Personalized for Authenticity

Authenticity’s exposure is informed by expectations, the measurement ruler that experiences are held against.  Expectations color our how we present our authenticity, often diluting, covering up, or ignoring parts of myself that I would alienate me from those around me – the unique parts of an individual.  Conversations expressing authenticity are collaborative dialogues.  These interactions become cornerstones of authentic identity, informed by cooperative experiences.

Struggling with presenting authenticity is first, contradictorily, dealt with by creating facades that amplify the most acceptable of ourselves.  The parts, believed, that would force support networks away are believed to be shadows of our true place in the world.  Reinforcing social facades requires experiences go un-analyzed, unlived.

On the playground we are taught, as evolutionary survival, that it is important to be like everyone else, to find acceptance into the group dynamic.  From pre-historic to ancient-times, and beyond, avoiding being ostracized meant avoiding death.  This evolutionary hold-over is what pushes queer youth to hide our authenticity from others, keeping our interests, past-times, and loves from friends and families.

I grew up in a suburbia that was a nostalgic Mayberry: students walked to school, left campus to eat lunch in the village, and formed cliques based upon clothing labels; there was a dairy to buy milk fresh from the cow and boutiques that were hobbies for doctor wives.  The school district heavily focused on academic success and rigor, not grit or character; children were taught to be students and not to interact with educators.  We were academically prepared but street smarts were not taught between Great Expectations and chemistry.  The few gay boys that were known easily fit the mainstream suburbia of backyard pools, in ways I never could.  I sabotaged acceptance by defensively rejecting the labels and tokenism they appeared to willingly accept.  I deliberately kept to myself, denying myself a confidante, by refusing anyone I could divulge to because I was scared that if anyone knew my real fears, secrets, and thoughts, they’d not like me.

I retreated into books, making the characters my friends.  I found with Spyder from Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Silk, the characters of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Milkman from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and everyone in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, characters similar to myself – they struggled with authenticity in silence.  The characters modeled authenticity as being politely selfish by connecting through known shared hardships and joys.  Connecting through the simple failed-expectations of personal days deepening relationships with friends and family.  Personalizing shared experiences allowed façades to be dropped, deeper connections are formed, resulting in an increased quality of life.

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Suburbian In Reverse

Freedom came with undergrad life.  I was away from home and finally near New York City, of a world that I had dreamed deeply about escaping to.  At SUNY @ Purchase perfect was the antithesis of suburban high school, evolving to from machismo jock to artistic and eccentric.  In college perfect was chased by girls and boys, and perfect boys were more likely to chase boys back.  Perfect was still not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in his dorm.   He was cool though, which afforded me the opportunity to be entertained by a peer as a possible date.  I freely made my homosexuality explicit and explore relationship dynamics.

Refreshed by a gust of attention, I set my sights on who was deemed the most desired boy on campus: Marc.  He wasn’t a student, but was the friend of students on the floor below me, and visited every weekend.  Luckily, the friends I had made on my floor knew the people down stairs through a mutual friend from Long Island; guess New York City isn’t that big of a city.

Mutual friends who knew of my crush arranged for a chance encounter with Marc.  While nothing came of the meet, I did gain wonderful new friends who are cherished deeply.  Marc, also, knew of my crush on him; apparently, subtlety was not in my repertoire.  His rejection of me (I wasn’t his type; he preferred guys more seasoned than I was) dissipated my attraction.  His friends felt sympathy for me, revealing that Marc gets crushed on a lot.  I thought how if I wasn’t special or a first to Marc I’d move on and I was over him.  We hung out after and it was clear we had nothing in common other than our mutual friends.  During that friendship, I saw that beneath bravado, was a desperate want for stability with a boyfriend, just as I did.

As college goes relationships were fleeting but sexual encounters were not, with my attention no longer fixated on one person. The relationship that I had dreamt of, had hoped for during the college experience, eluded me.  I was good enough for a lay, but not to spend time with.  I was no wallflower, but I was unable to break the habit of isolating in my room and studying.  I didn’t go to the campus’ LGBTQ Union to meet peers because the members I conversed with assuredly proclaimed their identity to everyone.  Despite my sexual escapades during this time I continued to rebel from any identity label, that I had no history with.

