I Don’t Know What I Am, but I Know What I Want to Be

Photo by Annie Spratt

The climate demands certainty about what we might never be able to know

When I was less settled in my life, I often found myself in existential quandaries. I would freeze over internal questions about what I was, whether I was a good woman, and whether everyone around me believed what they saw. Or whether I believed what I saw. In the end, it boiled down to asking how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. And my eventual answer was just the same: it didn’t matter. I don’t have to know what I am. I only have to aspire to be something more.

Something in me believed that I would discover what I was, or that I knew what I was and my change was a process of understanding that thing — an evolution I didn’t have to understand but with an endpoint to reach. I wasn’t becoming the real me, as the rhetoric so often states. I was always the real me. This change was just about smoothing the friction between myself and the rest of the world.

Of course, that doesn’t fit the narrative the powers that be like to hear. They don’t want to hear about self actualised people making discoveries that enable change. They want to hear about suppressed victims of society yearning acceptance. They want to know how we tortured ourselves and yearned to be something else. And yes, I did feel quite out of place but my yearning was not so specific. I worked with what was in front of me. I did me as best I could with what I had.

The culture of assuredness, at least on the point of one’s gender, is particularly grating in LGBTQ+ circles. Yes, everyone says it’s OK to question and it is. Of course there’s no such thing as not trans, enby or queer enough. The water level is our own to find; nobody can see how much change is enough. This is about comfort. Whatever your brand of queer, the point is to express what you need to feel good about yourself.

"OUR STOCKHOLM SYNDROME WITH OUR OWN GATEKEEPERS IS SELF EVIDENT: BE YOURSELF, BUT SAVE THE LABEL FOR WHEN YOU CAN CLAIM IT."

And yet, there is still this component of the culture that participates with the gatekeepers we all hate so much. I found this difficult to resolve, and I suspect many under the umbrella do as well. It does explain why so many folks seek some kind of queer purity: gold star lesbians, top tier gay men, post operative trans women. Our Stockholm syndrome with our own gatekeepers is self evident: be yourself, but save the label for when you can claim it. We’ll tell you when.

Not everyone in the umbrella buys into that kind of elitism but it’s never very far away. It’s this ugly cloud hovering above everything that requires constant monitoring. Nobody is immune from judging others on the basis of whatever gates they’ve made it through; there is a hierarchy. That much was quite apparent when I first starting going to meetups and many there gave me a certain amount of deference. They would express a certain shock at how newly out I was; they took me for a veteran that showed up to lend a hand. An irony: now that I am pretty well established, I don’t really go to meetups except as my fiancée’s partner.

We are stood in a chorus telling us what we are. We try to listen; we group with the ones that work in the moment. The group suits, or not, and we join in. The spot is ours until it isn’t. In all the cacophony, it’s hard to know what we think. OK, so I just came out. What does that mean? What do I do? How do I tell people? Do I tell them at all? The answers spring to us from peers, google, advocates and therapists. What of ourselves?

What do I believe of myself? I’m a woman of forty that quite likes being forty. I’m a divorcée, but apart from the emotional damage I am free of my ex. I’m in immigrant. I’m asexual, homoromantic and I’m navigating a relationship with an allosexual woman. I play Dungeons & Dragons. Does this tell me what I am?

Photo by Annie Spratt

Many here will be looking at that word ‘woman’ and be asking some version of, “What does that mean?” I don’t know. I just am. I know I’m a woman, I don’t know what that means exactly. I don’t know what I am, exactly.

"DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IT EVEN MEANS, WE STILL HAVE TO THROW OUR NAME INTO A HAT AND IT’S NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT HAT. "

Does it matter that I don’t know? Conviction of this kind really only comes from the self. Despite the fact that we don’t know what it even means, we still have to throw our name into a hat and it’s not always the right hat. How do I know I belong in the woman hat? I don’t! But it’s comfortable so I’m not inclined to move.

Do I tell the clinic that? Hell no. I don’t even talk to my therapist about that and they have no part in my queerness. The clinic gets the determined self assurance they want to see. But it’s a scam: I have no idea what I am. I know what I aspire to be.

So what do I want to be? That’s not the same as what I believe I am. I want to be loved. I want to be seen as good at what I do, whatever it is. I want to be a good wife to my future wife. I wouldn’t mind dabbling in psychology once I finish my degree, but I’m not sure I want to be a psychologist. I aspire to a lot of things I’m not sure I want, but that’s the point of aspiration: we try and see.

Coming out was by no means some kind of silver bullet that made life work any more than taking a psychology degree is going to guarantee I’ll enjoy being a psychologist. I didn’t enjoy being a theatre technician and teaching wasn’t for me in the end either, as much as I enjoyed them. There are no guarantees in life. We just get to be what we are, hope we like it, and be willing to try something else if we don’t. I’m quite comfortable in my gender even though I couldn’t tell you what a woman is, and that is enough.

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