Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Identity II. All people are different, but some are more different than others.

Do you remember being a teenager and suddenly realising that you are a different person when you're with different people? It's one of those things you take for granted years later but at the time comes as a shock.

It's not one of those things that goes away. It's the reason I write this blog anonymously, and the reason I have more than one Twitter account. As a middle-aged person, I suppose ought to be working towards some kind of integrity, where I can merge all those people into one. (Maybe one day I'll just have the one Twitter account, a bit like Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook.) But I can't see it happening soon.

In a way, this blog is the real me more than the 'me' I show most people. It lets me 'be myself' without worrying what people think. But, of course, the 'me' that I call Older than Elvis isn't the whole picture. Most of the people who chat to me on Twitter would probably be surprised to know I go to church most Sundays. Most of the people I know at church would probably be surprised to find that I swear, drink and love punk rock. (Most of them don't even know I've been divorced.)

I haven't found a way to reconcile those worlds yet. But I know someone who has.

When I say 'know', I mean I know her online persona and I've read a book by her. (Dazzling Darkness.) I knew from Twitter that Rachel Mann is a heavy metal loving, poetry writing, feminist, lesbian, Church of England vicar, which I thought was pretty cool. I found out when she published the book that she is also transgender.

Like many of us she's a complex character, but unlike most of us she's honest about who she is. I like honesty. And I like books that make you think. This one made me think a lot, on several different levels. I'm going to have to read it again, particularly to get my head round some of the theology stuff. (Guess what? God is a different person to different people, too.)

On an immediate level, it's made me think a lot about identity, and gender, and how we don't fit into boxes. I was born and still am a heterosexual female but I've always felt different from what that is supposed to mean.

I recently read an article in the Guardian by Clare Balding's partner Alice Arnold, who said that she felt different growing up because she cared about things other people didn't, like justice and inequality. Well, I don't think that's actually a symptom of being lesbian. Because I've always cared about those things, and I'm not (hey, I've been married twice, to men).

But I have always felt different, too, in a way.

Obviously part of this is down to Enid Blyton, but I did spend some years as a child trying to be mistaken as a boy. There wasn't any angst about it though; I think I just considered being a boy to be more cool than being a girl.

At school I felt like an outsider; after leaving school I sought out male friendships. I still get annoyed by girly women and girly conversations. I didn't have a female 'best friend' until I was in my thirties.

As a teenager, my role models were Suzi Quatro and Hamlet. As a young woman, I was slightly in love with Chrissie Hynde. I loved the punk era (made for outsiders) and I've never felt more comfortable with clothes. My style was Ramones meet Annie Hall, and it's still my fancy dress of choice.

None of this is a big deal, just part of who I am, and I didn't really give any of this much thought until I read Rachel's book. For me, it was part of a wider sense of not fitting in: never quite meeting the cultural and social norms.

All that has bothered me less as I've become middle-aged. The great thing about getting older is finding out that it's not just you (and yes, the internet is a great place for knowing you're not alone).

But, even now, there are still times when it's hard to own up to who you are. I found this quite hard to write, because it felt very personal. But probably not as hard as Rachel found it to write her book. Thank you, Rachel, for being honest and being yourself. It's something to aspire to.