Identity Crisis

posted 15 June 2003

I am... tired.

I am physically tired; I have been out celebrating my newfound unemployment several nights in a row, dancing my camp little ass off in front of a crowd of people who are watching or, if they are not watching, I flash them a smile and wiggle a little bit harder and try my damnedest to make them watch. This is an artform, and I have been perfecting it for several years now. I'm not great at it, but it works more often than it fails.

I am mentally tired; I have spent several weeks in intense mental concentration, desperately trying to put my complicated thoughts about the future of the web into words and pictures, then trying to cram into my reluctant brain "in-depth knowledge of several subjects that I will never need to know about again", to quote a friend.

I am emotionally tired; I have been walking a tightrope recently on the matter of a friend of mine. The only reason I have not actually fallen is because the wire does not want me to fall either, and has been swaying crazily to keep me upright. Thanks.

Most of all, I am tired of being someone whom, it is becoming obvious, I am not. Stand well back; here comes the identity crisis that's been simmering for years. Look elsewhere for false modesty and a lack of self-centeredness, and be prepared for a whole bunch of referring to myself in the third person. I feel like a hermit crab, and I am tired of occupying this three-dimensional shell I inhabit.

History

Back in 1997, I was a boy called Laurie -- there you go, the name that's mentioned nowhere else on this site is finally out in the open. Laurie is a silly name, certainly, and even my parents have apologized for giving it to me. So a name-change was always in the offing, but what really catalysed the problem was how absolutely lousy my life as Laurie was.

In 1997, I had almost no friends: precisely five, in fact. And the dynamic in our very small group of friends was intensely aggressive: every mis-step I made was relentlessly exaggerated, every flaw pointed out, every illogicity discovered and exploited. In retrospect, this was a crucible from which all of my better points later emerged, and for that I am intensely grateful. My life was so massively mired in bullshit and false preconceptions at that point that finding illogicities and flaws was almost unavoidable. But that doesn't mean I enjoyed the process. What does not kill you makes you stronger; it still hurts in the meantime.

My life was spent constantly on the defensive, explaining away my illogicities, clarifying my intentions. Every statement I made was misinterpreted and turned against me, so I developed an almost legalistic manner of speech as devoid of ambiguity as I could manage; it has stayed with me until today. I was constantly mentally cowering from the verbal assault of my friends, who did not always judge their criticisms correctly and sometimes -- often -- left me feeling worthless and stupid.

I physically cowered as well. I fit into no clique, and did not try. As everyone who's been to school knows, if you don't have a gang, it's open season on you, from verbal harrassment to physical assault. Boys will be boys, and you can fucking kiss my ass; this boy was not one of the boys who are boys. I do not fight back: that means don't hit me, not "hit harder, until he reacts".

Speaking of boys, I was also right in the middle of working out my sexuality. Or more accurately, having worked out my sexuality, I was in the middle of coming to terms with it. So in my mind, in addition to the me that everyone including my friends obviously hated, there was a whole other hidden me that I knew they would hate even more. This is a three-step guide to having low self-esteem.

I cried a lot in 1997. I hurt a lot. I wrote an awful lot of shitty, depressed poetry. I hated myself, and thought about suicide, and planned it for my 16th birthday: I was going to jump off the roof of my school, which was four storeys high and easily accessible. I needed escape, like a drowning man needs air. And I found it.

The Internet is my Oxygen

It's no wonder I love the Internet so much; in 1997 it was my only friend, or the only one who didn't make me feel like they were my enemy most of the time. The Internet was full of anonymous facts that made me feel better, and later, full of less-than-anonymous, accepting, friendly people who showed me through the example of their own lives that being gay wasn't a death-sentence. The Youth lists probably saved my life.

On the Internet, being gay wasn't just okay, it was cool! I'd finally found a gang. And on the Internet, nobody was harrassing me, nobody was beating me up, it was perfect. Words were my only form of presentation, and I've always been good at writing pretty words. On the Internet, Laurie had no problems. But the problem was that on the Internet, Laurie didn't even exist. Seldo did.

