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”

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Felix Masquerade

I dreamed of super-powers to be like the mutant X-Men, just as I had dreamed about being like the other boys in school.  I didn’t understand why I had to feel alienated and alone from everyone in my school and home; why couldn’t what made me different be celebrated the way athleticism and super-powers were? The character, Felix, I created was originally purely escapism, a way to join my favorite mutants as I read their new issues.   Over time he developed as I grew, becoming a character that I armored myself with in new and boundary-pushing situations.

The original power I grafted onto Felix were my wish fulfillment, liberating me from the conflicts I had with homosexuality’s shame.  Originally, I gave Felix shapeshifting abilities because I’d be able to become anyone other than myself.  With shapeshifting, I’d reflect the popular students throughout middle and most of high school, avoiding the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  Changing my appearance, Felix could literally become or match anyone’s desire, gaining the perfection that I had desired.  Being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal to make my goals and fantasies match my outside.

Felix was eventually given telepathy as I struggled to juggle the various facades I had created to navigate interactions.  Telepathy ensured that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with, removing the guess work about how to be part of the group.  I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.

As I began to fully explore what differentiated me from others, I added the final super-power: teleportation.  Felix would be able to truly escape any situation that was uncomfortable; I’d be free to be away from ticky-tacky suburbia and be where the different, foreign, and unique are celebrated –  New York City, home to many of Marvel’s superheroes and faraway from the mundane.  By this time Felix stopped becoming escapism and became the armor for every day, designed to masquerade as popular and fleeting.  Felix had become the mysterious character whose silent smile spoke, so that I didn’t have to expose myself to isolation and alienation.

Verve (4/24-4/28)

Spider-Man by Pascal CampionFor a brief moment I was chatting with a guy, E.F., through a dating website.  During that brief time, I was attached to my phone just like a teenager, eagerly awaiting and checking the dating website to see if I had received a response.  Everything about how E.F. described himself was perfect, so I was wary, but I made the decision to let fantasies dictate that my walls come down.  E.F. said he was a total alpha male and into rough sex.  When plans to meet slowly began to become finalized and a reality the time between responses grew until he completely stopped answering.  I am a grown up and have been able to move on, but the interaction still weighs on my mind.  I feel relieved and disheartened.  I am relieved at the lack of risk; I am disheartened because I had to abandon the idea of being found.  The idea that I would ever be able to settle down has eluded me since high school when dating with someone similar to my self became a foreign ideal.  Each time an opportunity arises, though, I build up my hopes like a tower only to watch them crumble.

Suburban Homogenity

I grew up in a suburbia that wasn’t ticky-tacky little boxes, but 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 is heavily focused on academic success and rigor, but 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.

I never fit the mainstream suburbia of backyard pools, unlike the other gay boys.  Rebellion was the order while I strived to fit-in, gaining accidental attention through an outsider status.  I was counter-culture preferring to explore after hours and away from school sponsored clubs.  I was different and I knew it, but didn’t wish to be separated from the herd.  By exaggerating what didn’t fit homogeneity I created a smokescreen of descriptors against isolation, hoping no one would the gay.  I sabotaged acceptance by defensively rejecting labels and tokenism.  I allowed peers to silence my identity and interests – a little for all but not everything to one; and no one to me.

Verve (4/10-4/14)

I am a living on a treadmill.  Stationary is a synonym for sedentary.  My life needs a rebranding, new experiences that will give me a potpourri of emotions, and not just the same safe ones of being home and being at work and exercising and reading.  Instead I have created discord between my routine and my goals, breeding familiarity as a crutch, and not a platform for change has become exhausting.  Structure is meant to create a safe framework where risks have not been taken.  I am looking for change and am hoping new experiences will fall into my lap.  I would prefer if the new does not lead to repeating past cycles of abandoning my own self for others’ interests, bending backwards to create a new personality that is more accommodating.

I have only had four relationships in my life, and they all began post-college years.  My college years were high school.  Opportunities to practice and flex my queer identity were hampered by the times, which is in stark contrast to the new freedoms of exploration allowed to youths currently.  They are dating and expressing queerness at younger ages, which allows them to avoid the pain that currently creates paralysis within me.

