It’s National Coming Out Day and all of these self-prescribed labels zinging around the internet are making me anxious. Labels feel like the women’s shirts with shoulders too narrow for actual upper body strength and the undressing stares of lounging men as I walked Valparaíso’s streets. Labels feel like the first time I put on a bra and felt as though I’d put on a harness of unbreakable gender norms that weighted my skinny shoulders. Labels feel like something I need to take off. Right now.
Fear has something to do with it. Once they have a label to shortcut for their mental conception of me, I fear that the people in my life may stop seeing me as a whole person. I will just be Bisexual or Gender Non-Binary or White or Upper Middle Class on legs. And once I’ve given them the power of that label, a label they may interpret in their own way and not mine, my own ability to grow and change in all of our eyes dims.
Theoretical propositions aside, from a practical standpoint, every time I give myself a label, I end up changing it anyways. So, I’ve decided to come out as change itself. I know, meta.
Folks, I am an amoeba.
I am a constantly transforming, everlastingly morphing, a funny muddy soup. I flow and twirl and ooze and envelop. It is doubtful how self-aware I really can be. But that doesn’t impossibilify my life one iota.
To your surprise, perhaps, there is a method, if only reckless exploration, to my madness.
It starts by touching my trembling fingertips to the ground and feeling the reverberations of my Lutheran Norwegian, dorky intellectual and cheese curd Wisconsin heritage. I am those things. And I am also my own more.
So my fingers whisper over my bare toes laid flat and expectant on the ground and slowly twitter upwards over knees lacking perhaps a ligament here, lacily scarred from a biking childhood there. They brush hips made for running and now trained in the art of black-diamond-level band walks. They pass over ribs that swell and fall to the tide of a living person’s breath. They reach shoulders that stretch the seams of the weak-armed woman trope. And in a move they learned from an evening of African dance, they fly inexorably into the air.
These fingertips know not what they’ve found. But it is good. And that is all that matters.
Neither do I know what they’ve found, and so neither can you. I hope it doesn’t bug you much, because it’s ceased to nag at me.
Strangely, the song “Cotton-Eye Joe” comes to mind. It’s 90% repetition of this chorus:
Where did you come from where did you go,
Where did you come from Cotton-Eye Joe?
Substitute in my name, and voilá! Those are exactly the questions I want asked of me! Where are your roots? Where is your heart leading you right now?
For a clue, I’m going to leave you with a quote from bell hooks who has a way of saying things that, when I read them, make me realize what I’ve always felt but never been able to say.
If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love.