I Am Strong

Zachariah Strong comes out about identity, being himself, and the strength it takes to resist labels.

Zachariah Strong comes out about identity, being himself, and the strength it takes to resist labels.

My mom tells me that I have always been a boy. She got quite a laugh trying to raise me as a girl. Whenever we talk about it, she thinks of a new story. “We put you in that dress, and you turned around and played baseball in it.”

Around the age of seven I told my mom I wanted to be a boy. She responded with compassion, but thought it was something to talk about “when you’re older.” She didn’t know the right thing to say. She didn’t have to. She loved me and let me express myself. Ok, she did insist on telling me that years ago, her best friend was a lesbian. Then she asked me, “So are you straight, then?” Also, she admited to not knowing why my generation uses “queer” since it will be hard for her to stop using it to mean “strange.” Family members have their cute ways of telling you they are there for you. I can’t knock my mom for her efforts.

It was great when I was seven, and a family who loved me was all I needed—well, that and maybe a Ninja Turtle. But as we all, know those days are short and gone before we know it.

I’m 22 now and it already feels like the weight of the world is going to cave my head in, smash my heart and reduce my soul to mush. On top of everyday life I still have to figure out who I am. How do you find a label to describe, at least for now, who I am? Isn’t who I am hard enough without labeling it?

Why can’t I just identify as “me?” I don’t believe anyone really fits a label completely. What is being gay or a man or black anyway? Who gets to define “me?” Sometimes I play EA Sports NCAA 07 Football and Guitar Hero III all night with my guy friends while wearing frilly pink pajama pants, and after I win I use an exaggerated lisp to scream “S-S-S-SUPER!” Sure, I fit some stereotypes. But that is all they are. Ok, so I don’t own frilly pink pajama pants but my friends wouldn’t doubt I would wear them especially while doing my signature “S-S-S-SUPER!” victory cheer. I’m SUPER special like that.

That doesn’t mean we all don’t use labels. It doesn’t mean I want it to work that way or that it should. Putting labels on people can, in no way, be inclusive. So why use them? As Audre Lorde would say, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In other words, I can only tell you how I identify and why.

I come out because I have faith that the more people that stand up and say, “Hey, I’m different, I was meant to be this way, and I think it’s great,” the more all people might learn to respect differences in others and themselves. I identify because saying, “I’m questioning,” is more than saying nothing at all. I would argue that it is rather powerful because it acknowledges that identity is confusing and requires more thought than most put into it. I hope each person I come out to might learn something from me or, better yet, want to learn more. And if each of those people learned something that helps them to respect the next person that comes out to them, they can even learn to support them, or, at the very least, not to judge them.

Right now, I identify, in no particular order, as a lower socio-economical class able-bodied athlete female gender queer student man questioning twenty-something queer person of color christian stud. It could change tomorrow or in 13 minutes. It could have changed yesterday, and I haven’t gotten around to checking on it yet. I could think of another facet in retrospect and wish I could have shared it with you. But that’s okay. If it doesn’t make complete and total sense to you, then there are two of us. I don’t need you to understand it; I need you to respect it. My identity and expression are fluid, I am fluid, and labels aren’t.

I only hope that by continuously educating myself, I will help educate others as they continue to educate me.

Peace be with you.