Are we ever really ourselves? “Be yourself” is a phrase commonly tossed around as though doing this is the simplest thing one can do. In reality, it not only takes a great deal of courage to deal with the adversity associated with being oneself, but also a great deal of analysis. How can you be yourself without perpetuating stereotypes about your various identities and crappy paradigms? How can you be your whole self?
For me, it has always been difficult to be my whole self. How can I present the Mexican part of my identity without doing so in a stereotypical way, like eating salsa and drinking tequila (I don’t even like tequila)? Listen to Mexican music? What if I don’t want to listen to Mexican music? Speak Spanish? I was raised by my white mother and her half of the family after they divorced when I was a baby, so English is my first language. Yet anytime someone finds out my Mexican heritage, they ask me to speak Spanish, like my heritage is a trick to be preformed. Once when I was given this request by a friendly acquaintance, I indulged them and spoke Spanish, letting them know that it was my second language and I was only in my second semester of university level Spanish. After saying something in Spanish as they’d requested, the hipster, and ironically White, girl sitting next to us made a comment along the lines of “Oh, you can’t even do the accent”, as if speaking Spanish without an accent makes me less Mexican. Another example of not being able to be my whole self is having my sexual identity questioned because of the length of my hair, or the way I dress. Just a few years ago I used to have shoulder length hair, before that it was down to my knees, and during this entire time I was gay, but people always questioned it until after I cut my hair short and sported a fauxhawk (which I did so out of experimentation and my own desire, not to fit someone else’s idea of gay, and I shouldn’t even have to state that, but that is what this post is about after all).
We live in a world where we are constantly punished, not only for being ourselves, but also for being what we are conditioned to be. Girls are conditioned to believe that femininity is short skirts, showing skin, wearing makeup, being flirtatious. No one wants to be labeled as a prude, or uptight. We are taught that being fun means drinking ourselves sick, until we are no longer coherent or in control of ourselves and the situations around us. When we are faced with violence, these things are all thrown back in our faces with common victim-blame language like “What was she doing out so late?” “Why’d she dress like that?” “Why’d she flirt with him” “She shouldn’t have gotten so drunk” “What’d she expect” etc, instead of daring to place blame where it belongs (with the person who inflicted the violence). We are stuck in this catch 22 where going against the norms we are conditioned to believe in means being ostracized and cast out as different and weird, and where following the norms means having them thrown back in your face when something bad happens.
How do we find ourselves in this kind of world? I don’t have an answer, not right now anyways. All I can say is when we pick out our clothes, we should be able to pick out what we want with out thinking “Is this skirt too provocative?” or “Is this too boyish?” or any of the other limiting notions we’ve been taught to follow. We shouldn’t even have to wonder if we are perpetuating stereotypes. Maybe that is the answer. Maybe we just do what we want, and when we are faced with a stereotypical assumption, or an asinine comment, call it out, and say we are who we are because we want to be, not because we are expected to be – maybe.
If we really want to change the way our society looks at things like race, and sexuality (among other things), we have to stop meeting each others’ identities with our own ideas of what a certain race, ethnicity, or sexuality is and should look like.
As always, thoughts, opinions, and stories are welcome and encouraged! Thanks for reading.