October 1998

Hey kids.

It has been a year since my first/last column. I tell myself I'm busy with school and work (UCSC/the local corporate supermarket), but really I'm just kicking back, enjoying life on a new and different level.

I've learned not to expect much, so when I started college I figured it would be just a slight change of institutional scenery -- for once my expectations were amazingly off. Santa Cruz (and a liberal college as well) is a place were you can just say a big "fuck you" to the world you thought you lived in. I can finally be myself and answer to myself alone (the latter is not recommended to those of you without a conscience).

I read a collection of essays recently called The Erotic Impulse (compiled and edited by the grand David Steinberg -- READ IT) that had a lot to say and got me thinking about who I am and the nature of self...all the different words and strange techniques we all use in attempts to create people. So this month is kinda a book review/response to literature:

The science...of self?

It's one of those nights. The sky spans the horizons like an arched back, caressed by the folds of a sequined black gown. My stare lingers a moment too long in the curves and creases, so, as ever, I am left looking into my own eyes. The wonderfully cursed question begins to lick my thoughts with its flittering forked tongue: who am I? I am, this much I boldly assert. Whatever I could be isn't that important, is it? I am now and I was before, this is an immutable fact. I remind myself that this is not the question, however. Who I am is an entirely different matter. Like a fly scurrying across petal-soft skin, a passing airplane snaps my attention back out to the stars. My previous quarter's study of cosmology revisits me and I think, "Maybe I'm Hubble's constant." (It appears as the symbol (H) in a handful of equations that describe how fast the universe is expanding -- anways...) The only thing is, Hubble's constant is continually changing, so it's hardly constant. Yeah, I guess that's me -- I am, but who? At this point in a typical self-analyzing monologue I would usually clap my hands and shout "horrah!" as a parade of labels marched brazenly by. Why the applause? Because the labels could easily be my saviors. It's so tempting to allow myself to think that labels are the final answer to the question "who am I," when really they are just its curtailment. See, maybe I'm not Hubble's constant, maybe I'm Pi, and every label I add to my parade is taking my decimal approximation out to one more digit. There is always more beyond that last rounded digit though, isn't there? And what if simplicity persuades me to round just a little too much? Labels are constrictive. Labels are destructive. Labels are necessary. Labels are tools. Labels are not individuals. I was really reminded of this when I read a piece by Rachel Kaplan (READ IT!) called "Another Coming Out Manifesto Disguised as a Letter to My Mom" in The Erotic Impulse.

I remember when I first came out and felt labels pushing me from all directions. If I was gay, the label dictated that I had to be many things that I simply wasn't -- or at least most people were under the assumption these things were "who I was." This is the constrictive nature of labels: they hold people back from discovering themselves -- often to the destructive point of making themselves become their label. It makes me wonder, do people make labels, or do labels make people? People are not polar opposites: feminine-masculine, passive-aggressive, submissive-dominant; but some people think and live this way, in fear of finding out who they really are. Kaplan aptly pointed out that words come from the outside, whereas "sexuality is in the body." Her idea of "coming out" not only sexually, but as a complete, unique person...taking a label as a foundation then stretching and reshaping it without concern for its tearing is a wonderful and empowering notion.

Isn't that what it's actually all about, empowerment? I know, it's a word with mixed connotations, sounding very "new age," but it is the best approximation of the sense I get. And, odd as it may sound after writing a diatribe on labels and the shortcomings of words, I'll venture to say that after this nineteenth year of my life, I would conclude that the doorway to "empowerment" is opened with nothing as simple as a key, but more likely with something as complicated as a dialogue. No matter if they're amongst friends, family, lovers or exchanged within our own thoughts, I think I have to grudgingly admit that words are the best tools we have. But I still contend that a single word could never describe something as intensely complex as us and our emotions. So, after being a very quiet and misunderstood person for my whole life, I am looking up at the stars on this fine night, outlining the constellations with imaginary lines, and finally making the connection between the two. A single word will not do to describe me or anyone else.

I guess we're all galaxies, and it's time to stop focusing on only one star at a time.

Find yourself or fuck yourself, but whatever you do, make sure you're enjoying it...


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