There are many words I use to describe myself: Black, short, gorgeous (hell, if I donâ€™t know it, who will?), creative, liberal, bossy (I am an Aries, after all).
But with stories about sexual and gender identity everywhere you look right now (from SCOTUS nominee Elena Kaganâ€™s romantic preferences, to the controversial Newsweek article that opines that gay actors canâ€™t convincingly play hetero characters, to Chaz Bonoâ€™s legal gender change, to the Courage Campaignâ€™s petition to push President Obama to repeal â€œDonâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€ this year, to this mini-documentary that asks the question, â€œShould bisexuals disclose their sexual pasts to their partners?â€), I realized today that I donâ€™t actually think about those things when describing myself. I never add â€œfemaleâ€ or â€œstraightâ€ to the list. Not because Iâ€™m oh-so-enlightened and above it all, but because Iâ€™ve never been forced to. My life â€” in terms of gender and sexual identity at least â€” neatly conforms to the norm; I donâ€™t have to identify myself because everyone else does it for me, and the result isnâ€™t at all threatening.
But why are we so obsessed with â€œfiguring outâ€ other folks in the first place? Whether weâ€™re trying to analyze why this politician is screwing around on his wife with this guy, or what that A-list star is doing behind closed doors, it seems that our culture is built around determining who other people are rather than who we are. So we say Kagan must be a lesbian because sheâ€™s 50, unmarried, favors short hair, and played softball once upon a time, and itâ€™s her duty to tell us who sheâ€™s screwing because it will affect her decisions on the high courtâ€”what if she forces that gay stuff on us?! In a world where Usher and Nicki Minajâ€™s â€œLil Freak,â€ and Kurtâ€™s single ladies dance on Glee are all up in the mainstream, itâ€™s easy to forget that, collectively, weâ€™re still massively afraid of anything that we even suspect isnâ€™t â€œnormal.â€
We’re may be afraid of what’s going on “out there,” but itâ€™s a lot easier to gossip about someone elseâ€™s life than to look inward and figure out if the words we use to describe ourselves match up with our true identities. And goodness forbid that we should do any actual work on ourselves to make it so.
Do you think it matters what others are doing behind closed doors? What about what theyâ€™re doing in public? How do you describe yourself? Do tell.
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