Struggling with identity: On the lies we tell and how we deal

identity

The lies we tell lurk behind drawn shades, shifting foundations and excavating bones of half truths buried underneath skies that never see sunshine. The lies we tell live in fear of being disclosed, so they multiply like exponents ’till we lose ourselves in an equation we don’t quite understand. – Nancy Arroyo Ruffin

When I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 80s, I attended an after school program at the recreation center of our local church. There was a boy who attended the program that was unlike the other boys I knew. Georgie enjoyed hanging out with the girls and doing what the girls did. Though he didn’t really fit in with us, he also did not fit in with the boys. He didn’t play wiffle-ball or touch football with the other boys. He never participated in any boy related activities. In fact, Georgie had a softness and poise about him that was strikingly different from the toughness exuded by the other boys.

I knew back then that Georgie was not going to grow up to be like the other boys. Georgie was different. Not because of anything he said, but because of how he acted and how delicately he carried himself.  At 11 years old he was already in touch with the femininity that I wouldn’t embrace until I was 18. A self-proclaimed tomboy, I was tough and rough. I never felt the need to be glamorous or cute. Unlike my sister, who has always been very girly, my scrawny body would not be caught in a skirt or dress or shoes. I avoided them the way my toddler avoids the bath. I preferred jeans and Jordans. I enjoyed playing wiffle-ball and touch football, and manhunt. I was everything Georgie was not. While I could call myself a tomboy there wasn’t a word that I could use to describe Georgie.

Though I couldn’t label him as being gay because being gay has to do with sexual orientation it was the only word I knew back then. As a 12 year old girl growing up during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic,  my juvenile mind equated being gay with wanting to be like the opposite gender. Though I didn’t know the word back then, Georgie was transgender. This would be confirmed years later when my sister unexpectedly bumped into him and he was dressed in poom poom (Daisy Duke) shorts, a cropped shirt that was tied at his midriff, heels, his hair in two ponytails, and a fully made up face.

I haven’t thought about Georgie in years, but with every news source and social media outlet reporting on former Olympian Bruce Jenner’s recent female transition it has me thinking about Georgie, Caitlyn, Laverne (Cox)and all the others who have struggled or are still struggling with their identity.

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’ – Caitlyn Jenner

When I read that quote I thought about someone very close to me who died pretending to be someone else. They never found that soul shifting kind of love or experienced the acceptance from their family for being gay. While some family members did know and accepted them, there were many others (including their own mother) that never knew. This person spent their entire life never being able to truly embrace who they were born to be and as a result, they lived a life that was shrouded in depression, addiction, and unhappiness all in an effort to hide who they really were. Their entire life was spent lying and pretending. A victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a relative only exasperated the depression and addiction and never finding the courage to out their abuser led to a downward spiral that ultimately killed them.

While being gay and being transgender are completely different they do fall under the same umbrella and the way individuals cope with both is very similar. Both groups pretend, hide, lie, live in fear of being outted, contemplate suicide, are afraid of being ostracized by their friends and families. Their entire lives become a series of secrets and lies. It is one of the hardest things to come to terms with and something that takes an incredible amount of courage and bravery to release.

The lies we tell are like bricks. Each lie serves as a brick in the wall that one builds to protect their heart as well as their well being. Before one knows it, that wall is so high that it becomes almost impossible to tear down. And while it may seem easier to protect one’s heart instead of having to deal with heartbreak that very same wall is also keeping others out. It is preventing others from loving them. It is even preventing that person from loving themselves.

For every person that has the courage to come out there are hundreds, thousands even, that struggle with keeping up with the lies that they’ve told. It is a lonely way to live. Imagine how difficult it must be to live a lie every single day of your life. Imagine if you could not be who you are; if your existence was based on others perception of you. How meaningless would your life be?

In an interview with Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger about her transition, Jenner tells Vanity Fair:

“Bruce always had to tell a lie. He was always living that lie. Every day, he always had a secret from morning until night. Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets. As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.”

Not everyone is as strong or as brave as Caitlyn. I commend her for finally taking her life back; for embracing who she has always been. There are many supporters, but there are just as many critics. There will always be critics, but we cannot live our lives based on what others will say about us. We have to live our lives in spite of them. We have to find our happiness in spite of them.

As children, more often than not, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill what others expect from us. That our happiness is contingent on the happiness of our families or our loved ones. That everything we do should be to make our families proud. That their happiness should come before our own. Instead of being taught to ask ourselves “Who am I?”  We are taught to define ourselves by others’ expectations of us.

Boys are taught at an early age not to cry because it isn’t manly. We teach them that they can only play with cars and trucks and ridicule or reprimand them if they dare to play with dolls or walk around in their mother’s high heeled shoes with towels wrapped around their head pretending to have long flowing hair. Girls are taught to be quiet and demure. To speak only when spoken to. We impose societal gender norms because we don’t want our children to be ostracized. We teach them to fit in instead of encouraging them to be different. To be frank, I don’t give a fuck about what society thinks and I will encourage my daughters to be true to themselves. I will encourage them like I encourage my nieces and nephew, and support whatever they are interested in so long as it isn’t detrimental to their well being or someone else’s.

My job as a parent is to raise happy, confident, kind individuals and the only way that will happen is if they are allowed to be who they were born to be. To me, there is nothing unnatural about pursuing one’s happiness, whatever that may be. What’s unnatural is pretending to be something you’re not. It is only when we are true to ourselves that we can be our best selves and give the best of ourselves to those around us.

 

 

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