable may feel like you’re being transparent, I think transparency is a version of being honest about where you are and what you’re feeling, and vulnerability is allowing people enough of yourself for them to potentially hurt you, but trusting them not to. When you look at the definition of the two things, transparency is defined as “having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived,” whereas vulnerability is defined as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm,” and synonyms offered are “weak, helpless, and impotent.” So, maybe we should start talking less about vulnerability and more about transparency. Regardless of the word we use, however, I think the world could use more honesty and I think most things would be easier if people were honest about how they felt, allowed people in, and didn’t dismiss emotions. We should take Professor Pearlman’s speech in Call Me By Your Name and allow ourselves to sit in our emotions, and rather than tucking them neatly in the recesses of our soul, we should allow others to see us as we are: feeling and complex beings.