Friday, April 11, 2008

How Do You Choose to Self-Identify?

This week I’ve been working with D’Lo, a performance artist presenting his solo piece, Ramble-Ations at the Bride this weekend. I’ve been communicating with him for at least 8 months, but we hadn’t met face-to-face until Tuesday.

D’Lo is by gender a female, but self-identifies as a man and I wasn’t aware of this until his director pulled me aside and asked me to refer to D’Lo as he, not she. I immediately replied, “No problem,” but to be honest, it’s been more challenging than I expected and I’ve slipped up quite a bit over the last few days. Thankfully, D’Lo and his crew has been patient with me and the rest of our staff as we’ve haltingly tried to adjust our perception and respect the fact that this is how D’Lo has chosen to self-identify.

Although we present gay/lesbian/queer work throughout our season, it wasn’t until this week that I’ve knowingly interacted with someone who self-identifies other than how they physically appear to me. Yes, in many instances, D’Lo may be mistaken for a boy, with her shaved head, hip-hop swagger and baggy pants, but once he opens his mouth or you look closely, you can definitely sense the female form.

D’Lo’s choice of self-identification may sometimes put him in precarious situations. Fortunately, he’s not living in a back hick town as depicted in Boys Don’t Cry, but even in metropolitan or urban areas, you find dangerously ignorant folks who want to make their point by putting their hands on you. D’Lo seems to be innately aware of potential dangers that may abound and his demeanor is thoughtful and understated.

The process of self-identification reaches beyond sexual orientation. We all do it. We all have a choice. Most of us simply assume the identity thrust upon us via our family, friends, society, but imagine the strength and resolve necessary to self- create your identity. Right now, I self-identify as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, arts worker, storyteller. I’ve always self-identified as an African-American, but in today’s society, we do each other a disservice to simply look at the color of someone’s skin, the kink of their hair or their choice of wardrobe to assume how they may self-identify.

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