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.