“Are you strong enough to be yourself?”

by Alexandru Ciobanu

Around the age of fifteen, I came to the realization that I am gay. In this pivotal moment, I made a friend, and what he said to me elicited a simple acceptance of this part of me. I don’t remember wallowing in misery or hating who I was. It became matter-of-fact. Yet there was something else that this process engendered in me. “There are two types of gay people,” he wrote to me, “the ones who say they are gay and screw everything that moves. Then there are the gays who simply love differently, nothing about them changes.” I became neither. I was special, suddenly. And the way to remain special wasn’t to conform to any types of gay people, but to reject them, as I rejected being shaped by the cultural norms of my environment. How could I ever expect that nothing about me would change because of my sexuality? It’s a nice, effective notion to advance gay rights movements. “We’re all the same!” Except we’re not, are we? But it isn’t my sexuality that differentiated me from my straight friend at the time who thought my new friend had turned me gay. It is what I made of it. It’s something all of us do, we make narratives out of experiences, out of things that we believe are intrinsic to our identities. Being gay is inherently a part of me. What I have become because of it is not inherent, but constructed. My identity is forever shaped by the narratives I made of my life experiences. I wasn’t hurt by my straight friend’s ignorance, my narrative was already constructed. “I am gay. This is who I am. And I am normal.” Eventually, my actions gave legitimacy to my statements, and his ignorance lost. His narrative had to change.

The friend that I made at that time, however, pointed out the importance of discovering whether I am strong enough to be myself. I am strong enough to be gay. To endure the trials that come with it. But “I am gay” is not equal to “this is who I am”. Who I am is a construct of past experiences, a constant negotiation and re-negotiation of events and people and actions. Was my mom too distant and too preoccupied to give the attention and affection a momma’s boy needed? Has my dad’s tacit disappointment and disinterest in me caused my yearning for validation? Did realizing I was gay override those issues, since I didn’t need my mom’s affection or have to care about my father’s feelings towards me anymore? Since there was suddenly something special about me, a part of me that was hidden from everyone else, I found comfort in that, instead of my parents. But does any of this matter when identity is constantly shifting through reconstitution of past events? Yes and no. Yes, identity is certainly fluid, but it is also constructed around repetition, as Butler stated. In your repetitive behavior you can notice, if you look hard enough and consult some Psychology 101, the underlying effects of your parents actions.

Am I strong enough to be myself? I think that question is rendered irrelevant by what I’ve said. Who is this “I” that I need to be strong enough to be? Politically, sure, be proud that you’re gay. But shouldn’t we be evolved enough to not be affected by other people’s ignorance about sexuality? I’m over it, honestly. I’m an introvert. I am reserved. But I’ve come to realize I have no issues kissing my date in public or holding his hand, and that is simply because I am not acknowledging the world around me. My behavior is not politically driven. But an inner conflict begins with a self-awareness regarding my repetitive behavior right as I’m conducting myself, especially with the person I’m dating, since interacting with someone you deeply like is an incentive towards a reevaluation of yourself. So, would self-awareness be enough to change repetitive behavior? Can I shift my identity from a reliance on future possibilities, an inescapable facet of my personality engendered by myself as a teenager needing to survive in the wake of the dissociation from the people around me, and towards a reliance on allowing comfort from the present moment? Could the moments of joy spent with someone alleviate the intolerable burden of being?