You're 15, you're on the Internet. What do you need? A cool name. It's the most important thing! Especially if you're gay, and paranoid about people linking your online evil homosexual side to your real-life identity. So Seldolivaw came out (and quickly became Seldo, since nobody but me could pronounce it). This produced feedback to a new rule for my brain (as an AI boffin would say): Laurie sucks; Seldo does not. At all costs, avoid being Laurie.

Seldo began to encroach into my real life. It started innocently enough: at a proper party for the first time (a friend's 17th birthday), nervous as all hell, I thought to myself: a roomful of strangers. Laurie can't cope. But I know someone who does well with a roomful of strangers. So I closed my eyes, and called up Seldo. Ever the visual mind, I actually imagined it was a glowing blue skin that slid out from behind me and sheathed me in itself, then solidified. I opened my eyes, and I was still Laurie. But outside was the invisible shield called Seldo.

That party went well. More feedback for the rule. So I did it again, and again, and again. And suddenly I want from five friends to twenty five, from sitting home alone all the time chatting to virtual friends to really having something to do every Saturday night. Sure, my new friends weren't as deep as the old ones. But they weren't as critical, either. More positive reinforcement.

The Grand Experiment

We've now got to December 1999. The shit has hit the fan sexuality-wise: I came out to my parents (accidentally). Laurie's Seldo-suit was in full swing socially. It was a fun time, and it was due to end: I was going to London for my year out before university -- the original plan being to work for a few months, then use the money to travel to India, little nouveau-hippy that I am. But here was a whole new country, and a whole new social world. The Seldo suit was so successful; why not *become* Seldo full-time, as it were, and abandon being Laurie altogether? Laurie is nothing but miserable. Seldo is happy all the time. Abandon the silly name, and with it all that pesky angst.

So Laurie got on the plane, and Seldo got off. I cultivated a new group of friends, initially online, and then in real life, and introduced myself as Seldo. They took me at face value -- hey, people from other countries have odd names sometimes. It would be rude to mention it. At university, the trick worked again, worked like a charm. Seldo went from a thin skin to a diamond-hard shell. Seldo is a lot like diamond, in fact: glittery, shiny, cool and eye-catching.

And there's no denying it: Seldo is cool as all hell, beyond my wildest expectations. I used to fantasize that one day, I would stand up in front of a roomful of people, dance to a song I love, and everyone would watch me. That was a dream, along the same lines of believability as the ones where you find you can fly. But now I've actually done that. In fact, I do it almost every time I go out. Strangers stop me to compliment me on my dancing. I have fan-girls, who look out for me at union events and smile and wave every time they see me. People who have never met me have nicknames for me (like "Boyband boy" and "Ultra Gay Boy", but hey, any publicity is good publicity). I have been told by more than one person that I have unofficial "fan clubs" of people who enjoy seeing me dance when they're out. That's insane, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't nice to know.

And Seldo has friends! Dozens of friends! He may only have spoken to them a few times, about the most superficial of topics, but they're his friends! Seldo collects friends like magpies collection shiny objects; visible tokens of his own self-esteem. Seldo has none of my flaws and insecurities and issues, Seldo is the golden child. And I am tired, sick to death of Seldo.

I am tired of striving for the attention of an unattentive crowd; tired of having to validate myself that way. I am tired of mock-flirting with women on stage all night and then walking home alone every morning. I am tired of seeing my friends and wondering if, could they see beneath the mask, they would still like me. I am tired of pretending to be clever when my intelligence is strictly middle-rate. I am tired hiding my flaws and exaggerating my talents. I am not Seldo. I am those flaws and mistakes and insecurities and problems. I am weak and stupid and lonely and vulnerable, terribly vulnerable to anything you can throw at me. I am tired of shining myself to polished brilliance and then wondering why no-one dares lay a grubby finger on me. I am tired of pretending to be beautiful and happy all the time.

But this is an extreme, and like all extreme statements it's not entirely true. I do have real friends, close friends, who know me as Seldo and who call me as such. But they are the ones who met me right at the beginning, before Seldo had completely solidified, or in a few special cases who met me later, they were minds bright enough and inquisitive enough to spot all the flaw-lines in my crystal exterior, and wondered what lay beneath, expending a lot of effort working it out.

