Monday, 3 September 2007

Identity? Whose Identity?

Butch is an identity and a gender. In the English language it’s a noun (“Look at that hot butch over there.”) and an adjective (“My, what a butch walk you have, Grandma.”) I define as a masculine bio-female. My gender is butch. I have been butch from birth, from time, forever. No amounts of ribbons and bows could disguise my toddling swagger. My strong, powerful and adorable mother sighed that I was not ladylike. In later years she came to accept me as a son.

My identity was forged from finding pride in what I am. Sharing experience, finding other butches and femmes who love butches has enriched my life and kept me sane. A sense of community, a need to fit in is fundamentally human. My identity has also been created as a protection against prejudice. All those people who have shown me hate, disgust and ignorance have only succeeded in creating the father of all butches. It’s tempting to mention the most violent responses I’ve encountered to justify my need for identity. In truth, I don’t want to be defined by a minority of bigots’ violent prejudice. Pride in who I am is a sweeter, healthier route to dissolve ignorance.

The human need to define existence is as old as cave drawings. I am, therefore I think about what I am. Humans tell stories starring themselves. The people that control the media cast the lead roles. That’s why the UK media is swamped by stories of white, straight, able-bodied biomen. People in power tell the stories, pitch the stories, write or film the stories and we get to watch the stories. Aspects change from country to country or state to state (on Indian TV nearly everyone’s Indian, male, Hindu, straight, able-bodied, in Africa TV heroes are African, male, straight, etc etc) but the most powerful sections of that society are playing the lead roles in the stories of the days of ‘our’ lives.

Some people are threatened by difference. These people are overwhelmed by other identities because it’s not about them. What’s interesting is that most of us who do not appear in mainstream stories have learnt to enjoy the stories anyway, and have found ways to bridge difference and find the universality of love, romance, courage, betrayal, vengeance and so on. I don’t get why that universality is not extended towards minority story-telling. Tremendous talent is being wasted in this country. We could be watching, listening to and reading some really great works that are turned down because promoters don’t see how they can sell it. Where’s the sense in that? Think about the cult films, books, and tv shows that break-through to everyone’s surprise. Check out the background of the people involved – odds are there will be something about them that puts them on the outside.

Identity is all about me/you/us/them. Identity is the route to pride or the chance to learn about other experience. Knowing what I am and feeling good about what I am allows me to pass head up through the world contributing, I hope, to a more caring environment where we don’t waste people’s abilities, or deny ourselves opportunities to learn and grow.