Who am I? The great existential question of the times – well actually the great existential question of the times for many people is more likely to be, ‘do I want soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, no milk, in my low-fat-no-fat-all-fat grande macchiato?’ But for those of us more inclined towards introspection, the ‘who am I?’ question tends to be more of a sticking point. And really, who am I? Am I a friend? A neighbour? The person you dream about? (doubtful) Or merely just a distraction during your lunchbreak, another blink in time?
The reality is that we are often many of these things all at once, but no one version of ourselves is ever the same. Whilst we all like to believe that we have a strong sense of our own sense of self, and stay true to who we are, in reality who we are depends on who we are around.
I have been contemplating the struggles of identity, not only my own at times, but also when I read about the challenges that many trans people face in getting societal acceptance. The simple act of being able to use the bathroom or changing room that feels right to them, that allows them the space to be who they themselves identify as, becomes a complex act of having to combat other people’s preconceptions and internal beliefs.
For almost all of us – to some degree or other – we are inadvertently dealing with assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices relating to any number of characteristics: the colour of our skin, the accent we have, the country of our birth, our mannerisms. Each of these identity markers mean that someone makes a split-second judgement about the person they think we are. In my own experience, my ‘failure’ to meet people’s expectations of a gay man (read: not being particularly flamboyant, well-groomed, a Britney fan…) means I am having to bat away (ironic as I have little to no skills in this area) questions from strangers about my success in finding women to date in the city, or my plans for having children (read: via the heterosexual couple route). For me this is a minor issue, and it only takes one name drop of RuPaul’s Drag Race (although I know plenty of straight guys who like this show… they are just less vocal about it!) for the penny to start to drop!
But whether going on a first date, starting a new job, or just passing someone in the street we can all be inclined to make quick judgements simply on the basis of how someone looks or what they’re wearing. And these judgements are hard to shake off, they become ingrained, almost instinctual. But we must actively look beyond what is right in front of us and see that we’re all here just trying to be the best we can, because at the end of the day, as RuPaul rightly says, ‘we’re all born naked, and the rest is drag’.
Michael Stewart-Evans, alumnus UNU-Merit