Friday, April 04, 2008

On Being An Individual

There are many things I enjoy about the generation I am a part of. It is more open-minded, more willing to accept change and those of different viewpoints, more engaging, more creative, more confident, and more diverse. I know many older Christians fear for the young people of this generation, and I will be the first to admit that my age group certainly has its problems. However, when I think about the young devout Christians I know and love, I have the overwhelming sense that when these Christians grow up and start becoming leaders in the Church, the Church is going to rock more than ever before.

At the same time, there is something about my generation that I do not like at all. When I think about it, it is really hard to be an individual nowadays. Sure, we all have our Facebook pages and our blogs, listing every detail of our personal lives and our likes and dislikes. We all know how to dress in the way that best "expresses ourselves." We all have different play lists on our iPods and have neurotic personality quirks that we share with the whole world through a variety of means (for example, it's common knowledge amongst my friends that I don't drink coffee, but still have a fondness for coffee shops). All of this, however, really doesn't mean anything. These individual characteristics that we think make us special are often used to simply categorize and compartmentalize us, and that makes it hard to really have some individuality.

This constant desire to label everything and make it all "nice and neat" is something that really drives me crazy about my generation. I know we often blame stereotypes and bigotry on older generations, but it's not really the case. Just check out any Facebook group: "You might be Cuban if...," "You might be a lesbian if...," "You might be from Boise if...," "You might be a Methodist if...," etc. Then watch all the stereotypes roll. I know it's all done in fun, and sometimes those groups are really funny, but at the same time I think they're indicative of a generation that is fine with individual differences as long as those differences fit within a specific range.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that it's hard to fit in when you live a bit on the fringe like I do. There are no Facebook groups for "guys who are celibate and deal with homosexual attraction although they have reservations about labeling themselves as 'gay' even thought they usually do it for clarity's sake anyway." There are no denominations for "Calvinists who still like the traditions of the United Methodist Church and have an affinity for Catholic Mass as well." There's no ethnic community that describes an "Irish-French-German-English man who might be part American Indian, has an Southern accent with a hint of Outer Banks brogue and speaks in Spanish to his brother." Yet those are things that I am (and before you ask, I don't really speak Spanish well. I wish I could take more courses but my majors don't really allow it).

At the same time, I think a lot of the people who do label themselves are just as unique and don't fit into their labels as neatly as everyone else (or perhaps they themselves) would like them to. It's just strange then, to me, for them to keep the label at all. I've just gotten to a point in my life where I want to be an individual, not a statistic or a label. I don't want to be treated as a demographic, but as a person. That's why I hate it when people like Sally Kern speak out against "homosexuals." They aren't taking people like me into account. Heck, they aren't taking anyone into account except for the promiscuous, unhealthy, depressed people who fit into their statistics and what they think it means to be "gay." Don't worry, I get equally mad when some liberal hotshot starts talking trash about "Christians," all the while revealing how few he or she has actually met.

So I guess it's just a choice to make. I can either not label myself at all and really not fit in with anyone, or I can label myself but make sure I list all the reasons I might challenge people's perceptions of what it means to be gay, Christian, a Southerner, an artist, a writer, a student, etc. It's confusing and it's a little tiresome, and I guess the only real thing I've said in this post about being an individual is that, well, it's not easy. Take care, everyone!


Brandon said...

I don't really like labels either. For one, everybody is different, even if they're alike. I'm a Republican, for instance, but I certainly don't agree with everything Republican. Nor would that be the case if I were a Democrat.

I think people just like trying to group themselves with others who are the most like minded to themselves. It has to be a safety thing, I'd imagine.

But anyway, I know what you mean. And it does get annoying after awhile.

otrolado said...

I completely understand. Individuality is almost too hard for people to comprehend. I have decided that I am not going to be coming out to anyone else unless I really feel compelled because it's too complicated. "Gay" is not what I like to use, but what I end up using because getting into a long discussion about where I really am on the subject and how I classify myself is beyond other peoples' comprehension.

Of course, I am guilty of loving labels and compartmentalizing. This explains my affinity for file folders. They make my desk so neat and everything can be separated and labeled. Order out of chaos. It's beautiful.

