June 16, 2010
Whose Identity Is This, Anyway?
There was a time in my life when I would have felt too uncomfortable to smile and say hi back to her, when the hesitation would not have been momentary but total. At that time I would never have stopped to read the posters in the window in case anyone I knew (or anyone I didn't know) might think I had a vested interest in gayness. Even though I lived in Greenwich Village for many years—the former heart of gay life in the city—and even though I had gay, bi and lesbian friends and attended Pride Weekend activities with them, I always made sure to wear my "Straight But Not Narrow" button, just in case anyone had any ideas. Since none of my straight friends ever went to watch the parade—they tended to avoid downtown altogether—I thought I was extremely open-minded; I had no idea how homophobic I was. Years later, when I became friendly with a trans-man, I had yet another entire set of misconceptions and fears to question and work through.
Now that I (mostly) know that others' sexuality and gender identification are none of my business, I continued to stand in front of the Diversity Center, read the posters, smile and say hi to the woman who came out of the center, and I thought, perhaps "my" gender and sexuality are none of my business either. They are not "mine."
No one can help loving someone else in the way that we do. (And why would we want to help it? It doesn't need our help!) No one does anything to come into this world with the genes and organs we have. How can I take credit for this? How can I even label myself one thing or another?
I understand the thinking behind Gay Pride; pride being the opposite of shame, it makes perfect sense to celebrate what society has long deemed shameful, and always with disastrous results. Of course, straight people can be ashamed of their sexuality as well. As a pre-teen, I was simply horrified by mine; my desire for boys seemed huge and overwhelming, totally wrong for someone my age to be carrying around. Then there was that O.A. meeting I attended once at the Gay and Lesbian center in Manhattan, where I felt I would be hanged at sundown if anyone knew a "breeder" had infiltrated their safe haven. It seems so funny now. Why didn't I celebrate those wonderful people—and myself—for gathering in support and fellowship?
It occurs to me that if I'm ashamed of my sexuality, just as if I am ashamed of my body, I'm confused. And also if I'm proud of it, I'm confused. Once again, I'm identifying with something that doesn't belong to me and, like everything else, is subject to change without notice.
©2010 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.