With a false identity in place, I adventured beyond campus-boys to older gay males.  I turned, again, to the internet to dominate my acquisition of homosexual dynamics.  I quickly accepted invitations, hoping that I’d be a step closer to NYC-escape, that I had expected from Oliver & Company and Tales of the City. Behind my more sophisticated and cool mask older men seemed more worldly and attractive. The Jodie Dallas specter faded from the peripheral of my concept of homosexuality, Sex & the City experiences that I had dreamed of seemed a greater possibility.  Instead of the Manhattan fantasy – theatre, dinners, and art galleries – I repeated my suburban youth in reverse.  This version though didn’t synchronize with the ticky-tacky boxes.  Now I saw behind the neighbors’ curtains, and I didn’t like it.  Calling them dates is using the term at its loosest.  The men that I went home with would close their curtains, citing their need for privacy.  As my perceptions grew I came to see “privacy” as a bent mirror to my rejection of the homosexual label.

Elusive Ideal

For the longest time Joey was the elusive ideal.  Joey was sthe one ex that all potential suitors were measured against.  In attempting to write down our first encounter I came to the realization that there was nothing epic, template worthy, about the encounter.  There was nothing grandiose or particularly outstanding about the relationship’s arc.  In fact, the mental glorification of that relationship and its beginning is rather obsessive.

I met Joey just as I was turning 20 years old.  It had been New Year’s Eve, at club Tilt, during the celebratory drag show.  I felt the back of my ear get flicked.  I turned around, “Hi.”

Joey explained he was following an impulse and immediately knew the type of person I was dealing with.

“Alright.”  And turned back around.

Joey got my attention again by asking if wanted to roll.

“Okay,” I answered.

 

While we dated, I believed I was not complex enough for him because all that he was appeared brave and loud.  Two things that I was not.  I was scared the whole time that he’d find out that beneath the image I had designed wasn’t someone worthy.  I feared his rejection, and so created chaos to deflect from being a cypher.  I covered up my exuberance, believing that a demeanor of cold detachment decision making would be impressive, because in my fantasy of you I saw strong and decisive; weighed down by another’s gushing emotion; a man that saw devotion as a flaw.  Instead I became frigid and distracted with constant repair on my ice-walls.  I never learned to thaw for those I care about.

We broke up in 2011 on a Sunday in mid-January.  Thank you for being polite until after my birthday, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.  We hadn’t seen one another the previous night – I had worked late, so was all puppy-dog tails to see him.  When I arrived, I was greeted by a friend of his unceremoniously handing me my things.  I was numb; I needed to understand, so putting my belongings down took out my phone.  Joey’s response was a generic text stating the official dissolution.

I should have predicted the break-up because of the distance for three-and-a-quarter-months.  I persisted by being better at playing house as a new year’s resolution, but it was all too little, too late, and now suspiciously out of character.  His apprehensive glances telegraphed the to end our relationship.

Years later, when I looked backed on the relationship I know I wasn’t particularly happy.  When I recall the relationship with Joey, what comes to mind is his habit of telling him something, then he vehemently disagrees.  These weren’t ideological differences, or rooted in arcane knowledge.  Rather, disagreements came over individual rights and basic operations of politics and humanism.  We’d part in the morning for our separate work, and then return to each other that evening with Joey’s mind changed.  This change of mind arose because he had talked to his co-workers, who told him that he was in the wrong; that I was correct.  That was the routine of our relationship: Joey respected only his friends and their opinions, and not mine.  The chaos that I had sewn had seeped into every aspect of our relationship, leaving Joey unable to have faith that I’d be saying the truth, or respect my stance as having validity.

It Takes A Village

Being overwhelmed can have a physical effect on the body.  It doesn’t always need to be pressure, but an overriding omnipresent emotion or anxiety from a routinely occurring event.  Triggers can be wide ranging from job promotion to routinely being around negative human beings.  In the instance of myself it causes extreme stomach and back pain.  I begin feeling constant pain in my abdomen that doesn’t dissipate with consuming food.  Knots form under my shoulder blade or at the base of my skull as pressure becomes more consuming.

When the stress’ antecedent is removed, stamina must be regrown to fully participate and engage with life.  The road to mending is a slippery slope – anxiously re-entering the hamster wheel.  Life is a cyclical series of work, relax, work, relax.  At any moment during the early moments of recovery there is the nagging thought that the next quick cycle would be the trigger for another physical episode.

