“I Am What I Am”

Yesterday, the U. S. Senate voted to maintain the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which requires homosexuals to remain silent about their authentic selves if they are to remain in the military. This is tantamount to having told African-Americans, during the days of Jim Crow, that they were second class citizens.

My vision is a little askew. I have never seen African-Americans primarily in terms of their skin color, but in terms of their inner selves, just as I “see” everyone else. It has always been the core that mattered to me, not the label. But then, I see the world through the artist’s eyes.

Likewise, I never have “seen” homosexuals primarily in terms of their sexuality identity, but in terms of their inner beings. I never have thought that the Lord cared much about sexual “plumbing” – which seems rather insignificant to me in the grand scheme of things.

When I studied acting, I learned that there were two ways to approach a character. The actor could seek the inner spirit of the character and develop the part from the inside out; or, the actor could focus upon the outside of the character and simulate the character’s facial expressions and gestures. I thought that the more authentic way to approach a part was from the depths of the character’s being.

When I studied religion in college, the professor explained that the basic view of the more liberal denominations of Christianity is that humankind is essentially “good” on the inside from birth.  In the view of these denominations, for the child to bloom to his or her full measure of “goodness,” roadblocks should not be unduly placed upon the child which might repress or scar his or her natural development.

On the other hand, the more conservative denominations of Christianity, so said the professor, view humankind as essentially having a sinful nature from birth. These denominations believe that, for the betterment of the child, the tenets of the church should be placed strongly upon the child’s development so that the child’s inherently sinful nature can be “tamed,” and redirected to “goodness.”

I have thought that liberal Christians, who do not condemn homosexuality, are more deeply attuned to Jesus’ thinking. Jesus said that before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become like a little child. That implies that people are born good. Like Anne Frank, I also believe that humankind is essentially good at heart.

So, I see no need for homosexuals to deny who they fundamentally are within the institutions of our society. What homosexuals inherently are, in terms of their sexuality, is God-given to them to be. And that is good. Of course, sexuality is only one aspect of a person’s total being. It is we, with our penchant for labeling others, often negatively, who create an atmosphere within our nation and its institutions that divides people.

We simply need to raise our consciousness so that we can accept that all, including homosexuals, are inherently equal because we all share a common humanity. Once we fully believe that, our nation’s institutions will reflect that higher consciousness within its policies, such as the elimination of DADT.

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2 Responses to “I Am What I Am”

  1. josef nix says:

    I am taken by the title of this. As we know, the rest of the quote is “and that’s all that I am.” I’m not so sure about that. I am what I am but that is not all that I am. When the G-od L-rd was packing my baggage for the journey through this life, H- was in a mood. My labels are myriad and often contradictory in their surface destinations.

    I am gay, yes. I am also a Sephardic Jew. I am a Southerner. I am half Hillbilly and half Swamp Rat. I am French on three sides. I can trace my ancestry back to the 700s to Babylon and the Cradle of Civilization itself. Much of that can be done using standard history texts. My first views of the world came from a cotton patch in the lower reaches of Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha. That scratches the surface of the ego centric. I have spent the last 35+ years sharing bed, beads and blankets with a Choctaw-Cherokee whose white line goes back to William the Conqueror’s day at the beach where my English line met them, swords drawn. His family’s surname is recognized on store shelves worldwide. He, too, am what he am, but that’s not all that he am. Together we brought three children to responsible adulthood and now watch as the grandchildren prepare to take their own road.

    When my grandfather, may his memory be blessed, set out to teach me my family story by the rivers of a New Babylon on the banks of the Loosaskuna, his reason was stated clearly, “the story of your past is staying one step ahead of the inquisition, whatever the inquisition of the day.” From the Babylonian Sanhedrin to the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, so it has been and, presumably, so it will continue to be.

    I say all that to say this, my “am” is not determined by any one single label or even, I would like to think, by any combination or totality thereof. In my spiritual life and in my daily life they do, though, offer me an anchorage and provide me with points of reference in rationalizing the contradictory.

    With that in mind, sort of the “where I’m coming from,” I will address the gay part of who I am and try to relate it to how I feel vis a vis DADT, DOMA and the like. I am reminded of what Pat Parker said in her poem “For White People Who Would Like to be My Friend, but Don’t Know How.” She wrote, “first, you must forget that I am black. Second, you must never forget that I am black.” So be it with my being gay. The corollary to that is what my favorite sister-in-law wrote in my yearbook when I was 13. She was the one with whom I could be myself in coming to my own terms with being gay. “Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.”

    The shenanigans over the repeal of DADT, much like its passage to begin with, have been Pat Parker’s view. My feelings toward those involved have been my sister-in-law’s. The first are my socio-political feelings. The second are my spiritual feelings.

    Those who say that they don’t “think of you as gay” are missing the point. In so not doing they “miss” a lot of what makes me tick. By “accepting” that I am gay, they make life easier at a certain level. We can get along and do any number of daily things on the same page, so to speak. At the same time, this allows them the luxury of saying that they’re not “prejudiced,” and therefore are not responsible at any level for the inequalities “your people” have to deal with on that same daily basis. I love them for their kind hearts, but I don’t trust them any further than I can see them. Many of them would turn and attack when the fashion of the day changes. Nowhere have I read anything which quite so sums this up as Hannah Arendt’s discussion of the en vogue philo-Semitism and philo-homosexualism of the fin de siècle Parisian salons.

    On the blog I frequent there have been two posters, both ultra-conservative, who have said what I long to hear. Theirs were not the latest memo from the liberal element’s public relations department, but heartfelt and sincere reasons for why they held the opinion that gay people should be treated better. The one was posted on D-Day and the poster made the point that he and his “side” should never forget that of those who fell that day, many were gay. The second was from a gentleman who was reading about the spike in gay suicides and realized that he had been wrong and that his stand on DADT and DOMA were his own contribution to that tragedy. Theirs were not empty words.

    Either of these two men in President Obama’s shoes would have already taken the Harry Truman stance. Either of these two men in the shoes of those liberals who went along with the “put it off until” of the Senate earlier would have not taken that choice of inaction. There are, according to our tradition, sins of omission and sins of commission. When you are the one to suffer the results of those sins, it matters little which.

  2. For josef nix –

    Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to write such an in depth response to this post. It is obvious that you identify with many labels of yourself, as you described in your first few paragraphs, and one of those labels to which you most strongly identify, as evidenced in the latter part of your response, is that of being a gay man. You have perhaps missed, I think, the essence of what I was attempting to communicate, and that is that there is a core spirit, within each one of us, that is beyond labels of any kind.

    I hope that you will read my next post, entitled, “Open Letter to Readers Regarding ‘I Am What I Am. ‘ ” I wrote that post not only as a response to your comments, but also to share with readers my thinking, in greater detail, regarding the limitations of assigning labels, of any nature, to ourselves and to others.

    Btw, I was not thinking of the full phrase that you have described when I assigned a title to this essay: “I am what I am and that is all that I am,” as you assumed. In fact, my reason for ascribing the title, “I am What I am,” to this essay was the opposite of that which you have described. I used the line “I am What I am,” as the title, here, because it reminded me that God, or Yahweh in the Old Testament, described himself as, “I am that I am,” or as I interpreted God to have meant by those words, “I am that I am is sufficient unto itself. All that I am cannot be encompassed in simple labels or in divisions of words.”

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