Our identity is defined by the labels we choose

Daniel Flynn, Reporter

We are living in the era of identity politics. At no time in our social history has more emphasis been placed on individualism, and self-identification.

We all want to feel like individuals, and we all identify as something. I identify as a gay man in order to inform people that I am in the minority when it comes to sex.

Yet, sexuality is not such a black and white issue. If we count sexual experience alone, many of our sexual histories are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual; sometimes we experiment or act on impulse. Furthermore, if we are honest with ourselves for a moment, if we can truly acknowledge without fear of rejection or humiliation, what our most subconscious sexual desires are, then I would argue that no one is exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. Most of us seem to belong in one of those gray areas. So why bother coming out?

I realize this kind of introspection can be uncomfortable, but I bring it up because I want others to appreciate why I deliberately and purposefully come out as a gay man. Notice that I wrote that I “come out” as a gay man, which means that this is a continual process.

I believe I come out for the same reason many others choose to come out: it is so the majority can understand how many of us there actually are. This is now the sole reason why I reveal my sexuality. I no longer come out to feel some semblance of liberation; that has long since passed. I come out now so that we can just get it over with, and talk about something else. Otherwise, I would much rather keep my sexual proclivities to myself.

I am a 31-year-old college student. I mention this because I am old enough to recall a time when homosexuality was a highly subversive matter within our culture.

When I came out 15 years ago, my revelation was viewed as an act of defiance; this was an overtly subversive act. Today, it feels more like a formality, something on par with revealing one’s religious denomination. “You’re gay? Oh. Well that’s nice. Do you have a boyfriend?” This is a typical response when I come out. In this sense, I suppose that the majority is now accustomed to my presence. They can now tolerate that I exist… mostly.

I have also experienced the emotional turmoil of another’s coming out. I was once a member of a gay/straight alliance group. Once, when I was speaking about my own identity at one particular meeting, another person in our group stopped me midstream, and began pouring with tears.

This person revealed that they could no longer endure that I was identifying as a man. Not as a gay man, but as a man. Because, according to this person, to identify as a man “perpetuates a gender binary that makes transgendered people like me feel uncomfortable.” Within an instant, the most banal of gatherings morphed, rather violently, into a contentious diatribe against my presence within the group.

I was deemed a bigot by a politically correct faction, condemned for using outdated pronouns, and ejected from the alliance until such time as I could learn to respect other gender identifications. I was also asked to compose a letter of apology. I never wrote it.

Now, I see myself as a fairly tolerant person. I try to appreciate the need for others to come out, and for whatever reason. Personally, I would like nothing more than to live in a world where this is no longer necessary. I wish we no longer placed so much emphasis on superfluous things like sex, or theoretical things like race, a thoroughly human construct.

Although, in our pursuit to find ourselves — and to have these identities respected by the majority, safeguarded by the establishment, and mirrored back at us in our culture — let us please try to remember that some of us still choose to use “outdated” pronouns precisely because we want to. I do not identify as a man in order to irritate transgendered people. Although, until

this particular incident, I never thought that referring to my gender as male is a political act, let alone a subversive one.

I still choose to identify as a man because I am incapable of comprehending myself as any other gender. This is how I choose to identify. Is my identity unworthy of respect? Am I a bigot for using outdated pronouns and improper nomenclature? These are largely rhetorical questions as I believe I already know the answer to both.

I will close now by reminding my more sensitive peers that identity politics depend on two things: I must be able to comprehend your identity, and you must be able to comprehend mine. Comprehension is not the same thing as experience; it’s merely a rudimentary understanding.

Furthermore, lecturing me and scolding me into silence is not going to avail you in helping me to comprehend your identity, nor is it conducive to fostering mutual respect. It will make me feel defensive, and ultimately, defiant. Without mutual comprehension, and mutual respect, there can be no equity.

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