Living from crisis to crisis doesn’t lead to stability, but creates a system of management only.  Management sustains a depressing homeostasis, which is as imprisoning as the pain itself.  Activities are missed; isolation ensues.  Regardless of the cycle that a person endures, breaking and starting on a new path is difficult to do.  The body and mind have reflexes driving actions towards knowable patterns – again the cycle repeats.  Friends and inter-personal relationships assist with driving the new path, constantly grabbing the brakes by injecting day-to-day with vulnerable relatable stories.  While they are not trained cognitive therapists, friends and co-workers offer opportunities to relate anxieties, failures, and successes.  They provide conversations where automatic thoughts, which distort reality, can be challenged.  Then the automatic thoughts can be worked through and dispelled with a professional.

It takes a village.

Verve – Kudos are Participation Trophies

Every so often a wave of belief that I am boring washes over me.  I feel as though I must tap dance to be seen.  Unfortunately, the dance is all that is seen.  In new situations or groupings, I lean into being the “funny” one.  While this gets me socially accepted, it limits the depth of my character.

At work, in our team meetings e have anonymous kudos, where everyone is assigned a different co-worker and then everyone writes a kudo.  Every time, regardless who gets me, the kudo is the same – my humor makes the office enjoyable.  This is pleasant to hear and I am glad I make work a fun place to be, but it seems to place when others’ kudo states a specific accomplishment or helpful act to that person.  My kudo is a generic “atta-boy,” the personality compliment given about ugly fat chicks.  The generic-ness of my kudo makes it impossible to identify the source; even though it is anonymous.  Personality compliments are participation trophies.  I want to be recognized for my accomplishments and contributions, something tangible.

The clown is two-dimensional character, whose purpose is to bring brevity so that the story’s plot does not get bogged down.  There is no other room for development in the comedienne because then the jokes would carry the weight of the truth

 

Identity in Separate Baubles

Art by Sachin Teng
Art by Sachin Teng

Being homosexual has consistently been present in my life, beginning when I was 9 years old when AIDS entered my consciousness, putting a dark stigma became attached to being homosexual.  The original facts I had about homosexuality came to me through knowledge about AIDS, gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, effectively connecting homosexuality with death, separation, and sensationalism.  With limited exposure to healthy examples of homosexuality I stumbled into a stagnate malleable inauthentic identity, designed for avoidance.

As I grew up I struggled with the idea that there was something false and untrue about my place in the world.  In reaction, I created a false self that wasn’t defective or flawed.  I diluted or ignored parts of myself that I thought would alienate me from those around me.  When a false-self was created I ceased to be an authentic human being.  The psychologist, the late Alice Miller calls this “soul-murder” – shame that leads to believing that I was a failure. Self-contempt, isolation, and a strong sense that I was untrustworthy accompanied each other until I believed I was a failure. Shame became my core identity, shutting me down to human relationships, living in hopelessness, and locked in a set of very unhealthy beliefs. Continue reading “Identity in Separate Baubles”

What Comics Mean to Me

avengers_youngbabyx_02It’s always been easier to say, “I enjoy comic books” then “I am gay.”  In school, comic books sheltered me from isolation growing because they offered a world to escape into that was more acceptable than homosexuality.  The differences I had from other boys was easily masked by the label “geek.”  I welcomed being considered a geek because it allowed me to avoid being ostracized as a “sissy.”  The popular boys were my superheroes, the ones that I modeled my failed mimicry after because they embodied acceptability, which I could not do on my own.

Away from school, comic books provided a space to explore my queer identity, which has allowed me to state my queerness with greater confidence.  Prior to comic books, queer experiences shown in TV mass-media were rooted in pain, neglected, and isolated.  Comic books offered the first examples of characters who took their uniqueness, and amplified them to create identities that were admired.  The loud personalities of super-heroes demonstrated to me that it was possible to be accepted for brashness.  Super-heroes, like myself, hid their true self behind mild-mannered civilian identities.  A world was opened to me where underneath the mask I created in school the true self was possible to be celebrated, and accepted, for its accomplishments.

Verve (March 2017)

I have felt I don’t belong at the adult table – adulating, relationships, and work, comes so much easier to everyone else.  Their lives, and without actively comparing, are filled contentment, belonging, and legacy.  If I could just get a roadmap to eat, pray, love my way to those things I know the rest would fall into place, emotional security would follow.

