I think the last time I claimed some sort of salient identity out-loud was because I didn’t know how I identified. I felt stupid for not really knowing a word to sum up myself. I felt pressured to force myself into a box in order to be socially accepted and appear intelligent. Sometimes I’d think that in order to identify as something, I would first have to figure out who I am not. In order to discover myself, I must negate, negate, negate! I feel like I could spend my entire life negating all the way to my deathbed. A life of negation sounds nauseating.
Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that—maybe—my identity is not a one-or-two-worded phrase—or even several one-or-two-worded phrases. don’t want who I am, what I think, and what I do to be said in one word. How does not only being these things, but knowing and believing that I am these things, make me strong and wise? I don’t want to be just one thing—but do I want to be any of them? Do I want to be a she (rather than a he) in love with him (rather than a her)? I don’t want to be just one thing. Wait—but do I want to be any of these things? Maybe it’s okay to not know what I am, or even to be something that doesn’t have a name. So I’ve found myself less concerned with finding words to summarize myself, and obsessed with finding ways to break free from the identities already imposed on me. This weird liberation has left me inarticulate and anxious, because at the end of the day I feel crazy and alone.
I lack the words to describe myself, and this is reflected in the very geometry of my existence as I know it. So for a while I turned to the words other people found for their thoughts, and while this has propelled me into new depths of my own mind, I am hesitant to adopt the -isms and -ists of the people and theories I align with. I don’t want to be so sure about what someone else like Karl Marx said that I adopt the -ism of his last name. I don’t want any -ism or any -ists. I don’t want to be an anarchist. Or a nihilist. Or a feminist. Or a leftist. I don’t want to feel obligated to generalize myself in order to be more easily understood… but I do.
And maybe this is because other people have always done (and still do) it for me: other people named me; ascribed me a sex and a complimentary list of pronouns and mannerisms, told me I’m white as my friends would tell me I’m transparent; they assigned me multiple sets of number and letter combinations and documents that state all of this information—pieces of paper that legalize an identity for me to prove and absorb. And I want to burn them. According to my birth certificate I am a white American female citizen and I don’t know what the fuck that means. And no, it isn’t feeling white guilt. White guilt made me feel like Clorox bleach or a window pane.
I am twenty-two years old and academic institutions teach me to be apologetic for being white, not for my whiteness. The former I cannot change. Although I cannot deny the complete, utter shame and disgust I have for the “Manifest Destiny American Dream founded through Western Exploration made possible by Slavery and Genocide for Freedom, Justice, and Equality in God We Trust”; this is not the inherent reason why I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of in-between— nor is it an isolated hatred. The way this society molds identity cannot be picked apart into little pieces and viewed in vacuums as if the separate constructs don’t affect each other. This bleeds into every fiber of my American life and the subsequent identity I was born into. I was wailing with responsibility to be someone before I was even anything. So throughout my white/suburban/ middle-class/Christian childhood, I grew crooked with all the question marks in me. No one and nothing had the answers to quell me—not my parents, or any of my prayers to the ceiling.
School became hell when “the norm” became unappealing and when people started to notice my deviance. Academia became a joke that seems to get funnier every day; as black and white turn into shades of grey, as numbers became imaginary, as answers to math equations can be undefined; as not all multiple choice answers were wrong yet there was only one right way to answer the question. That’s probably when I stopped looking for answers and meaning and definition to everything. I stopped asking questions when “The Right Answer” became something illusive.
This silence feels like a foreign language that I am obsessively trying to translate. I want so badly to find the words, and I know this in itself is a paradox.. Cherríe Moraga’s poetry—even if they aren’t blatantly addressing queer identities and politics—never fail to give me insight on the Queerness I feel: “To gain the word to describe the loss, / I risk losing everything. / I may create a monster, / the word’s length and body / swelling up colorful and thrilling / Looming over my mother, characterized. / Her voice in the distance / unintelligible illiterate”. Because I seek refuge in texts that help me embrace the instability of my identity; I challenge my definition of home with concepts of home that cannot be contained in borders on maps or in the walls of buildings. It gives me reasons to resist and courage to fight back, because no politician can do this for me. So when I first saw capitalism illustrated as a pyramid I realized most things I hate resemble strategically constructed cesspools underneath the pavement. I am living in a cesspool where all that is American and Capitalist festers and I’m decomposing in it. I feel as if I exist in a transient-in-between as I strive to endlessly and passionately ferment, because It’s from a praxis of breaking down where I find myself creating. In a world that carries on imprisoning everything in their proper places I feel like a phantom-face-paranorm; a mutated commodity of capitalism that meets the criteria for recall because I can’t see my reflection in the contours of the State. I demand nothing; I want nothing, and to me, this is queer. I am queer, and it’s okay if this makes no sense. In a culture obsessed with precision, it feels safe to feel so scattered.
The ways in which the State utilizes arbitrary definition are no accident: whether visible or invisible, its borders construct a hegemony of place, of the body, and the self. I’ve become reluctant to find Universal Truth. It’s a peculiar alienation and it leaves me frustrated in conversation: I can’t casually talk about legality and justice as if they are goals I’m trying to obtain; I can’t discuss incarceration, citizenship, and voting as if they are viable solutions.
I am slowly finding the words to express my passions, and an aching desire to act on them. This is what I’ve taken from the past year, and I’m running with it: I’ve found that what can be identified in infinite ways all at once might as well never be named at all; identity that is fluid, fragmented, and liminal negates the value of in monolithic social constructs. Through ceaseless shape-shifting, I’m trying for shapelessness; home lacking place. An American Haunting.