Thursday, January 28, 2016

Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity by Kelsey Picciano

What does it mean to be? The term human “being” implies that within every person is an inherent feeling of presence or existence. Perhaps this is not the case for some; perhaps some feel their physical existence, but not their own unique existence, as an individual. They may lack a sense of identity. A body made up of complex bonds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen contains a consciousness molded, not by its own whim, but by its environment and the other carbon-, hydrogen- and oxygen-bodied individuals around it. The constant pressure imposed by the many other conscious minds around it has left the body with an empty and superficial feeling of being to wander around the Earth unsure of the world or its standing within it. Indeed, this is what I experienced upon being thrown, head-first, into the vast and confusing world on my own. I found myself “being” who I thought others wanted me to be, fitting a predetermined mold that shifted as my environment did. It was in the realization of the emptiness of my being that I found the need to nourish my soul and develop a sense of identity. Readings of Plato, Alan Watts, Walt Whitman and Gloria Anzaldua gave me the medicine I needed to not only challenge and enlarge but also to resolve my conflicts with identity, allowing me to mold a true and unique idea of self. 

Kelsey Joann Picciano: my idea of self started with this name. Born into an Italian, Christian family, my collision with identity originated here. Christianity was never an aspect of my life that I was allowed to choose; rather I was forced into these beliefs. As an evolving and transcending individual I soon found a larger and larger separation between my developing ideologies and those of Christianity. This separation was shamed by my family leaving me to wonder where this opposing view on religion originated from. Upon my reading of The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, I found an explanation for this burning question. Watts states, “Christianity has become incredibly difficult to explain to a modern person,” and this singular statement gave way to a series of revelations within me (Watts, 10). Throughout time there is such an immense and growing disconnect between archaic religions and the ever evolving views of modern society that I find it difficult to connect with a religion that preaches ideologies so far removed from my modern moral standards. It is impossible for me to identify with a religion that still contains justification for the buying and selling of slaves in its holy scripture (Leviticus 25:44-46). On a more personal level, how can an openly bisexual female sit through the service of a religion that proclaims her sexuality to be an abomination (Leviticus 18:22)? Being born into a far more accepting and tolerant generation than that of my parents, many of my views do not align with theirs or those of the religion I was born into, but this does not make my views wrong. Watts helped me understand the origin of my lack of religious identity. I’ve become acutely aware of the fact that my ideologies may never align with those of my family, but I am of a modern generation that they may fail to understand, and I am at peace with that.

With such tight reigns bound by my heavily Christian mother, I led a very sheltered childhood. I lived in a small town resembling the ideal white suburbia; I went to public school; I attended church every Sunday. It is said that within the time spent in high school, an idea of self shall form; but how can one form an identity as part of a society she knows very little about? In this way I identify very closely with the prisoners in Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” Just as the prisoners knew little of the world around them with the exception of the shadows cast on the cave wall in front of them, I knew little of the world around me with the exception of the information presented before me in my average American schooling (Plato). I learned only that of the history the school chose for me to learn; I read only the literature of which the school wished for me to read; I knew only of the environment that the school wished for me to be in. Fast forward four years to graduation and the beginning of college: I moved from a small, mainly white town to Hofstra, a school often referred to as “the diversity university.” Coming to Hofstra, the equivalent of breaking free from the cave, led me to the same realization as the newly liberated prisoner. The previous “realities” which I had been presented were not real at all; the previous schooling which I participated in painted a picture of the world for me; my previous life was a picture of a place lacking diversity, lacking discrimination and lacking anything more meaningful than the superficial ideals of my small “utopian” town. 

College did not paint any pictures for me; instead, it handed me a reality that I was then allowed to internalize. This permitted me to make an insurmountable amount of discoveries about myself. The reality I now knew was an expanded and fuller understanding of how I, as a single individual, fit into this whole big world. It is following this aspect of my experience in parallel to that of the prisoner that I found conflict. In terms of identifying as this newly freed prisoner, overwhelmed by new ideas and currently in the process of discovering how to know who I am, I do not find part of my identity to be as a teacher or leader in the transcendence of others. I find it difficult to believe that within my experience of intellectual growth and expansion into a new developed identity, I gained the purpose and responsibility to bring my new found ideologies to others. I identify now as more of an enlightened thinker due to my time spent “outside the cave,” but I do not identify as a guide for the unenlightened.

