I’ve been contemplating a lot lately about my identity. About who I am. Over these past few months I’ve discovered so much about myself – about my place in New Zealand, about my mental wellbeing. But there is still always the question about who we are – about how others see us.
People like labels. They like to put us in boxes, like to tag us as a certain race or culture or religion or sexuality. And people like to label themselves too – like to conform to some sort of expectation or ideal – to fit a certain mould. And I guess sometimes it’s a matter of wanting to belong, of wanting to fit, of wanting to be part of a particular group or society – of wanting to be accepted or perhaps stand out.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity. About how I label myself, or whether in fact, I do. For many years I guess I felt that Christianity sort of formed my identity. I was the stand out Christian amongst friends – and that was my label. That was who people saw me as. But I am so much more than that. There are so many facets to me, so many pieces that make me whole. I don’t want to conform, I don’t want to fit in. I want to find myself in everything that makes me, me.
There are even divisions within groups, where people identify a certain way which isn’t totally understood or accepted. Even within the wonderful LGBT+ community, so often it feels like you must select a label – to find a way to belong. You can’t fit into the lesbian group if you like men too, and even when you try and be label-less, there then seems to be a label for that too. Why can we be so exclusive to those who simply, seemingly, just want to find acceptance?
Recently I identified myself as a ‘gay Christian woman’. Three things that even now I question why and how they define me. To a lot of people – especially Christians and the LGBT+ community – these don’t seem compatible. I must be one or the other – I must choose a side. I cannot be gay and Christian. In the Church, homosexuality is deemed a sin. Something that is part of who I am, is rejected by another part of who I am. And likewise amongst many queer people, they question why I would believe in a God who condemns this so-called ‘sinful’ love. So why should I conform? Why should I put either label upon myself?
I don’t need to try and wear clothes that make me fit in. I wear clothes that I like, that make me feel comfortable. I’ve finally cut my hair because I don’t feel like I need to fit into the ‘feminine’ mould anymore. I don’t have to wear my ‘girly shirts’ or dresses out of the desire to fit in. I want to feel comfortable in how I express myself – I want to wear things I like, do things I like, look how I like – because I don’t need to conform. I don’t need to fit into a box and I don’t feel shame or self-doubt for doing so.
Why should I fit the mould? Why should I label myself as a Christian, or as gay, or as a woman, or as white, or British, or ginger etc…
These things are all a part of me – these things make me whole.
These things don’t necessarily define me.
I don’t need to fit. I don’t need to belong. All I want to be, is me.
So, who am I in this world?
I am someone who believes in God. Who believes that Christ died for me.
I am someone who is attracted to the same sex.
I am someone who’s sex says female, but who doesn’t necessarily conform to being called a ‘woman’.
I am someone who is privileged and loved.
I am someone who has a different hair colour to the norm.
I am someone who is active, loves to socialise, loves to explore and travel.
I am someone who struggles with a mental illness.
I am someone who loves Harry Potter and loves to geek out every so often.
I am someone who loves music and creativity – photography, writing, playing the piano.
But none of these things individually define me. I don’t need to label myself as any of these things. All of these things make me, me.
I don’t need to be labeled as the; ‘gay one’, ‘Christian one’, ‘ginger one’, ‘geeky one’, ‘musical one’ or the ‘active one’… I don’t want a label. I don’t need people to put a tag on me, to fit me in a certain place, prejudice or package. I take pride in who I am, in what facets make me uniquely me, in how I live and express myself in this world.
After years of searching. After the pain of rejecting and then accepting parts of me, I am finally embracing what it means to be me – to simply be ‘Jo’.