Identity is complicated.
Identity is complicated. Discovering who you are and who you want to be is incredibly difficult for everyone. It is even more difficult for people who do not fit the norm. What makes this even more complicated is that the norm changes based on where you find yourself, and who you find yourself surrounded by, at any given time.
You’re supposed to “find yourself” in high school and college. That being said, a lot of the time I spent in boarding school was hell. Aside from the constant pressures of schoolwork and getting into the “best” college, the entire structure of the social system there was a world I had never seen before. Your worth as a member of the community was based on whether you were a male varsity athlete, or a girl that hooked up with those varsity athletes. The same is true for college - except that here - nobody cares as much about varsity sports. I still find people measuring their worth based on who they’ve hooked up with.
High school and college are supposed to be formative years - the best years of our lives, apparently. The reality is that’s bullshit. There is nothing glorious about a sudden realization of how much of the “other” you really are. I distinctly remember the first class I had in boarding school. We read a book set in Italy, and my classmates had a conversation about how lovely the scenery described in the book was in real life, since they had all been there. I hadn’t. I stayed silent. I remember late nights in various friend’s rooms talking about which boys were hot and who had hooked up with who, and who made which varsity team. I remember just repeating back what everyone else said so I could fit in with what I assumed was the norm.
I was supposed to know Europe. I was supposed to have been to Europe.
I was supposed to like boys. I was supposed to want to be with boys.
I had never felt more on the outside of anything in my entire life.
I remember when I went to our equivalent of prom. I felt so on the outside of everything, but I couldn’t figure out why. I was going to the dance with a boy. I was in a dress and heels like all the other girls, doing what all the other girls were doing. So why was there still a disconnect between me and this community? I thought I was doing everything within the norm of the society I found myself in, but a part of me knew that wasn’t who I was. I was trying to be something I wasn’t.
I only ever wanted to be myself.
Finding who that person was is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced.
I remember that most nights, even though I had friends, even though I was doing well in school, even though I seemed to have it all, I would stay up crying because I couldn’t figure out what the fuck was wrong with me. I was trying my best to be like everyone else. That was my mistake.
The reality of the situation was, and still is, that I am not like everyone else. My first year at this school, when I was 16, I became depressed. It was hard to be on the outside of a system that valued hooking up over all things in terms of determining social worth. It was hard to sit next to people every day who had so many more life experiences than me. It was hard, and continues to be hard, to determine my identity as a half black woman, especially today. So how, in that culture, and the one I find myself in now in college, was I ever going to find my identity? Where did I fall when I hadn’t been to Europe, or if I didn’t want to hook up with the best and cutest lacrosse boy at the school, or if even just by looking at me you know I was not wholly any one thing?
Boarding school and college are fantastic. But it is so easy to lose yourself in the culture you are constantly surrounded with. It is hard to stay true to who you are, especially if it is not within the status quo. But it is imperative to be that other, even though it is hard. To be that champion of uniqueness that says it is okay to not want to be with boys, and it is okay to be middle class, and it is okay to not know who you are, or who you want to be. So yes, these experiences were hard, and confusing, and sometimes scary. But they shape us. They allow those of us who are not following the crowd, simply because we cannot due to who we are, to embrace the power in our individual identities. They help us stand up and be brave in saying “this is who I am.” So be brave, above all things. Do not be afraid to be that other. There is power in that. There is a beauty in embracing yourself wholly and completely. Never apologize for that. Not being afraid to be me is what turned a hard, confusing, and scary experience into one I will be grateful for as long as I live. I lost myself in high school, and then, I found myself.
I am gay.
I am mixed race.
This is who I am.
This identity has made me into someone who loves and is loved.
I will not be ashamed or afraid to be this person ever again.