Identity, Labels, and Learning

The idea of identity versus self. How do we tell the story of who you are and who you keep being told who you are supposed to be. --Justin Simien

When I hear the phrase 'Who am I?' I often think of Denise Richards in Drop Dead Gorgeous saying in a high, singsong voice "Who are you? Who are you?". It is a question that I both seek to answer every day and feel almost no interest in attempting to answer. My journey, like most people's, has surprised me. And so, who I am, has become part of that ongoing surprise. 

I read an interesting article a few weeks ago on labels. The author addresses why they believe people seek labels to which they can attach themselves. Often the search for a label or a tribe begins when we feel an awareness that we don't belong in some way, in the group with which we are currently engaged. For example, as child I was raised by an agnostic/atheistic parent. From a young age, I felt a pull towards a religious community or some kind of spiritual path. I could feel the difference between my parent and I, and eventually found a community that encouraged and supported me in my search for religious and spiritual engagement. I was lucky in that my first feeling of difference was connected to something for which there is a lot of mainstream support and encouragement. While there are pockets of people who are judgmental and shaming around the concept of following a religious path, the majority default of the U.S. is Christian, in terms of our history, culture, and modern religious practices. 

I say lucky because subsequent awareness-es were not as easily supported or encouraged. The foundation of that first experience,  knowing my journey would be rewarded with awareness and growth, it was much easier to take the leap of faith. Into my sexual orientation. Out of my religion. Into activism and social justice. Out of ignoring my privilege. 

I have become a huge fan of Justin Simien, writer, producer, director, wise human being, because he is creating art and messages and stories that illuminate a path to more understanding. It reminds me of my days as a devout Christian, and the somewhat famous passage from Luke (6:42):

Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 

Justin Simien expresses the basics of this concept with both humor and eloquence in his work. He skillfully illuminates the tension between the need to deal with our own personal issues, our eye-beams, as well as the need to stand up for what we believe. And the confusion that arises when it feels like these things are in conflict.


 *corrected spelling of Justin Simien's name 8:20pm, 3/28/2017