Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Anecdotes from the Owner of a Closeted Identity

Kids freak me out a little bit. I enjoy admiring them from a distance, especially if they have chubby cheeks (the correlation between the amount of intensity with which I stare at a child and the chubbiness of their cheeks is exponential), yet I'm afraid to be around them, out of fear that I may adversely affect their system of values and identity. The thing about children is that they are initially pure bursts of self-defined identity, practically unadulterated by culture, upbringing, dogma, media, or any of that fun stuff that makes us who we are. As children, we are highly malleable and easily manipulated, but we are the rawest versions of ourselves. As we grow older, we become more ingrained in the many variables that shape our being, until we are shoved out into the "real world" to expose ourselves to the things from which we desire exposure and reshape our identity, often resulting in a return to something resembling our natural being.

However, those old influences--the ones that surrounded us as we gradually shifted from innocently smashing over Lego towers to cramming for our SATs--they don't change like we do. After we go through that stereotypical collegiate identity crisis (or perhaps a rebellion from cultural values in our earlier youth), we return to our old stomping grounds and find that nothing has changed. Before, we conformed to social norms and the values by which we were raised, or at least we feigned the appearance of it alarmingly well. Perhaps we conformed to preserve some silly social reputation, or perhaps we conformed out of fear for our own safety. When we face our upbringing as changed men, women, or whatever combination we call ourselves, we may face it in opposition. And that's pretty brutal. 

I suppose at this point, I'll stop speak in vague pronouns and discuss myself in particular. I change an awful lot. The person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago, and the person I was a year ago is not the same person I was the year prior to that. And that is perfectly okay. 

My high school English teacher referred me to a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson which defines much of my philosophy--or at least, the meta-aspect of how my philosophy is influenced: 

"With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood." (Self-Reliance)

The day I read Self-Reliance was the day I realized that it is not a bad thing to live a "flighty" lifestyle and to let myself be influenced by my shifting surroundings. Who I am today is just as awesome as who I was four years ago, albeit completely different women. 

However, the cultural upbringing from which I fled? It doesn't agree. To the influences of my childhood, I am a "lost sheep", a "prodigal son". I am "going through a phase". To the influences of my childhood, I am forced to hide every realization I've had over the last year--about religion, about sexuality, about morality, and about how I feel about myself. I do not want to be a part of a society that shames individuals for their identity, particularly when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way individuals identify themselves. Here's the thing about identity: it belongs to the individual. It aligns with the moral code of the individual. And by the inherent nature of moral codes, there is nothing wrong with having a different moral code than the norm or any other individual. Because, guess what? Moral codes are defined by the individual. Sure, the individual can choose to adopt a common moral code, but that does not decrease the ownership by the individual of the system of values that person has chosen to adopt. As long as moral codes rest on differing premises (as practically all of them do), any discrepancy between them cannot be necessarily faulted--only in corrupt logic is it possible for a system of values to be corrupt. But it is up to the owner of that system of values to identify the flawed logic in the system and amend (or not amend) the moral code accordingly. Additionally, there is a difference between an opposing moral code and a lack of a moral code--the latter of which is virtually impossible to any sentient being. 

In about three weeks, I'm heading back to my home town. Consequently, I'm ironing my habitual cussing out of my vocabulary (although cuss words are largely arbitrarily founded and their omission discredits human sexuality). I will be forced by fear to remain silent about my opinions on who I'm attracted to, if I care about who other people are attracted to, what women are or aren't allowed to do with their bodies, what constitutes marriage,   how I understand the world to operate, how I understand myself to operate, and how much I love the way I am. By the way, the fact that I am imposing this on myself is absolutely ridiculous and stupid--there is nothing fundamentally wrong about any aspect of my identity (nor is there anything fundamentally wrong about any aspect of anyone's identity). The fact that I have to feign shamefulness of who I have grown to become, or rather, who I am, is shameful in and of itself. 

Here's what I want to see happen in the world: I want people not to be criticized for their identity, but rather how they treat the identity of others. I want moral codes not to be evaluated not on their premises or conclusions, but rather, on their logic. And I want to go home, and tell everyone I love and hate exactly who I am and be just as safe and respected before and after. 

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