In my studies I have been reading the Gospels. The question, “But who do you say that I am?” This is one of the pivotal questions that Jesus asks of his followers in the Gospels. For Christians Peter’s response that Jesus is the messiah is an important part of the Gospel stories. The interesting thing is that the disciples are not supposed to tell anyone. When passage, found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, came up in a class recently it got me thinking to what the question can mean.
“Who do you say that I am?” In my own experience this is a question that we often ask of ourselves as a hypothetical when dealing with other people. “Who do they think or say that I am?” Often this shapes who we are.
As children others often define our lives and who we are. When it comes to gender and how we are to behave as male or female we are given messages right from the instant the medical person supervising our birth decides whether we are male or female after looking at what genitals are showing. We are told who we are and to varying degrees how we are expected to be in the world. For some children they discover at an early age that who they say that they are differs from who other people say that they are. If they are fortunate they have caregivers that allow them to explore for themselves who they are and listen to the answers the child gives. Far too often damage is done to the child when they are not listened to and forced to be someone they are not.
“Who do my peers say that I am?” As we grow we start to approach puberty. What our peers think begins to matter. Often expectations about gender and sexual orientation start to come to the fore. There is intense peer pressure to “be a man” or “be a girl”. Peer pressure says that we must be attracted to people of the opposite sex or gender – interchangeable terms for many people. For those who are gay, lesbian, trans*, bisexual, queer, genderqueer etc. and decide to be open about who they are they often face ridicule and bullying. When they keep it hidden the struggle and stresses involved in presenting to the world as someone one isn’t begin to build. The struggles for both groups often continue throughout the teen years and far too often result in suicide.
“Who do others say that I am?” As adults this question comes into play again. We are one person to the people we work with, another person to our friends and another person to our families. For most people these presentations are in line with who they are. For those of us who fall under the wide LGBTTQ* or Queer umbrella this is often not the case. For those in the closet to varying degrees there is the fear of discovery. People who are trans* and not yet out, possibly even to themselves and those who are transitioning there may be the tension of not being able to be who they are.
In my own case whatever inklings that I may have had as a child that I was transsexual got buried very deeply early on. In addition I didn’t have the language to define what I was feeling. I ended up letting others define large parts of who I was. This meant that when I did try to be who I was I didn’t fit. As I moved into adulthood I suppressed any feelings of being transsexual and only let it out occasionally by ‘crossdressing’. Even that was something that felt either wrong or something that I shouldn’t be doing. This internal conflict resulted in my being in a state of depression from about 9 years old until after I started transition and was approaching 37 years old. It was only after I accepted who I was inside and able to define who I say that I am that I was able to start to move forward.
“Who do others say that I am?” At this point in my life it varies. It is also much less important than it has been in the past in determining who I say that I am and how I operate in the world.