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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

An embarrassment of love

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Today I am 31. I have been wished well and received gifts. I have also taken some moments to myself to meditate on the year behind me and the year ahead. Oh, and I cleaned my bathroom and did laundry, because Sunday chores don’t stop just because it’s your birthday.

Last year I shared a “supercut” of my life in the form of photos I could find from my various eras. I talked a lot about friendship and about loving my friends:

I'm 30 years old today, and I'm content. I'm not always happy, and I'm not always positive. But I will always, eventually, be okay, as long as I continue to have these people around me … who let me care for them joyfully and intensely…. Friendship as the patience that comes with knowing that “I love you” has as many manifestations as people have days in their lives, and if I love you, I will make sure you know.

I have written about this idea before, that friendship is a verb, something you must consciously do. What I haven’t written much about, what I found myself reflecting on this weekend, is the reciprocal effect of accepting love from others.

Accepting affection has always been more difficult for me than receiving it, and I suspect that this trait is fairly common, especially among us quiet introverts. We like to labour behind the scenes, to show our love through gifts or words of affirmation or years of careful plotting and machination to finally hand our friend that crown, yet when the spotlight turns upon us, even for a second, its brightness blinds rather than illuminates. For me it is so much easier to love my closest friends brightly, unconditionally, than it is to accept that love. Because to accept love is to admit that one is worthy of love, and sometimes I don’t always feel that way. Worthy, I mean. Just to be totally honest.

I have been trying to do better. I think I’m getting rather good at accepting compliments with a practised, “Thank you!” rather than treating them as bombs I must disarm through self-deprecation lest they blow up in my face. I have been trying to tell my friends what I want or need, to communicate with them more honestly rather than suppress what I want in favour of what I think they want from me. That doesn’t always mean I get what I want, of course. But it’s a disservice to your friends, not to tell them what you want or need—after all, I expect them to tell me when there’s something I can do for them; I in fact crave it. So it makes sense, that they would want to do the same for me.

One year ago I was reflecting on how far I’ve come and looking over photos that have represented different eras of my life. If you had told me, on my 30th birthday, that by the time 31 rolled around I would have come out as trans, changed my name, and begun this incredible gender journey … I’m not sure what I would have said. It’s not something I saw coming until it happened. Yet the end of February rolled around, and I came out to everyone

… and I was met with the most incredible outpouring of love.

I feel so fucking privileged to write those words, because many (most?) trans people do not have it so easy. But we should. This is the idea you must understand, and many of you will from other identities you might have had to hide: that you might have to choose between hiding who you are or face scorn, derision, and hatred from people you know if you reveal your true self. That is, at the moment, synonymous with the trans experience. I knew this going into coming out, and while I was optimistic, I still braced myself. I braced myself to lose people.

And who knows, maybe a couple of Facebook friends or Twitter followers saw my post and quickly departed from my life—but if they have, I can’t say I’ve noticed. If anything, coming out has coincidentally brought old acquaintances back into my life, rekindled relationships I had thought dormant for good.

Everywhere I turned, I was met with love. This was true for family and for friends. Everyone reacted differently, and certainly there was a level of shock and surprise and time needed to adjust. But at no point did anyone close to me ever make me feel strange or uncomfortable as we all adjusted to this together. All they did was have the audacity to love me.

My grandmother, who again was supportive from the moment she found out, sent me this card for my birthday:

A birthday card with an illusration of a girl in a dress holding balloons. The cover reads, 'Birthday girl—who deserves every dream in your heart to come true.'

I cried when I opened the envelope and saw it, and it still makes me emotional looking at it or thinking about it. It’s thoughtful and it’s deliberate, and when I hold it, it is this tangible affirmation of being seen and treated the way I’ve asserted myself to be. It hit home for me that this birthday is very special indeed.

In a sense, I have always been Kara of course—that is how I want people to talk about me in the past, even in the before times—and so Kara has indeed had 30 birthdays. But from a more practical point of view, this is my first birthday as Kara, my first birthday knowingly being Kara. The first birthday people have had the opportunity to celebrate with me as Kara. To love me, as Kara.

Letting people love you is a radical act. Your worth is not your assets on your balance sheet or the work you give to your employer. It’s not even the number of people who love you. Your worth is inherent; people who love you aren’t instilling you with your worth but merely reflecting it back at you, and in the process, amplifying it.

Letting people love you is scary. It means opening yourself up to hurt, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a way that is uniquely, perhaps unwisely at times, human. Letting people love you is brave.

If abstract nouns could have collective nouns, I would call a collection of love an embarrassment. Because that is what I have felt, when I have been overwhelmed by other people’s love. But I am trying to remind myself these days that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to being loved. There is nothing wrong or out of order. I deserve others’ love. We all do, all of us. Yes, you too.

I don’t have a partner and likely never will. Some people mistake aromanticness as an inability to love, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, it just means I have to give my love that much more intensely to my family and friends. Indeed, that is ultimately my dream: to be remembered for my love. I don’t particularly care to be famous, to have my name recorded in a book somewhere for what I did. I want to sip tea on my deck, read good books, knit cute things, and love my friends. I want to be remembered as the person who was there when you called, the person who listened as you cried, the person who cheered you on to your greatest victory.

I desperately want nothing more than to give away all my love, endlessly and unconditionally. But if 30 was about enjoying my ability to do so, 31, I think, is going to be about the other side of that coin. Giving love means receiving it in turn. I am awash in an embarrassment of love from the people close to me—and damned if I’m not going to learn how to accept all of it, every moment of every day, because why not? I’m worth it.

So go ahead. Love me.