Itemizing My Core Identity
I was having a discussion with a friend one day when we found ourselves on the topic of lifestyle choices vs. aspects of one's core identity. In the process of defining what a core identity was, and what comprised it, I began to think deeply about my own personality. In the time since then, I've come to a fairly good understanding of the ways in which I identify myself.
I can't think of a more concise and cogent way of stating "who I am" than by running through my ranking of the facets of my core identity.
#1 - Masculinity
I was born anatomically male. In addition to that, I strongly identify with the masculine gender. Those are two completely different things. While anatomical sex is binary (excepting hermaphroditic anomalies), gender is a spectrum. On the masculine end of the spectrum are all the stereotypical qualities associated with masculinity, such as strength, aggression, and control. On the feminine end of the spectrum are all the stereotypical qualities associated with femininity, such as nesting, nurturing, and cultivating. All men and all women display behavior and attitudes from among the entire spectrum. If an individual possesses a greater number of masculine qualities than feminine qualities, that individual is labeled as being masculine. When gender qualities are somewhat missaligned with anatomical sex, we have fems and tomboys. When they are considerably missaligned, we have transgenderism.
I have never had any confusion about my gender orientation. My entire life I've displayed traits far out on the masculine end of the spectrum. I would even go so far as to say that I am a stereotypical male. I am drawn to cars and motorcycles like a child is to candy and cake. My wardrobe consists almost entirely of blue jeans and t-shirts, no matter what the season. I have no disdain for gourmet food, but absolutely nothing pleases me more than a big plate of chicken and biscuits with gravy, or a simple grilled ham and cheese sandwich, either followed with a tall cold glass of milk. My house is a bastion of dust and germs, with enough clutter to make a fraternity boy take pause. Clothes shopping and dancing are as alien to me as snake-handling and sumo wrestling. I am terrible about birthdays and anniversaries, and look forward to Christmas with about the same enthusiasm that I have for tax day.
The few feminine qualities I do display include an utter disinterest in spectator sports, and a proclivity for the arts. Other than that, I can't imagine being much farther out on the masculine end of the spectrum.
#2 - Ethnicity
I am a WASP. Not only am I white (some might say "pasty white"), my heritage on both sides is, indeed, Anglo Saxon, and I am a baptized and confirmed Episcopalian. Although I don't display many of the characteristics that one would stereotypically associate with WASPs, I still rank this very highly as a core identity. I am not necessarily proud of my race, but neither am I ashamed of it. I think that mankind can rise above the differences between the races, but that does not mean that those differences will cease to exist. Racial characteristics account for the most profound variations in anatomy beyond those of gender. I can never change my skin. Since it is with my skin that I meet the world, it is very important to the way I identify myself.
Race is only one half of ethnicity, however. The other component is culture. I am an American. I would say that I am proud to be an American. There are a lot of aspects of the American culture that I'm not terribly proud of, such as an inexplicable love of guns and violence, and a peculiar tendency towards Puritanism and bigotry. The U.S.A. has its share of faults, as any nation does, but I think that in practice it does a lot more good than it does harm. It does use its military might for destructive purposes, but it also uses it for constructive purposes. In any event, the mission of America is to foster liberty and protect human rights. One can argue with the means we use to achieve that, but it's impossible to argue with the goal itself. I am proud to be a native of a country with such laudable intentions.
I was born and raised in Northern New York State. Some few people do understand that New York State continues beyond the border of Manhattan Island, but most of them would still probably think of "upstate" New York as little more than Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany. *My* New York State extends even further North than that. I grew up near the point where Lake Ontario empties into the Saint Lawrence River. Not only was that a geographically interesting region, it was right on the Canadian border. From my earliest years I had constant influences to remind me that the U.S.A. was not the whole world, and that there were people in North America other than "Americans."
#3 - Handedness
I am left-handed. This may seem like a trivial matter to rank so highly on a list of core identities, but it has been a constant issue in my life and it will continue to be one until I die. From an early age I knew I was different from other kids. My teachers needed to provide special scissors for me to use in arts and crafts. They had a green, plastic coating around the finger holes so that they could be distinguished from "normal" scissors. When I learned to write I quickly found that the entire process was biased towards right-handed people. We read from left to right because it's convenient for right-handed people to *write* from left to right. It's a huge hassle for left-handed people to write that way. Not only is there no place to lean the heel of your writing hand, but you're dragging your fingers directly across the fresh ink, simultaneously smearing it and getting it all over you. Whenever I eat with a group of people, I have to be opportunistic and find a seat on a corner where I won't be bumping elbows with a "normal" person. And then, when I sit down, I have to re-arrange all the utensils, because they were laid out in a way that is convenient to right-handed people. These are but a few examples of the countless ways in which left-handed people are discriminated against in every aspect of daily life.
