“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
I was only halfway up the subway steps when the warning came, and my heart sank. It was my fourth day at my new job and I was really cutting it close. But just when I’d deemed myself officially out to sea, a stranger tossed me a buoy. I watched as she placed her whole body in between the closing train doors and shouted at me to hurry. This woman believed in me; she was not about to let me be late. Her support was the push I needed to go harder and faster on those last four steps, and I slid past her onto the train with seconds to spare. “Nice hustle,” she said.
“Thank you, sis!” I breathed, a Ronald McDonald grin on my face. I was hype for the entirety of my ride into Manhattan. I live for this shit.
By “this shit” I mean gassing. Hyping. Blatantly bigging up. Telling someone, unprompted, that you appreciated their hustle up those stairs, or that outfit, or the way their edges are laid. Sending text messages out of the blue that say things like, “In case no one told you today, you’re the shit. And that ass? Amazing.”
To gas is to give an unsolicited ego boost, which, in times like these, is kind of revolutionary. Of course we should all be nice to our friends, but gassing is more than just being nice. It’s a lifestyle. An artform. A radical act. When my friends gas me (or I gas someone else), I feel genuinely good about myself and the way that I exist in the world, and that’s enough to get me through the day. Times are rough, life is tough, and support is crucial to keeping on.
“I think gassing up your friends in a society that insists upon our worthlessness is a strategy for survival,” says my friend — and talented writer — Sarah.
“Genius.” I reply. We’re texting. I follow up with a trophy-heart emoji combination sent via echo effect. A million pictographs momentarily fill the screen, and I smile thinking about the life-changing magic of iOS 11. Echo effect has done wonders for my technologically enhanced gassing game. But I digress.
How often are any of us, no matter who we are, told that we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or smart enough or white enough or rich enough or straight enough or queer enough or too queer or too rachet or too loud or or or? The transformative aspect of gassing lies not in the specific compliments themselves, but in the way these collective ego boosts — both given and received — are able to build up inside of us and become internal realities, no matter what the outside world says. I heard once that the act of repetition makes something true.
“It’s a responsibility to gas your friends up. As the great Kenya Robinson would say: Friendship is a revolutionary act,” says my friend Sandy with the good haircut when I ask them to weigh in. “What that really means is trust. It takes a lot for us to show our true selves to one another, to let our guard down, to dare ourselves to be witnessed in our wholeness. To do all of that emotional work and have that be compassionately, nay — loudly, proudly, unapologetically, lovingly, tenderly, truthfully, outspokenly reflected back to you is a G I F T. Gassing is gifting.”
“If we participated more fully in a culture that was about truthfully reflecting one another’s aliveness — our brilliance, our genius — we’d be gifting each other ALL THE DAMN TIME,” they continue. “Who doesn’t want to live in a world where it’s just an abundant showering of gifts?”
An abundant showering of gifts shouldn’t be confused with the commodification of our relationships to one another. I know that “likes” don’t necessarily equate to likability, followers don’t necessarily equate to friends. The argument for gassing is not an argument for dealing in a certain currency of carelessness. On the contrary, actually. Gassing is about taking in your surroundings, truly observing the world around you, and responding to it authentically. It’s externalizing the admiring you’re already doing in your head — there’s no need to self-censor.
For me, gassing is about saying all the stuff I might have historically kept to myself out of some subtle sense of fear. Fear that if someone else succeeded, I wouldn’t; fear of bringing my full self to an interaction. In that sense, honoring another person is also a way of honoring myself. Sure, it can be read as a form of thumbs-upping, per the social media symbol, but there’s a difference between getting gassed interpersonally and amassing acceptance on social media.
“Whenever I come up against a situation or someone says something to me that triggers a negative self belief or taps into an insecurity,” says my brilliant best friend Shalita, “it’s wonderful to get on the phone with a friend who’s like, ‘Bitch the only crazy thing about you is how you forgot how dope you are! But let me remind you.’ That’s love and healing.”
If all this sounds corny, allow me to double down: If being corny is wrong, I don’t want to be right. What would my first week at my new job have been like without the support of my friends, my new colleagues, that stranger on the train? If I had woken up to ZERO messages about how I’m perfect for this job, what would my confidence level — and subsequent performance — have been? Who knows.
What I do know is that I spent a lot of years in friend circles, work environments and other social settings that were less outwardly supportive. I think this had to do with an ingrained sense of competition, which breeds jealousy and fuels the thought that there is only room for one person at the top. Now that I’m older, I choose to believe that’s not true. Now that I’ve leaned into another way of being, I’m choosing to never go back. Gassing is the shit — just like I am, something I know to be true because Shalita and Nabila and Sarah and Rebecca and Sandy and Crystal and Contessa and Tubby and Lucy have all told me so. My friends are smart, y’all. They know things. They can’t all be wrong about this. Now go on, get out there and gas somebody.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.