Jay said...

Brandon: I agree, it has a lot to do with safety. If being a true individual means taking risks then and not being "safe" within a group, I'm willing to do that.

Otrolado: Well that's... not what I meant. Just because being honest about who you are is uncomfortable or complicated doesn't mean it doesn't have its benefits. People like people who are honest and who don't fit into a certain "mold." I'm not saying you should start telling everyone your situation, but don't become too closeted either. You never know who might be inspired by your story, even though it is complicated.

otrolado said...

Hmmm. That is valid. While I keep saying that I am not really going to tell anyone, it keeps happening. I don't feel "closeted" and I am just being honest. Of course, I am very concerned about "labeling" so it's easier for me to tell friends rather than new people I meet. Also, if I get one more package from Amazon with a book about homosexuality and Christianity, it won't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

I just have to make sure it is the right time to tell. Also, I really enjoy getting perspectives of others once I do "come out" as "not really into girls." That's the simplest way I can think of telling people without having them jump to wild conclusions about my life.

Ophir said...

I agree with what you're saying and I share the sentiment but I'm not sure that you're right about attributing it to our generation. I don't think there was ever a time when people could be more individual than now. I'd even say people today are perhaps too self-centered. I think it's just human nature to classify things, label them, try to fit them into some neat definition. We don't do it just with people but with everything. There's so much information to take in that it's our mind's way of trying to create some order in the chaos of information. Even animals learn to label things. The fact that this labelling continues despite our generation (in our parts of the world) probably being the most individual and most tolerant of differences, just shows how pervasive and ingrained this trait is.

Like you, I also feel like most labels don't fit me and get frustrated with it sometimes. For instance I'd define myself as pro-life but what does that mean? That puts me in a general category but doesn't begin to communicate my views on this complex issue. Or trying to define myself politically.

When you open your kitchen cupboard and see the jar labeled "jam" you get a good idea what it is but it won't tell you what this jam specifically is made of, how many calories it contains, how many grams are in the jar, where it was manufactured and its sell-by date. Still, you'll know it's jam and not honey. Likewise knowing you're a Southern Christian gay artist at college only gives me a rough outline of you but it gives some perspective. Most people will probably never get to know us beyond these labels, but those who are closer to us probably will. Even then, however, it's not at all clear just to what extent it's possible for one human being to really understand another. Look at those closest to us: our parents, siblings, best friends - do we really know what's going on in their minds, how they see the world, how they see us?

The good thing is I think more and more people are now aware of the limitations of labels and know to some extent that things are more complex than they appear.

Adriana said...

hey, i have no idea how i found your blog. but ive been lurking on it for a few months now. i think what initially attracted me to read was the term "same sex attraction struggler." i was like whoa, this person sees their gayness as a struggle. that is the farthest thing from my own experience that i can imagine, so it intrigues me. i was, conversely, set free by the realization that being queer is not only okay, it's natural (found among animals and in nature.) i'm a nonreligious bisexual post-grad poet. i look at your blog from my desk at a youth marketing agency in new york city.

kurt_t said...

Adriana sounds like the kind of person I'd like to sit around watching "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and eating Ben & Jerry's straight out of the tub with.

Jay said...

Adriana: i'm a nonreligious bisexual post-grad poet

Surprisingly, you're not the first person I know that fits all of those labels. ;-) Thanks for stopping by. I guess I do see it as a struggle. At the same time, if I was straight, I'd see my sexuality as a struggle still (because straight guys are also called to purity if they are unmarried). This is less about "gayness" and more about my relationship with God.

I'm not trying to change who I am; I'm just trying to be obedient to God and letting Him do all the changing that He wants. Perhaps He will change my desires, perhaps not. Either way, I'm trying to be content with all that I have (which is so much more than the vast majority of people in this world have).

Kurt: Hey, I want to do that too! Although can we watch Two Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar instead? I was never a fan of Priscilla.

kurt_t said...

I'm cool with "Wong Foo," although it's really an American knock off of "Priscilla." "Priscilla" is the original.

Jay said...

They actually started production at roughly the same time, according to Wikipedia, so neither one is a knock off of the other. Either way, To Wong Foo had more heart. :-)