I’ve never had to really look at or explore issues of identity in my own life. Following any experience that fell outside the monogamous hetreonormative construct I had been accustomed to I would have fleeting panic over what it all means, but that would always fade rather quickly. I resolved that it didn’t really matter, that just because something happened didn’t necessarily mean that it needed to change who I felt I was. That was easier when those experiences were statistical outliers. I could feel confident in the way I had always been identifying because, you know, that was just that one time, or those couple times, or.. you get the idea.
The problem with that though is that I wasn’t internalizing my experiences as a part of who I am. I was writing them off. This was not a particularly healthy approach. I never would have admitted it at the time, but I was really just masking the doubt and shame regarding the experiences I had by masquerading as someone who was completely comfortable in their identity. I felt comfortable “not needing to identify” because deep down I still identified as a run-of-the-mill straight girl with nary a kink to my name.
This was all made easier by the fact that I am never (I don’t mean infrequently, I mean never) asked about my identity. As a young, white, feminine, cis female, people assume I fit the mold I am supposed to. More importantly, it would be completely inappropriate to randomly ask me about my sexual proclivities and preferences. Because it is always inappropriate to randomly ask someone about their sexual proclivities and preferences. There’s something very interesting about when people feel the right to ask invasive questions because someone’s appearance or mannerisms challenge the norms that help them sleep at night.
As time went on, I didn’t feel any more of a need to identify or label; however, I did feel less and less connected to the identity I had always taken for granted in myself. I ended up feeling lots of things, but mostly lost. Oh, and when I say, “I ended up,” what I really mean is, “That’s how I feel now.”
In addition to the general feeling of disconnect from myself, I’m noticing a lot of self-shaming on my end. “How hard should it be to be able to identify if you know what you like and what you don’t? What do you mean you still aren’t entirely sure?! SHAME!” Honestly, this was harder for me to deal with at Catalyst, being around so many people who are so in touch and comfortable with it all. It was quite frankly embarrassing, and while joking my way through it (because that’s healthy too) worked for a while, it is exhausting and unsustainable in that type of environment. I had some intense moments of wondering if I really belonged there. I felt fraudulent, but I wasn’t sure why. This was incredibly upsetting, given the other extreme of me never feeling more at home with a group of people in my life.
What I am going through is not new. It is not novel, or unusual, or specific to me. On some level I understand that everyone struggles with this here and there, and more intensely at times. I wish being patient was more a part of my skill set. I’ll add it to the list of things I need to work on. In the meantime, even if I can’t be patient, I can try to be gentle. I can try to allow myself the freedom to not identify in any way until I feel comfortable doing so, while making sure I don’t fall back into avoidance.
Any time we pressure ourselves, we are telling ourselves that something is not ok. Sometimes this is healthy, like when I pressure myself to make sure I do my laundry or finish an editing project (freelance motivation is a bitch). Productive pressure is how these things get done. What makes it unhealthy is where the pressure is coming from, and what it means. Laundry, work… These things aren’t me, they’re just actions. They have nothing to do with who I am. But when we start to pressure ourselves over who we are vs. who we should be, we’re only a short step away from shame. And that, lovelies, doesn’t help anyone.