You’ll have to pardon me a little on this one as I’m coming into it with the reality that I have to tread carefully on how I set it up. This isn’t being done so much for my protection as it is the individual whom I am providing as an example for what follows.
And I would be extremely remiss in my role as a journalist if I did not protect my sources at all times.
A few years ago, someone I’ve known since middle school came out to me. The exact nature of the coming out is truly arbitrary in this discourse, so I will not provide additional detail. I trust enough of you who will read this recognize this is still the 21st century, despite the active and ongoing attempt to return it to something more in line with either the 18th century or Cro-magnon times, depending on how much Fox News or alt-right horseshit you chose to ingest today and can do the math…provided the government hasn’t banned it as yet another alternative fact…but I digress.
This singular event, in and of itself, was not some landmark moment for me, either. I’ve had the good fortune to be acquainted with several people in my life who’ve done the exact same thing in varying capacities and I’d like to think the primary reason why they felt comfortable doing so with me is because they know that while I am many things, a judgmental, discriminatory and Puritanical prick is not one of them.
Editorial Note: At least….I certainly hope not.
In the years since, we’ve kept in touch and as I’ve watched this all unfold from my particular patch of sideline, amidst the pride, the love, and the unbridled support that I genuinely have and try to emote at all times, there came with it a secondary emotion that I neither anticipated, nor was I entirely prepared for.
Envy. Real, raw, unabashed envy.
Now, on this point, I want one thing made abundantly clear. I do understand just how difficult and terrifying this process is, albeit on an entirely different level that most people cannot comprehend in the exact same way that I cannot fathom how difficult and terrifying it is for people to be open about their sexuality.
I am, after all, an asexual, cisgender, white American male. But try sitting down with someone you care about and explain to them that, once upon a time, you did something that landed you in a prison cell and why it happened.
I promise you. I understand just how terrifying it is all too well.
But I was sitting at work last night, trying to get a better understanding of what is fueling that envy and I think it finally clicked sometime between 11:30 and midnight.
What I envy about the ability to come out is that it is a declarative statement to the world that “THIS IS WHO I AM!!”
And my theory on why this is such a profound thing is that we are all so preoccupied on what we are, as opposed to who we are.
For example. if you were to give me sixty seconds to tell you what I think I am, I could probably bombard you with at least sixty different adjectives, titles and character traits.
But if you were to ask me who I am and give me the same amount of time to respond, I seriously doubt I could give you any comfortable response other than Well…I’m me.
That answer is a total cop-out. The word Me encompasses a physical marker only. Me is a vague, nebulous blob of a response.
The truth is I don’t have the first damn clue who I am. I never really have.
I know the what so well that it’s second nature at this point, as well as the what’s my family, friends and especially those who are either my enemies or have some degree of antagonistic bent towards me would throw out there as well.
But Who? Hell if I know.
Part of the problem, I’ve found, is that because we focus so much on the whats, they are invariably what we turn to in order to construct the who of what constitutes our identity.
That seems both one-dimensional and rather self-defeating though. It also makes me wonder if it’s humanly possible to define who someone is without relying on the whats, especially in this age where we seem to have boiled our views of each other into the uber-antagonistic hashtags of #YesAllMen and #YesAllWomen.
Editorial Note: There was a time where I’d jump into that debate feet first because it pissed me off just how much we blindly paint each other with such broad brushes when it comes to the terrible things that we do to each other. Here’s the bottom line, folks.
Men and women are both terrible, horrible creatures who excel in treating each other like absolute crap without any real degree of regret, accountability, empathy or regard for the damage we dish out. In fact, a lot of us take some degree of silent pride in it for reasons which defy both logic and emotion. People collectively suck. Here endeth the lesson.
I’d like to think there is something truly liberating in trying to figure out our self-identity of Who am I, separate of the What I am, which is why when someone makes the choice to come out and be their authentic selves, a lot of us tend to be gobsmacked and quick to extol the virtues of their being courageous, brave, real, etc.
I also think it would make it easier for us to be more honest with both each other and ourselves in understanding our own identities.
It’s an interesting question…Who am I?
I wish I had a better answer to give for it. Any ideas?