There are a whole group of people who I know, and would like to know better, that I have been unable to get close to. In relationships too, there was an invisible barrier that prevented us becoming truly intimate and rapidly contributed to the breakup. Looking at those problems in the context of this analysis, the answer is obvious. Invisible barrier? Oh yeah, THAT invisible barrier, the one I've been wearing for so long I forget it's even there. You can't cuddle a diamond. Seldo, being false, isn't believable, isn't likeable, and the people worth knowing as friends have picked up on this.

But if I am tired of wearing the Seldo suit, what else can I do? Who am I underneath Seldo? Deep down inside, is it still Laurie pulling the levers and pushing the buttons? If I were to abandon this persona tomorrow, what would I do instead? Which parts of me are contrived, and I should abandon, and which bits are real? And am I really strong enough to live outside my shell? Have I grown enough not to need the compliments of strangers to convince myself that I'm a worthwhile person? I'm tired of being Seldo; do I have someone else I can be?

I'm Me. Pleased to meet you.

Seldo isn't entirely fictional. The dancing -- such a big part of Seldo -- is not some contrivance to attract attention. I do genuinely dance because I enjoy it, and when I enjoy it most is when I forget about trying to impress the people around me and just do whatever I feel like. That's also when the most people come up to me afterwards and say how good it looked, which is sort of predictable. If I catch myself dancing because people are watching, and not because the music is good, I stop myself.

What about the other bits? Seldo is very friendly. I'm friendly, but not that much. Seldo is extremely sociable. That's one of the bigger fallacies. I'm not nearly that sociable, I'm actually really antisocial a lot of the time. Sometimes I prefer the company of machines to the company of men. I'm not going to debate whether that's right or wrong or where it came from; I need alone-time sometimes and that's not a Seldo-compatible instinct.

Maybe it's time to be Laurie again. The last time we saw Laurie he was 16, and Seldo's entire existence is predicated around trying to remain 18 for the rest of his life. Maybe it's time to let Laurie grow up. Dammit, is this that "maturing" process again? I really hate it when I come to realise that things I thought would always be true were just more delusions of youth -- I thought Seldo would last forever. Now it seems that when I leave Warwick, I will leave Seldo behind.

That scares the shit out of me though. I have seriously shot myself in the foot here. Seldo is no longer viable, but Laurie is totally unprepared for life in the real world! Can I make friends as Laurie? Well, maybe not, but then, we've just established that Seldo can only collect acquaintances. And all my real friends don't like Seldo, as I said, they like the person underneath. So maybe that's Laurie. So maybe Laurie can make friends.

Can Laurie survive in a social situation? I think it will be hard, especially at first. Laurie will be all new and raw, with insecurities and problems right at the surface. How do other people manage? Am I just being my usual extraordinarily self-centered self when I assume that living in a too-tight shell is a problem specific to me? I know other people who have shells, but those shells are really thin and really obvious. And I know a lot of people who just seem to be themselves: not particularly cool, not hugely impressive, but likeable despite all that. A lot more likeable than Seldo. But maybe, from the outside, Seldo is not so impenetrable as I thought? In addition to its other qualities, diamond is transparent, too.

And... relax.

Maybe it's just a matter of taking things slowly. Let Seldo gradually slip away over the next two weeks, and see what people think of Laurie now. At the last top B, I will probably be unable to resist the temptation of slipping on the shiny suit one last time and revelling in Seldo at the peak of his powers. But that, I think, should be the last time. It's time to face the world as myself, and not just as the best parts of myself. After that, I should let it go, stop myself being quite so bright, quite so chipper, quite so friendly, stop amplifying my good points and hiding my bad. Calming down a bit, even if it does mean less attention, less of that drug of admiration.

Admiration, it seems, is easy to get. But I've had enough of the cheap stuff. Now I want to dig deeper and find the rarer stuff, and infinitely more valuable: understanding. And maybe, with enough understanding, I will eventually also find love. It's going to be scary. But now, at last, I'm allowed to be scared again.

[ Afterword: I wrote most of this after School Daze last night (I fell asleep halfway through and finished the rest this morning). Scanning blogs this morning, it seems there must have been something in the water since two friends who were also there have written pieces with closely related themes. Interesting. ]

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