I am trans, I am queer, I am white, I am Canadian. I was born in racist, apartheid-era South Africa. I grew up middle class. I lost my family because I decided to do what felt right, which meant stopping the charade of pretending I was a woman and living as a man in a society that only acknowledges two genders. I am a man, but not macho, I earn a good living, but I’m still paying off student loans and don’t have enough money to buy a house or a condo. I straddle classes, cultures, genders, and this makes me, my identity, complex, the way a painting is complex when we start to deconstruct it and notice the different hues, the brush strokes, the way light and shadow plays across the canvas. Sometimes I am happy with the way my life has unfolded – I have a home, a dog, a partner I love. Sometimes I want to bash my fist into a brick wall to silence the ache that’s raw and right there, underneath the surface of my skin. It’s painful losing a parent when you’re 26 years old. Even more painful when the relationship you have with that parent is strained and you are a continent away, and life circumstances prevent you from flying to his side. My father died almost eight years ago and you could say it’s gotten easier. But what does easy mean when the rawness still reverberates through your body daily. I didn’t just lose my father; I lost his wife, my two sisters, the connections I had with the people who were important in his life. The daughter he had was gone, the son he refused to accept was unwanted.
The thing is, I feel like all these identities of mine should shape me somehow. Surely they mean something? They must make me stronger somehow? Somewhere?
But I don’t feel strong most days. These pieces of my identities barely intersect. My life a smorgasbord of puzzle pieces that leave me puzzled as to the image, the imaginary I that I am waiting to become.
All we have in each moment is the sensory experience of being right here, now, wherever we are. That moment is like clay: we take it and turn it into something. We look at it with eyes that are programmed to seek out patterns, because patterns are what give our lives meaning. We string together those patterns into a narrative and we call it by our name.
I am John or I am Sandy or Louie or Diane.
What am I but a collection of stories, narratives woven together over time? And one narrative I haven’t chosen is the one called activism. I am not an activist because I haven’t yet stepped into action. My passiveness prevents me from feeling passionately about anything. I dabble in identities the way a teenager does, scratching the surface, then moving on when my interest wanes. Buddhist, Christian, atheist, writer, walker, worker, dog-walker.
Some identities stick longer than others. But when you strip them all away what are you left with?