Kabuki

Kabuki (david Mack)            I first read David Mack’s Kabuki with the 1998 storyline, ‘Metamorphosis.’  A storyline where the titular character, an assassin, must escape an institution that reprograms secret agents to work in other organizations.  While escaping Kabuki is pursued by released inmates and former teammates.  Kabuki’s fights are battles against mainstream’s expectations, rejecting the limiting philosophies each inmate represents through their fighting style.  The story is a metaphor for Kabuki rejecting expectations and the role she was groomed for, itself an allegory for teenage rebellion.

Kabuki is weighed down by history and without an identity separate from role.  Her motivation comes from the scar on her face, a feature she views as making her less than, separating her from the group.  To compensate Kabuki perfects the skills of an assassin to impress her paternal grandfather, a general.  Kabuki repurposes her combat skills into dance to express herself in pursuit of a new identity against the routine status quo, reflecting the rebellious nature of a maligned subculture.  I saw how an identity can shatter expectations, particularly when the pursuit of that identity uses the previous life’s tools.  By escaping Kabuki rejects the world, and the role it has tragically giver her.

The Super-Powers I’d Want

If I was to be an X-Men there were two mutant powers that I wanted: shapeshifting and telepathy.

Shapeshifting to me represented liberation, a way to escape my conflict about homosexuality; freedom to explore queerness.  In middle and most of high school women were happy in their submissive role, reveled in the same fantasies about escape to a big city, a family of friends, and self-reliance.  With shapeshifting I’d be able to become that person, to become anyone other than myself.  I’d be able to avoid the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  By being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal.  If only my goals and fantasies matched my outside.

Telepathy was a power that I wanted because it would ensure that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with.  By having telepathy I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.  Telepathy would remove the guess work about how to be part of the group.

Identity in Separate Baubles

Identity In Separate Baubles            My gay identity has never been known.  I have no formed queer identity, rooted in beliefs, attitudes, and values.  My identity has been separated into different baubles, adjectives that carry their own connotations.  Through critical analysis of my formative years, the books, celebrities, television, and movies, I will involve myself in crafting my gay identity.  Finding my cultural identity will provide a relationship to queerness; homosexuality is same-sex attraction, while queer is cultural practice.  By creating a tether to queer I will develop a critical lens, a tool that will aid in how I navigate and perceive the world and my relationship to it.

Gay culture is not similar appreciation for a single genre of music, literature, or way of dressing.  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.  Rather, participation requires the ability to empathize with and perceive the world through the experiences of fringe and minority groups.

[To Read the Complete Personal Essay Click the PDF Below]

Identity in Separate Baubles [blog]

Facade

My high school façade was designed for survival.  I was different from other students, and didn’t wish to push myself from the herd.  Leaning heavily on the cartoonish persona from middle school, I deliberately designed an undefined identity.  I created a false identity by gathering adjectives to armor myself.  I hoped that no one would see through the smokescreen of descriptors, to spot the gay that would further isolate me.  I bent myself into new exaggerated images every day.  Masks were crafted for every student sub-culture.  I was Wal-Mart – a little for all but not everything to one; and no one to me.  To seamlessly navigate cliques, I accumulated a little knowledge about a lot.  This hindered the development of an authentic identity, based on beliefs, attitudes, and values.  I allowed peers to dictate my identity and silence my own interests.  I strived to fit-in, but gained attention because the adjectives that allowed me to nonchalantly shift cliques fixed a spotlight on me, and the impending question about my outsider status.  I sabotaged acceptance based upon authenticity by defensively rejecting labels.  I knew acceptance wasn’t me being made into a token.  Instead my rejection came from refusing my own skin.

My Gay Identity

To me, being gay has never been about a movement, or dance divas, or impeccable style/taste.  Being gay was about longing to be what I was not – perfect.  Perfect was the jocks or musicians in high school because they got all the attention; and paid attention back to all the girls, and not to me.  Perfect as not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in the back of class.  How could they not see how cool I was?

In high school I didn’t go to parties because I wasn’t invited.  If kids were doing drugs and drinking it wasn’t with me because no one asked.  I didn’t go to local gay youth groups to meet peers because I wasn’t ready.  The internet was about to be a thing so that was how I explored.  I wasn’t cool enough to have sex, so I chatted.

In college I did not meet perfect, who were the artistic and eccentric.  At my undergrad perfect was chased by girls and boys, and were more likely to chase the boys back.  Perfect was still not the quietly humorous one who liked school and read in the back of class.  He was finally cool, though.