Everything outside my goals feels foreign to me, as if I’m faking everything until I can be home and secluded.  The real word doesn’t hurt but it increasingly feels like something I’m not a part of.  There is a dissonance between how I perceive the world, how I want the world, and the way the world truly is.  I am more comfortable going through life seeing the fantastical and the speculative.  For example, when I am walking to the store and it is twilight and the lights are just turning on, and there is a warmth as the sky turns purple with twinkling stars.  To see that as less than a magical experience, and the opportunities that arise, saddens, and removes me from my neighbors.

I began feeling the greatest distance between myself in elementary school.  It was during this time that I began noticing that I was different from the world and the rest of the kids, particularly the boys.  Children are acutely aware of the differences amongst each other, particularly when there’s one who doesn’t participate in the same activities and games.  I imitated to the expectations of others when I should have been fostering an identity to grow into.  Inclusion was predicated upon adopting various skins that brought me affection and attention.

Break Through in Shame

When I left school, I spent the rest of my life un-learning the group mentality.  I wondered what about who I was that was unacceptable.  My identity was separated into different baubles, guised with adjective-derived masks to fit in, and denying myself a confidante.  By refusing anyone I could divulge to because I am scared that if anyone knew my real fears, secrets, and thoughts, they’d not like me.  And that there is no possibility for repair. I felt punishment was warranted.

Over time I learned to express feelings and practice self-compassion, by putting a strong spotlight on the dried and cracking leather hid of my baggage.  I embraced my uniqueness – shown self without a mask.  Rather, I am a historical queer, existing outside rigid associations of mainstream acceptable.  Being queer is being liberated from essentialist identity politics, instead focusing on how numerous sciences, histories, and legalities to examine the identity, lives, history, and perception of queer.  Avoiding traditional social theory, and taking a critical theory approach to queerness enriches the discussion around the vulnerabilities and suppression faced by societal outliers, those whose identities further remove them from society because of association with more than one group.  Queer requires the ability to empathize with and perceive the world through the experiences of fringe and minority groups.

Queer exists as a counter to homonormative, white homosexual privilege that pushes heteronormativity onto LGBITQ+ culture and identity, which creates hierarchies of worthiness.  Those that most closely resemble heteronormative are at the top, while the rest are less worthy and dangerous to homonormative individuals receiving privilege.  Homonormative is the rejection of any group that endangers the privilege that comes with assimilation from emphasizing commonalities to heteronormative: marriage, monogamy, and procreation.  Viewing mainstream as the ideal dangerously suppresses the more radically different, silencing voices for radical inclusion in favor of acceptable goals like marriage equality and adoption rights, but also commercializing and mainstreaming queer subcultures.

Queer culture is a set of shared perceptions that take heteronormative practices, beliefs, and arts, to repurpose for identification.  Self-classification as any one sexual category, such as heterosexual, does not eliminate one from participating in queer culture.  Queer includes all gender and identity-variant individuals to find civic participation by engaging in complex dialogues that emphasize diversity in history and experiences.

Chronic Shame Creates Masks

I was 9 years old when AIDS entered my consciousness, putting a dark stigma became attached to being homosexual.  The facts that I knew of AIDS came from what was gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, effectively connecting homosexuality with death, separation, and sensationalism.  This opposed the previous generation of the 1960s and 70s, who found a footing after Stonewall pushed back underground and took on a seedy 8mm feel.  In the pre-internet era, there was limited ability to connect to others in the homosexual subculture, which could counter my first impressions.  These circumstances led to low queer acculturation particularly if someone lived away from gay neighborhoods in urban areas.  Growing up independent of a greater knowledge of homosexuality, I never became interested in homosexual culture, liberation/movement, camp, or fashion.  With limited exposure to homosexuality my development stagnated with a malleable inauthentic identity, designed for avoidance.

As I grew up I struggled with the idea that there was something false and untrue about my place in the world, only to realize that those feelings come from the fact that I was not living with authenticity.  In reaction to this I created a false self that wasn’t defective or flawed.  I diluted or ignored the parts of myself that I thought would alienate me from those around me.  When a false-self was created I ceased to be an authentic human being.  The psychologist, the late Alice Miller calls this “soul-murder” – toxic that leads to believing that they are a failure. Self-contempt, isolation, and a strong sense that they are untrustworthy are also feelings which accompany those who believe themselves failures. Shame became my core identity, shutting me down to human relationships, living in hopelessness, and locked in a set of very unhealthy beliefs.