In California you are a child of cities unlike many others that people live in and are vastly different than the cities I’ve found myself visiting. Growing up where the Sun sets and stars rise only to fall at the flash of a camera, no one ever truly seems to be normal. We are a hodge podge of conventional and unconventional, both modern and classical, akin to the Steampunk cosplayers I see every now and again. It’s rare for us to be normal. (Although Normality is far from normal) It’s also rare to live in the same area most of your life but yet I have.I live in the same town that I grew up in. It’s not famous for anything other than Johnny Cash sang about it’s prison. The town itself is a footnotes on maps and in the pages of history.
It’s something people define me with. When they ask where I am from I see their eyes glaze over a little as if imagining a fancy house with Daddy giving me a BMW on my 16th birthday. My experiences aren’t what define me to these people. It’s where I’m from, the label of the town I’ve grown up in. In school it was the same way, labeled for wanting to sit in the back, hiding from the world with Hamlet or the Art of War creating a great wall around me that none could scale.
At home, labels where lobbied like hand grenades set to shatter self esteem and teach my brother and I to be better people. I can remember being 8 years old trying to read a book to my father and being unable to sound out the word because ( At the time no one knew that I was dyslexic) yelling at me for being stupid. It was the only the first of many labels, lazy, liar, worthless, slob,etc.
I hoped that at my church it’d be different. After all Jesus commanded “Love thy neighbor as yourself” . Sadly I learned early on that the words said upon Sunday mornings and in the circles of Bible studies do nothing to protect you from the judgement of others. I was labeled as weird, secretly whispered to be a lesbian for how I clung tightly to the few female friends I had. I rebelled against that label, tried to wear the label of straight.
But yet, pieces of the unwanted label still stuck. Parts of the me who knew what I was underneath all the labels and masks I wore would shine out. My love for literature, the love of beautiful and brainy women, crime shows and other things would slip out in some of the most crazy ways.
Finally after years of hiding and trying, the woman who’s been trapped away in darkness, hidden from the light starting to come to the surface. She’s allowing herself to be loved by a beautiful woman, slowly understanding that someone’s sexual nature is not a thing of sin but something that we are born with. But yet, as she and I stare at each other in the mirror, we wonder what to do with ourselves?
Who are we? Am I her? The girl who is proud to declare herself lesbian? Who wants to scream her lover’s name from the highest roof tops. Or is it me? The scared girl who hides behind all these lies and masks, trying to reconcile the faith I’ve claimed for years as my shield with the woman I find myself becoming.
What labels do I chose to define me? Which ones do I allow to seep under my skin and create my worth for me? Maybe I am asking the wrong questions I think as I look back at the two of us in the mirror.
Perhaps the question I should ask, isn’t of which labels do I chose to define me. Perhaps it should be, how can I use my labels to connect with others along with not letting my labels own me. For so many years, I’ve let them dictate my inner monologues, my life, my actions. I know that so many things I’ve let slip me by because I’ve believed the labels that others have given me. Or even the ones I’ve given myself.
For now, I think its time to learn to let my labels connect me to others but not to own me. It’s time to learn how to be me and not let the fact I’m dyslexic, lesbian, a writer, a poet, a lover, dark haired, etc, control my life.