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Reflecting on a Sea of Identities

Updated on October 13, 2016
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Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Introduction to Identity

In 1993, my father and I had flown down to Florida to help my older brother, Vern, pack his things. The reason being was that before I left, my mother had informed me that he had contracted AIDS. This was before the medication to subdue it was as available as it is today.

At this time, most people were aware that the virus was primarily contracted through unprotected sex and sharing blood through objects like needles and such. What was also assumed was that if someone had it, then they were gay. Gay people out of the closet had been happening since the 1970’s, but it was beginning to step up the noise as more and more began announcing their sexuality: hence the phrase, ‘coming out’.

How Vern got AIDS I never bothered asking. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t want to know or if it was because I was blissfully ignorant. Either way, I found out eventually after a game of scrabble. He and mom had gotten into a debate about love and gender and Vern seemed unusually adamant about the legitimacy of gay love. When I later asked him if he was gay, there was a moments silence between us before he said yes. And that was that. Nothing changed between us and I had no issue with it.

Diversity of Identities

Fast forward now to 2016: I was at one of my local dives with some whiskey and chatting about random shit with some friends. Over the course of the night one of them began talking about his confusion at all the ‘new’ sexual identity titles are society was permeated with today.

He wasn’t against a person’s sexual preference, but rather the need for someone to label themselves as ‘something’-sexual. As far as he was concerned, there was straight, gay, and bi. That seemed to encompass the human race quite nicely. But now there was asexuality, transgender sexuality, pan sexuality and it seemed a bit overboard.

The conversations from that night and with Vern in 1993 seem to parallel each other in my mind and got me wondering. Why was there such a need to label our sexual identities? Especially given on how sensitive half our society is to being judged and labeled to begin with? Just the other day, I was reading in USAToday how Miley Cirus’s recent admission to being pansexual was this huge step forward somehow. I didn’t see how beyond just creating yet another label.

This isn’t about judging others for their choices or trying to make the choices for them. Many would argue and probably legitimately so, that because I have never experienced any other kind of sexuality other than hetero that my lack of understanding shouldn’t be a surprise. Others would say why the fuck should I care and to mind my own business.

The reason for my interest in this is because of how the diversifying of identities seems to affects society, the unions and confrontations it creates. That part is everybody’s business because both of them have a habit of sucking neutral people in whether they want to or not: life is rarely so kind as to gives what we want simply because we want it.

I understood the basic differences and that especially with bi and pansexuality, its been more prominent among the newly minted generation Zer’s , where as being Gay and Bi first became a prominent thing among my generation, the Xer’s. That prior the current generations see their sexual identity as a spectrum rather than exclusively two-sided.

However while I could understand the comfort in finding a community to identify with, I also wondered how all of these identities, including ones having nothing to do with sex, moves us forward as a whole. I have said before how historically, a society progresses because there is some form of unity of spirit, beliefs, or values. Of course there are different classes and personalities that come with being human and it can also be forced, but amidst that diversity is some form of shared goal.

During American wars, it became a common feature for other races to willingly engage in its conflicts across the world, despite the injustices done to them by that same nation. For some reason, they found a similar cause they could unite behind with their White, racial adversaries/institutions and fight to win, or at least for one another. Is there that kind of glue now?

Though people have known about it for centuries, being gay as a open identity came to the forefront during the 1990's: this example from 1993 Pride Parade in Dublin, Ireland
Though people have known about it for centuries, being gay as a open identity came to the forefront during the 1990's: this example from 1993 Pride Parade in Dublin, Ireland | Source

Place in the Puzzle

I look at this year’s election, by far the most hostile and intense seen probably in the last few decades. Americans are pulling themselves apart and dividing along lines of conservatism, progressivism, and pure frustration in politics as well as in the media and with social institutions. One would think that there would be agreement at least on basic American ideals but no one seems to know what those are either. Or they don’t care for any other interpretation of American ideals but their own.

These conflicts are being caused in large part by labeling each other, aligning ourselves with one tribe to fight against their enemies. When my brother came out as gay, I understood the importance of that because you couldn’t talk about it unless it was an insult to someone's masculinity. To stand up for being the same as everyone else except in sexual identity, I got: the same with bi sexuality. We’re talking about people who have died because of part of their identity and there was a history of struggle there.

Many of the new identities though almost come of as more trends than identities. In that same USA article I was reading, when confronting the question of the difference between what a pan sexual person was and a bi-sexual person, the answer seemed very ambiguous and lost in wording. “Pan is more about all-inclusive and bi tends tends to be more than one” is how one individual interviewed in the article described it.

That identities are just the latest trend in the social shopping mall I will be the first to admit is arguable and I hope isn't the case. Plenty of other people seem convinced of that as it is. The more worrying aspect is that these labels are now more about saying how different we are and having no common ground, than having common ground but that we also have some differences. This is despite that some leaders saying that diversity in general actually strengthens society rather than weakens it.

To those who would say mind your own business, when you have protests, revolts, and media slamming the issue in your face everyday and colleagues making their own prejudice assumptions, then it’s a crime to not try and understand the situation to defend those people. Knowledge is power.

The spectrum of sexuality is accepted almost along clear east-west lines.  In most places, sexuality is still straight or gay, with gay being legally or socially punishable, regardless of how natural the person feels it is.
The spectrum of sexuality is accepted almost along clear east-west lines. In most places, sexuality is still straight or gay, with gay being legally or socially punishable, regardless of how natural the person feels it is. | Source

Come Together or Rip Apart

We all have the right to make our own choices and we all have parts of our personality we cannot control and is just part of our make up. And there can be value in being able to identify with other people who understand and live those differences. Feeling isolated and alone can often times lead to deep depression and suicide. And being anything but straight is already a crime in most places across the world.

At the same time, if labeling ourselves becomes a run of the mill tendency with no real substance or soul(whatever that looks like), and leads to more pulling apart than coming together, it can create problems. You can’t tell a society to go forward when you are not willing to do the same yourself.

Depression in any context us never a good thing. And differences must be acknowledged and even wrestled with because if we don’t, we will get our ideas from somewhere else that will probably not be a good source. I just hope in dealing with these differences that we don't grow so many feet that we start to trip over ourselves as it seems we’re doing now.


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