Written by Austin VanKirk—
I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity lately. I wonder if the traits I exhibit, the ways I act, the things I say, are actually because I am naturally that way. I’m wondering if those same qualities have actually been mapped onto me by the different identities I subscribe to. For example, do I actually enjoy Beyoncé, or have I been programmed by a gay identity to like her music? Do I actually believe that everyone, regardless of the particular genders being paired, should be able to and must participate in marriage, or is this something that the HRC has made be believe? Is it impossible for me to ever be sexually attracted to and fall in love with a human with pronounced breasts and a vagina because I am something called a “homosexual,” as determined by today’s sexologists?
The answer to the above questions is, frankly, no—except for the part about Beyoncé—her music, I’m pretty sure must be considered to be hellamazing by everyone regardless of sexual identity. If you don’t like her music, you’re obviously lying to yourself. I’m being facetious here, naturally, because that’s what I do. I’m Austin, that’s what I do. I take serious things and try to find the levity in them and then bring that to the forefront. I believe doing so helps people to be more comfortable talking about serious issues; it makes them palpable without trivializing them entirely. But… is this something I believe because I’m Austin, or is this something that my scholar identity has trained me or conditioned me to think? I haven’t a damn clue.
But, in thinking on this the past few months here in Washington (which is an amazing place for getting lost on mountain paths and in one’s own mind, and in general—please come visit. But don’t stay too long… this is my Promised Land. Go find your own!) I’ve been pondering my identity and how much of it was simply a programmed reaction in favor of or against something else. For instance, separated from my parents and family by hundreds of miles, a few mountain ranges, and one Mississippi River, I’ve been able to put some distance between myself and them, both physically and emotionally. For the past several years, let’s say for the past twelve years, I’ve linked up Country music to my parents. Now my parents are, objectively speaking, in their own way, moderately decent people, but there are several things that I do not like about them, and I want to be divorced from them in the mind of the public as much as possible. Since my parents subscribe to an identity that says they ought to like Country music, in a reactionary way, I did not permit myself, or rather, I was told by my identities not to like country music. Now, having put a great deal of distance between myself and the hill folk environment that I grew up in, I’m starting to listen to and enjoy certain types of country music—specifically the flavor referred to as “bro country.” I love rolling down my windows and blasting Florida Georgia Line throughout campus as I cruise on through.
Those of you who are staunch subscribers to the gay identity are thinking, “Wait, what? I thought this guy was gay… why does he like country music?” And that’s the identity talking, not the individual. I think that was something that I struggled with for quite a while: “I shouldn’t like X because I’m gay and that’s not something gay guys like” or “I should act this way because this is how gay guys act.”
Identity can be a great thing. It gives people who are feeling lost something to latch onto. It’s stability, it’s solid, and it’s comforting. It’s a thing that says, “This is who you are—you’re one of us.” That’s cool, until you have to start following the rules of that identity. Otherwise, you’re “an exception” or “you’re not really a part of our identity.”
So, I’ve come to the following conclusion: fuck identity and the horse it done rode in on. I have far too much to learn and to experience without being inhibited by an identity telling me which things I can and cannot do, or at the very least, what I “should” or “should not” do. Consider this a public casting off of all my identities, save one: human. I’m no longer a man, certainly not a gay man. I’m not a scholar, an academic, or an author. I’m not single, married, or taken (which is a horribly possessive idea to be addressed in a future column). I’m not American nor a Christian. I am simply me, a human, capable of experiencing whatever I want to. And if you’re interested in experiencing life to the fullest extent that you can, it might be a good idea for you to shed your identities, too.
But what do I know?