I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lies within.” —Rumi
Who am I?
Name: Jenny Hahn. Age: 39. Race: Caucasian. Gender: Female. Profession: Artist.
Who am I really? Am I the boxes that I check when I fill out a form?
The body changes. When I was born, I was only 19 inches tall. Today, my brown locks are beginning to naturally highlight with lovely silver streaks. My name has changed throughout my life through marriage and divorce. I’ve always been female, but if that wasn’t my truth, my gender could be changed too.
In this chaotic and unpredictable world of time and space, it’s easier to navigate when we have a clearly-defined sense of self. A separate identity. I’m this and not that. I’m white and not black. I’m female and not male. Suddenly we have opposites. Welcome to the world of form!
But as we’re seeing all too clearly in the midst of this frightfully unreal election season, labels can also divide. Differences can generate fear… which instigate war… which create hell. And the whole vicious cycle perpetuates. Once we label something, we no longer see it. At least, not fully. We think we know what it is because we’ve placed it in a nice and neat box. When in actuality there’s a whole universe of nuances to be discovered and we can’t see it because we think we already know it.
When I was growing up, I thought I was “straight”. Well, that was my assumption. Actually, I never really looked closely enough to question my sexual orientation, and at that time in my sheltered little world there was so little information available that I never even questioned the clues that might suggest otherwise. In my late twenties and after being married to my art-school-love and greatest buddy, I had a total breakdown when a new truth started to seep out and demanded attention…I discovered my deeply-buried attraction to women. My neatly-crafted identity was shattered. The whole process of change took a couple years, but I eventually came out as a “lesbian”. And even though it was extremely uncomfortable at first adjusting to my new identity and finding a new tribe, at least I had a label. Something deep within me that I had denied was allowed the space to bloom. I had a number of loving relationships with women, including a very significant domestic partnership. I felt alive and authentic. I felt like I was born again.
Then something curious happened. Fast-forward seven years: My world once again turned upside-down one day when an old acquaintance reached out to me for a friendly lunch meeting, and I found myself once again with unexplainable feelings. A recognition, on a soul level. A deep attraction. An undeniable connection. I found my matey. But…he was a man. “I’m a lesbian!”, I told myself, ” I’m not even attracted to men! What the heck is going on?!”
Again, identity-shattering. I came out all over again. But this time I was less quick to label. Sure, you can call me bisexual, or even sexually-fluid. Yet I have found that with every label comes unspoken assumptions. (Example: Bisexuals are sometimes seen as indecisive, or promiscuous, or that they just hadn’t found the right man/woman yet…none of which were true for me.)
Here’s my truth: I love.
Love is an action. And our very identity could also be seen as an action. If I’m not my body, and I’m not my name, and I’m not my religion, and I’m not my race, and I’m not my sexual orientation… perhaps I’m something more. Perhaps I’m an expression. Like a wave that’s manifesting out of the ocean of the all-ness, that will eventually return to the all-ness.
Perhaps you, too, are less of a noun and more of a verb. Perhaps you’re the beautiful coming-together of specific conditions that create a unique expression of love and action that makes some kind of mark on this particular time/space canvas. Perhaps your specific peculiarities and preferences are the very flavors that give spice to your surroundings. And maybe they are the very qualities to explore, not label and file away into boxes of more of the same.
Who we really are is unnamable. Because it is unlimited. I’m still discovering who I am. And that continues to shift and expand. My hope is that you’re still discovering who you are. We can learn so much from each other when we really see each other, beyond labels.