When I was a teenager in the ’80s, I listened to a lot of classic rock radio stations. One song that was on the regular rotation was “Who Are You” by The Who:
Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
It’s catchy, and at the time it was fun to see whether the radio station would play the uncut version with the eff word. (More often than not they did, but as time went on that became more rare. Thanks, Tipper Gore!)
A song about identity is appealing to the young, but it’s really a rather universal theme. Figuring out who we are, what we value, and how to live our lives in a way that best reflects this is a lifelong task. And when we do figure it out, sometimes the people around us don’t like what we’ve concluded. What then? We can choose to live according to others’ expectations, or we can sally forth as our true selves and live authentically, consequences be damned.
People who choose the former option usually find themselves on a therapist’s couch eventually. (Hell, even those who don’t do, too.) No judgment here. It’s hard to weather pressure and judgment, which in this case usually come from the people closest to us. Sometimes not rocking the boat seems so much easier.
As I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, I’ve come to the realization that living authentically is something that means very much to me, and being able to do so has been a battle hard-won. My mother envisioned very different things for me than what I wanted for myself. She desired a daughter who was a girly-girl cheerleader, one who would date the right (read: wealthy) boys, go to law school, and get married and have babies. What she got was a tomboy who dated boys without giving any thought to their socioeconomic status, who majored in English (Would you like fries with that?) and married her longtime high school sweetheart, a man who to this day describes himself as being “from the wrong side of the tracks.” Oh, and no kids.
This meant a lot of pressure to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and please, dump that boy and date around a little! After I married, it segued into passive-aggressive comments about the lack of grandchildren. (It could have been worse. I had other people in my life call me selfish to my face about my decision not to have children. So in a way the passive aggression was a relief.)
Many teenagers today have it a lot worse than I did. A few weeks ago I read a news story about a transgender teen who was voted his school’s homecoming king. Happy happy, right? Wrong. A few months later he committed suicide. A more recent news story described how a gay boy was adopted by another family when his own disowned him after he came out. Can you imagine? He was rejected and thrown out by his parents for being himself. These are some high stakes.
While we may not be facing homelessness or suicide, the stakes are high for the rest of us, too. No one wants to reach a point where she looks around and wonders how the heck she got there. She married someone because he looked good on paper, but there’s no intimacy there. And she loves her kids, but being a mother has not come easy, and she wonders if she became one because that’s what you’re supposed to do. If she hadn’t, could she have pursued her dream of . . . ?
No. Just say it. If it feels wrong, doesn’t jibe with who you are, say no. Embrace what makes you, you. Some people might not like it and may not even like you. So what?