This all started with a recent comment on the blog, which I will repeat here so you know what I’m referring to…
“There is an excessive introspection and self-absorption, called narcissism, which is enfeebling and detrimental to one’s well being. Prolonged and obsessive reflection about issues of identity and health can drag one into this morass and become consuming, eclipsing joy and breadth of vision, and preventing one from seizing with gusto the wealth of wonderful pursuits and experiences available to us regardless of our sex, race, appearance or gender-identity. A lot of dialogue about valid issues of fairness and justice has deteriorated into a narcissism – characterized by feverish self-labeling into ever more recondite categories and sub-categories – which then shields itself from due criticism by waving the banner of Political Correctness.”
I imagine (but I do not know) that it is relatively easy to grow up as someone who is normal within their cultural context, and live your life as a reasonable match with the people around you. There’s not a lot of soul searching or angst in recognising that you have the same needs and inclinations as the people around you. So, for example to grow up in the UK white, straight, inclined to have children, with no learning disabilities or mental health problems, no major bodily health issues, getting a job, wanting a house and wanting all the things everyone else seems to want is, I imagine, relatively easy. Everything you see reflected back affirms your sense of who you are and tells you that who you are is ok. Not all of us have that. For those who do it may be hard to imagine what it feels like to be missing that basic and dependable affirmation of fitting in.
It wasn’t until some way into my teens that I even knew bisexuality existed as an idea. It’s a lonely thing to feel something you don’t have a word for, and as a consequence never to be able to speak of it or find someone who understands. This is the case for many people who seek labels, as far as I can make out. It’s not narcissism, but the need to have a common language that enables you to find someone who knows how you feel, understands what you mean, can swap notes with you about how to live life as the kind of person you are. How many bisexual Druid women are there? And it’s not just about big difference, and the differences you can’t choose. It is such a joy to know that I’m not the only Pagan Steampunk folk enthusiast out there. I’m not the only Druid reading comics. I’m not the only Pagan involved with politics. I’m not the only person walking the land as a spiritual practice. I am not alone. There are places I belong and people I make sense to.
There is a terrible, terrible loneliness that comes from not knowing another living soul to whom you make sense. At 12, I had crushes on guys and girls pretty evenly. I knew about straight and gay people. I could not tell if I should be in the straight camp or the lesbian camp and that was frightening. Not knowing who or what I was. I never talked about it, because I had no words. Somewhere later, 14 perhaps, the missing word entered my vocabulary and I knew who I was.
There is joy and relief in those most blessed words ‘me too’. Whether we’re talking about pain, or the difficulty of touching people, or how we talk to the divine, humans measure their sanity by not being alone. To do something, think or feel something when no one else does is to be alienated and possibly crazy. When you can ask ‘how does that work for you?’ ‘how do you manage that?’ life is better, easier. Depressed people and anxious people, people of complicated heritage, tribes with wounds in common, tribes of aspirations shared… they all matter.
Without opening up those other stories of difference, without finding other ways of belonging and participating, those of us who do not belong in the mid ground can either accept being other, or can pretend to conform, but there’s precious little comfort to be had from either. It is not narcissism to need to understand exactly who you are, and it is the first step to figuring out who your people are and where on Earth you might possibly be able to find them.