I was asked an interesting question, a couple of months ago, that I've been mulling over ever since. Most often when I am hired to do a presentation people choose one of six or seven day long presentations that I do. Occasionally, almost rarely, I'm asked to do something different - a question and answer day. All I do is show up and take questions, on a variety of differing subjects, for three or four hours. I enjoy these days tremendously because I never know what's coming and sometimes, until I'm asked a question, I don't really know what I think about something - if that makes sense.
The question that was lobbed to me was, and I'm definitely paraphrasing here; "Given that you belong to a variety of minorities, gay, fat and disabled; when you think of yourself - which of those is most prominent?" The question took me a little aback and I stumbled through an answer saying something along the lines of "I don't know, I suppose I see myself as all three all of the time." I knew when saying it that I wasn't being truthful, but I wasn't lying either. I was simply giving the best and least inaccurate answer I could think of at the time.
Being me, I thought about it a lot since then. For the longest time I thought along the lines that I think of myself in the context of a particular moment. When I'm trying to access an inaccessible space, I don't think of my being gay or being fat. When someone makes a negative comment, loudly, about my weight, I don't think much about being disabled or being gay. So, the moment matters. That seems fairly simple.
But what about when the moment doesn't matter. What if it's just a plain simple moment where none of the various identities that I could be are called into relief? Then, I realized that other, smaller identities come forward, 'the reader,' 'the writer,' 'the Google master,' 'the mystery movie buff,' 'the cook,' those and thousands more. But, then, I thought, those identities are, again, contextual identities, they have to do with what I'm doing.
The question I was being asked wasn't really about doing, or self in context, it's about self. How do I identify myself to myself. And in the end, I realized, I don't. I simply don't. Dave met Dave a long time ago and Dave has consistently been Dave - though who Dave is has changed as Dave has grown and learned - but there is a consistency that makes me me.
Finally I came to the realization that the question sent me in search of an answer when instead, I should have challenged the question itself. Would anyone ask a thin, heterosexual, white, able bodied male how he identified himself to himself? Why is it incumbent upon me to take up an identity and carry with me at all times? When do I as a fat, gay, disabled man get to to exist sans adjective? I don't wish to make it sound like any of my various identities are burdens, they aren't, they just don't mean very much to me in deeply private moments when I'm alone with myself.
I am proud of the communities to which I belong and the identities that give me entrance to those communities. I keep my membership cards neatly folded and handy when needed. But I don't need them all the time, and as much as it may surprise some, there are times when none are needed at all.