Song Without Words
I was happy to participate tonight in a Meet the Artists zoom event featuring artists selected for the University of Arizona’s inQUEERies online art exhibit. Genuine people, lovely art, and a compelling conversation. For me, the most thought-provoking question we were asked was, “How has your queer identity influenced your art?”
I answered, “My queerness doesn’t inform my art so much as my art informs me about who I am.” I shared that identity labels I’ve adopted in the past, like musician, feminist, Christian, lesbian, agnostic, survivor, American, bisexual, bipolar, victim, and artist were at various times a great comfort to me as I worked to understand myself, my struggles, and my place in the world. Each label felt like a protection. It was like insurance against being so ill-defined as to not really exist. It seemed that a recognized, pre-defined identity could somehow ensure that my "abnormalities" didn’t cost me my place in the family of humans.
But as I grew older, and as the art I made taught me about the me I was afraid to see, I learned that I change and evolve too much for any label to last meaningfully. Moreover, when I stop shushing my spirit, I can discern that it really doesn’t want to be defined. What I tried to express tonight is that I am—we are—more than any label can begin to describe. We're more than the sum of all the labels that could apply.
If we label ourselves, others may accept this at face value, assume they know what that means, and never truly seek to know us. For me, fixating on identity labels as an attempt to free myself from outdated perceptions has perpetuated the problem of unnecessarily limiting my conception of who I am, what I can do, and who I can become.
I think we’re all more than any label or cluster of labels. And I think we’re all more than any identity we might embrace. Our spirits are more expansive, our creativity is more unlimited, and our essence is more nuanced and multifaceted than words can begin to describe. Truly.
I would never have seen this had I not begun following my heart into whatever territory it led me. I identified as a lesbian and then I was shocked when I fell in love with a man. I called myself a pianist and then lost myself when somebody told me I wasn't. I struggled against definitions imposed on me from without and within until I learned that I am not only a musician, I am also a composer, painter, songwriter, sculptor, singer, author, speaker, and most importantly, a more unconditionally accepting friend to myself. I still don't know the whole scope of who I am, and I’ll probably never find out, because there isn’t enough room in one lifetime for any of us to develop all of our potentials. But I want to know more, and if I label myself, I’ll limit my ability to find out.
I’m finally convinced I’m not only likable in my uniqueness, I’m unconditionally loved. No matter who I am or what’s inside me, it’s acceptable to me. I don’t need to define my identity to be safe in the world.
As with anything I’ve ever created, I don’t know where this song that is my life is going, or what it's going to sound like when it’s done. There certainly won't be a word for it. And I’m fine with that.