To be left-handed is to be in a minority. In this day and age, it's not that significant of a minority. I could bitch and moan until I turned blue, but I have to admit that the discrimination I suffer rarely, if ever, goes beyond annoying inconvenience. My civil rights are still secure as a left-handed person. But if I was unlucky enough to have been born in another time, it could have been a different story. There was a time when it was believed that left-handed people were sinister. The people of the time could not accept the fact that there could be people who, seemingly willingly, performed fundamental activities exactly the opposite of "normal" people, despite the inconvenience and disadvantages that this behavior begat. Left-handed people were persecuted as witches, incarcerated, and executed. If I had lived in a time like that, I would have had to exist in constant fear that someone might discover my secret, and I would have had the emotional burden of dealing with the fact that I knew my core identity to be that which society at large feared and hated.
#4 - Sexual Orientation
I am a homosexual. Actually, my sexuality is not that easy to label, but you can generalize by saying I'm queer. I've been sexually active with women in the past, and I probably will continue to be into the future, but I'm much more interested in being sexually active with other men. I don't care for the label of bisexual. Andrew Dice Clay said that "there's no such thing as bisexual. Either you suck dick, or you do not suck dick. There's no in between." I've never been a big fan of Dice, but I saw a certain pragmatic logic in his analysis. The way I look at it, if I have a chance to get laid and I'm into it, I'm gonna go for it. You can label me however you wish.
It took me a long time to reconcile my sexuality with my strong identification with the masculine gender. When I was in puberty, the closest thing I had to a positive gay role model was Billy Crystal in Soap. Granted it was a generally positive portrayal of a generally positive character, but even he had gender issues that I simply didn't identify with. The few gay men I was aware of at this time were all queens. It took me a long time to realize that I could be strongly masculine and still be enthusiastically gay.
Homosexuality carries a lot of baggage with it. Things aren't as bad as they've been in the past, but there's still a long way to go. In many ways my experiences as a left-handed person prepared me for a life as a minority. With my sexuality, however, there is always the threat that my "affliction" will cause me to be deprived of my civil rights. I have to say that I've led a pretty discrimination-free life to date, largely due, I'm sure, to the fact that I am a masculine male, but the threat of discrimination is omnipresent.
I prefer not to get involved in the nature vs. nurture debate. I say that I was "destined" to be gay. I'll let scientists and scholars debate the origins of sexual orientation. I will say, however, that anyone who thinks that homosexuality is a conscious choice, as if the options were weighed and a decision arrived at through deliberate means, is not living fully in the age of reason. That's not to say that there do not exist people who deliberately decide to experiment with homosexual activity, but that is an entirely different matter from people who's core identity is homosexual.
#5 - Artisthood
I knew since I was fairly young that I had an artistic aptitude. In early school years I discovered that I could draw and model objects better than most people in my class. In later school years I discovered that there were people who could draw and model objects an awful lot better than I could. It was later still that I discovered that being an artist isn't necessarily associated with one's ability to draw and model objects. Artists are people who naturally view the world in a way that is different from that of "normal" people. Artists march to the beat of a different drummer. Each artist is largely as different from ever other artist as he or she is from society at large, but they share a bond of dissimilarity that serves to unify them.
In addition to having a unique vision of his or her surroundings, the artist has a compulsion to create. It is this compulsion, more than the actual practice of creating, that makes one an artist. Creativity comes in many, many forms, each as legitimate as any other. Having created is not, necessarily, prerequisite to being an artist, but surely anyone is an artist who can say, "I created this." I find the question of "Is this art?" to be a moot one. If an artist claims that something he created is art, there can be no dissuading him. I find the pertinent question to be, "Is this worthy of being discussed as art." If something is not worthy of being discussed at all, then no more worthy are its merits as being art.
I consider this web site to be my work of art. The photography could be discussed in conventional terms as art, but I believe that the multimedia aspects of the web site itself are an integral part of the work. I feel that the autobiographical nature of the site is also part of the art. It is not the creation of the essays that constitutes art, but rather the process of exposing one's flesh and soul together that forms an artistic entity. The process of designing a web site, with its many pages and navigation between, is not unlike the art of architectural design, with its many rooms and navigation between. This web site does not merely contain works of art, it is itself an integrated art work.
In summary, I identify myself as a white-bread, lefty, artsy-fartsy fag yank.