Miraculously while still “in the cave,” I was able to establish a large part of my identity as a bisexual female. Although Gloria Anzaldua’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” speaks of her identification as a Chicana in America, I found within it the ability to enlarge my sense of identity. Anzaldua discusses how the people around her shamed her for expressing who she was, a young girl who spoke Spanish and English or perhaps a dialect stuck somewhere in between. She writes about her struggle to find a true identity due to the constant shaming of how she spoke, how she acted, and who she was. At the end of this writing she comes to the realization and proclaims, “I am my language” (Anzaldua). When taken at face value, this essay is viewed as identity in terms of language and culture, but it is much more than that. Gloria enlarges my sense of identity through her acceptance of who she is despite being shamed for her self-expression. Revealing to my family that I am not the perfect daughter they had hoped for, being deeply Christian as previously mentioned, was not a feat so easily accomplished. I lived knowing the most important and influential people in my life were ashamed of a characteristic of my being that is beyond my control. Months of my life were spent internalizing the passive-aggressive, homophobic comments shared at the dinner table; months of my life were spent being unable to bring home the person I chose to be with in fear that she would also have to suffer the venomous hatred that spewed from the mouths of my family. Gloria’s unfaltering sense of pride in which she owns and displays her identity without the fear of judgment served as an inspiration to my sexual identity. Bisexuality used to be a part of my identity I tucked away from the eyes of the world with an inherent fear of judgement and disdain from those who opposed who I am. Bisexuality is now an aspect of my identity that will not be concealed but instead displayed proudly as a badge of merit. 

My sexual identity, religious identity and my intellectual identity are all parts that compose my individual identity as a whole. Preceding my readings of Whitman, that was the only self that I knew. Whitman presents an idea that both challenges and enlarges my identity as an individual all together. He suggests that there is in fact no self. The idea of existing as entities completely independent of one another is not the way of existence, “for every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you” (Whitman, 1). The idea of a universal self has both enlightening and challenging aspects. It is difficult to believe or understand that the individual I am growing into and identity that I am developing is found in all those around me. There are aspects of myself others do not comprehend, let alone possess. Every human cannot relate to what it feels like to be bisexual in a family of strict Christians; every human cannot reach the level of consciousness achieved through the intellectual growth I have spent this time achieving. However, this idea that we are all of a universal consciousness and there is no separation between me and the person next to me also enlarges my identity. A white, college-aged female may not be capable of understanding the plight of a middle-aged African-American man, but there are aspects of the struggles we face that are universal. All humans originated from the same human condition. All humans are composed of the same biological and chemical components. All humans are formed from the same Earth-given nourishment. All humans are a part of the same genome. All humans are brought into this world bound to die at some point. Humans are almost all biologically identical, formed from the same Earth, living in the same universe. Aspects of the lives of diverse communities of humans will never be identical but there is an overlying connection that unites us all. The ability to look at the human beings neighboring us through a light that is not so focused around “me vs. them” opens the door to many aspects of a newly forming identity in which a small portion of all of humanity can be found.

A full eighteen years of my life I had spent wandering around the Earth lacking a true idea of who Kelsey Joann Picciano really was. Finally having enough of constantly molding to the social standards and views set by those around me, I turned to these various works as medicine to a damaged self-image. My readings of Watts, Plato and Anzaldua allowed me to solidify my newly forming identity as both an individual and also in accordance with the world around me. I no longer find myself with a void sitting inside of me; I no longer solely feel my physical being; I feel my existence as my own unique individual. Now returning to my previous statement, what does it mean to be? In my search for answers pertaining to my identity as a human being, I stumbled upon a quote that speaks volumes about the limitless nature of individuality and identity. "To be human? What is anything without a definition? To define is to measure. To measure is to limit” (Oliech).

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. "How to Tame a Wild Tongue." (n.d.): n. pag. Http:// Web.

Oliech, Daniel. "What It Means to Be Truly Human." Https:// N.p.,

Socrates. Plato THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE (n.d.): n. pag. Https:// Web.

Watts, Allan. "The Book: The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are." Http:// N.p.,

Whitman, Walt. "Section 1." Song of Myself. N.p.: n.p., n.d.

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