On Identity and Insecurity
I am gay. I am a student. I am a son and a brother. I am a friend and I am a best friend. I am of average height, for a woman and I am of below average height, for a man, in the United States. I am 5’6’’, 5’7’’, sometimes. I am small in frame. I have feminine characteristics and I have masculine characteristics. I enjoy womenswear and I enjoy menswear. I am a human being. I do not need anything from anyone. But civility… I need civility. But asking for civility is almost asking for acceptance, and I am not asking for acceptance. I am not asking everyone to see me and be accepting, but I am asking everyone to see me and be civilized, to be a human being, to give me respect and to be mutually respectful. I am asking for civility. But why am I still asking? Why am I still asking for civility? Why am I asking a human being to be a civilized human being? Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. Last night, I was bullied. I was bullied for being myself, for my self-expression and I am appalled beyond words.
I was in a co-educational fraternity, prided in the tolerance and welcoming of gay college students. Last night was the “Big/Little” celebration; the celebration fundamentally congratulates the union of a “Big Brother/Big Sister” with a “Little Brother/Little Sister.” I enjoyed the celebration, for the first ten minutes, until I acknowledged laughs and whispers following me. (My late preface: I was wearing black tights and Levi’s denim shorts.) I was wearing clothing I was comfortable wearing; I was expressing myself. In a co-educational fraternity, prided in the tolerance and welcoming of all people of all sexualities, I never examined the possibility of intolerance and rudeness for my clothing, for my self-expression, but now I wish I had examined all of the possibilities. Now, the question is, what did I do? What did I say? I didn’t do anything, and I didn’t say anything. I walked away.
The night progressed, and I was sober. The plastic cup in my hand was empty, but holding the plastic cup was my excuse for ending a conversation, for starting a conversation, and for not being a socially self-conscious wallflower amidst the hustle and bustle of the awful music and haphazard dancing in the dank basement. But truthfully, I was a socially self-conscious wallflower. I was calculating my actions and my movements; I counted the people upstairs and downstairs and fled where the number was smaller. But my movements upstairs and downstairs plagued me with laughs and whispers and with sly eyes and pointed index fingers, and something I acknowledged in passing upset me, and I will simplify the comments:
“What the hell is he wearing?” “What the hell is he?”
And the world stopped moving, for a minute. But suddenly, I saw a pledge being pestered with questions. Having just returned from a “run” in the rain (a “run” is when pledges are enlisted by members to “run” errands, usually collecting members’ money and purchasing members’ food), she (the pledge; I will call her “K”) was exhausted. Two members pestered her with questions, but she was not responsible for answering the questions, nor was she responsible for knowing the questions’ answers. I was baffled. I intervened; I pulled K away, and I whispered in her ear, “If they ever question you like that again, you tell me.” And she said thank you. Heavy questioning was not permitted, but, permitted or not permitted, my worry was not with the rituals of the fraternity. My worry was with K. And I intervened; I pulled K away. Now, the questioners (I will call the girl “G” and I will call the boy “M”), G and M, were, ironically, my faithful laughers and whisperers and index-finger-pointers all night. All night. Disgusted, I pointed one of my own fingers in front of M before my movement into the basement, and he followed me.
Now, I know I was wrong for my vengeance, but all I thought was, “He upset me, he upset K, and he needs a slap in the face.” And a middle finger was a satisfactory slap in the face. But M disliked my action and my honesty, and he followed me into the basement, yelling, “Hey buddy! Hey buddy!” In the basement, I poised myself by a keg of beer. M started screaming; I never screamed.
“Who are you? What’s your name?” said M.
“Who are you, and what’s your name?” I said. “I said, what’s your name?”
“You don’t need my name.”
“What’s your name?”
“You don’t need my name.”
“Who are you?”
“Who I am, is not your business. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care who you are, and I think you need to walk away, now.”
“Are you a pledge?”
Truthfully, I knew who M was by name and by face. Truthfully, I know he knew who I was by name and by face. G was his informant; everyone knew everyone by name and by face. M’s position of power was his membership, but his membership was a moot point, and when he realized his membership was meaningless, his hostility intensified. He muttered blind obscenities, and, before being pulled away by G, he laughed and said “insecure.”
Merriam Webster’s definition of “insecure” is “not confident or sure.” Somehow, his “insecure” hurt more than the laughing, more than the whispering, more than the index-finger-pointing. I challenged my insecurities for years, and I triumphed my insecurities by accepting myself, by loving myself and by realizing I am who I am, and who I am is beautiful.
I realized my clothing was not everyone’s fancy; maybe a boy wearing black tights and Levi’s denim shorts was jarring, confusing. I understand. But if you hate my clothing, hate my clothing, not the human wearing the clothing. If you hate my physical appearance, hate my physical appearance. The truth is, I don’t care; I stopped caring, and I stopped worrying. I wear what I wear for self-expression. But if you do not know who I am beneath the clothing, beneath the tip of the iceberg of my physical appearance, do not judge my identity. Here, the word “insecure” burned me and scarred me. And in a setting prided in tolerance, my plight was ironic.
I walked into the bathroom, and my psychological burn festered. I looked into the mirror, and a moment of introspection hypnotized me. I saw all of my physical imperfections – my acne, my uneven skin tone, and my stretch marks. But beyond my physical imperfections, I saw my past insecurities – my body image, my sexuality, and my self-doubt. I saw myself in the past, not confident, and not sure. But the face I saw in the mirror was confident, the face I saw was sure. And I realized words are only words. I realized anyone who judges my identity without knowing me is no one I will ever understand. My revelation was not revolutionary, but I needed someone’s intolerance and rudeness to remind myself of the insecurities I challenged and triumphed, to remind myself that I am better, and to remind myself that everything will be better.
I left the bathroom. I walked to the front door, parallel to the kitchen. I saw M idling in the kitchen, and I eyed him for a moment, understandingly and indifferently. For a moment, I eyed him with civility and acceptance. I left the house and walked away in the freezing rain, with my arms across my chest, with my legs physically holding me up, emotionally holding me up, and never before was the freezing rain ever so peaceful, and ever so empowering.
Read more from Rudy Maag here.
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