Once upon a time, I was a lesbian.
Once upon a time, I was a bisexual.
Once upon a time, I was a pansexual.
Once upon a time, I was a girl.
Once upon a time, I was a boy.
Once upon a time, I was a musician.
Once upon a time, I was a parent (in every way but blood).
I am none of these things. But once upon a time, I was all of these things (or so I believed). That time is simply not now (and maybe sometimes I was wrong).
The words I use now are as follows: polyamorous, asexual, panromantic, neutrois.
Identity is HARD. And the world just keeps making it harder by making more words but not pinning them down. There are hundreds of words out there to describe your identity, your gender, your sexuality, your everything, but do you know what any of them really mean?
I’m going to give you the answer.
No. You don’t. Not unless you were the person who coined the phrase/word.
I can hear rabble rousing going now. I can hear people getting grumpy with me and feeling threatened. I can hear people right now sharpening pitch forks and putting pitch on some cotton-tipped sticks.
But don’t light those torches yet. Bear with me.
Once upon a time (yes, I use this phrase a lot, but it’s useful), the standards of care for transgendered people said that, once a person born with a penis (I’m using transwomen here to give a succinct example, but not because it wasn’t as shitty for transmen) said “I’m a woman,” that woman had to live a hyperfeminine life. Real life testing, required for a successful year before surgery could be obtained, could be restarted if a woman were caught wearing pants outside of her home! It was disgusting. It was horrible. It treated real life as some sort of… obscene parody of what life really was. Some sort of Stepford world where women were WOMEN and wore pretty pink dresses and had dinner ready at 6 pm for their husbands.
But that Stepford woman, that fifties nuclear housewife ideal is a construct. This woman hasn’t ever actually existed as a common creature.
So why was this woman held up as a REAL woman?
Because identity is an internal construct that cannot be adequately externalized due to a lack of interpersonal context.
I can’t read your mind. You can’t read mine. So you cannot know what I actually mean when I use, for example, the word neutrois. I just know what I am and neutrois seems to summarize it succinctly. But it could be incorrect.
You’re probably still feeling like I’m kicking you when you’re down, so let me give you an example.
I am Canadian. This means that I was born in the country of Canada. That is the literal meaning. However, I also identify as Canadian. I am certain, being Canadian, that I am different from people who identify as American. But how do I actually differ from an American? In behaviour, common culture, food, even geography there is virtually no discernible difference. But I am not American. And you, Americans, are not Canadian. And this is an internal identity. One that I cannot adequately share and explain to someone else.
It’s like being in a cave, alone. Scared and stumbling, you find another person, someone to talk to, but you don’t know what you look like because you’ve never seen yourself in a mirror. And they ask what you look like, because they want to know. They want context for this voice in the darkness. And there, just to your left, you see a sunbeam. But there are obstacles in your way. You can’t get to the sunbeam. But the light reflected is enough for the person to dimly make out your features and to draw some conclusions (even if those conclusions are wrong) and that makes them feel better, because they have some context to go off of, somehow, in the moment before the sun moves too far across the sky and stops coming down the crack that let in the sunbeam, and you are both plunged into darkness again.
And that is the quest to summarize identity in a nutshell. That is why people spend decades of their lives searching for a word that fits well enough and some people never find it. My identity is different from your identity is different from my friend’s identity. And these differences are beautiful. And these differences are horrible. And these differences keep us all stumbling through the darkness, looking for that shaft of light to hit the ground three feet to the left and give us the ability to show someone else how we look, just for a moment.