My mother told me, “life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.” She was inspired by George Bernard Shaw when she shared this quote with me, as I cried over the phone, confused about my life and my choices. Since then, this thought has echoed in my mind. Who am I? Who do I want to be? I first used a tool I learned in my Theatre training. Sometimes narrowing in on an idea can be difficult. So, first, I asked, “Who is it that I don’t want to be?” A much easier way to begin, no?
-I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t take care of themselves.
-I don’t want to be a person who takes out their own insecurities on other people.
-I don’t want to be a person who uses assumptions as an excuse not to ask questions.
-I don’t want to be a person who wallows in worry, as a way to avoid making tough decisions.
-I don’t want to be a person filled with hate.
-I don’t want to be a person who blames their unhappiness on the world.
In fact, I want to be a person who does the opposite of those things. Okay. That helps. But, there are other ideas that plague me, that aren’t so black and white.
-Why do I feel so sexually repressed at times?
-Why do I police my every move?
-Why do I feel I have such trouble making connections with people?
-Why am I so sensitive to the energy of other people?
-Why isn’t so hard for me to be 100% of the person I am on the inside?
I don’t have the answer to these questions and, honestly, I’m not sure if the answer is what is important. Because, these questions alone help inspire me to make the change.
I am 30 years old, whatever that means. I have spent my entire adulthood unlearning behavior developed as child to help cope with the mental and physical abuse I faced at the hand of adults and peers. This coping behavior was very useful when I was surrounded by said violence, but in any other setting, this behavior alienates me and hurts my relationships with others.
How could anyone I met in my 20’s know that I’m quiet when I meet people, because I am scared? How could my roommates have known that I was afraid of leaving my room when others were occupying communal space, because I was always afraid to leave my room as a child? How could people have known that I flinch at contact or close physical interactions, because I was hit as a child? They couldn’t know. But, that isn’t my reality anymore, so my behavior had to change. And it took me so many years to realize that.
But, that’s just the beginning. Leaving the country for a year, as an adult, showed me a new world. I didn’t realize how much racially bias/hostile energy I felt on a regular basis, until I left the country. Was it all my imagination? Did I make it bigger in my mind than it actually was? Who could possibly know the answer to that question? But, what I do know, is that I found a way to finally free my mind of the worry and stress I was enduring, regardless of what others are doing. And that is very important. I can’t control other people, but what I can control is the way I think.
Then, I think about my career. When I was in college, I felt unstoppable. Big fish in a little pond, right? Then when I entered the world as an adult in Philadelphia, I not only felt over looked, I felt boxed. As though, the people of Philadelphia Theatre and Drag were conspiring to make sure I did not make it. Entering a world, where talent and effort are not all that matter. So many other things are more important, like the way you make other people feel. And there are a million factors that play into that. Race, appearance, a sense that others have something to gain from you and so much more. For some reason, I decided to internalize everything. Not a good choice. It only leads to needless suffering. I know that now. One of my favorite memories to recall, is after my first sold out, self produced show in Philadelphia, my dancers were at the bar, celebrating, gloating, enjoying the pleasant energy our hard work had gifted us. A person approached us, to congratulate us. The person shook hands with everyone but me and told my dancers what a wonderful job they had done putting the show together. They all said, “it wasn’t us, it was Sebastian. He did everything, we just did what he told us to do.” But, this person still refused to even make eye contact with me and not only that, but continued to praise “their” choreography and storytelling. The dancers continued to tell this person that they didn’t create any of it, that I had, but this person never acknowledged or spoke to me. As a young person experiences like this burrowed deep in my mind, planting seeds that should not have been there. Molding the way I would navigate future interactions, consumed with hostility and negativity from the past. Hurting only me. And it took years to first realize it had happened and then change.
But, then a new question arises. Now that I have an idea of who I don’t want to be, the behavior I don’t want to continue, and the fears I need to let go…. What? What now? I have never navigated the world as this person and it feels odd and for some time I have been frozen in thought, unsure of how to continue in the way I so wholeheartedly did when I was emotionally broken. Which seems a little backwards, right? I locked myself in solitude, holding on to everything that I loved about my self, post epiphany, afraid that interacting with others would emotionally drain this new version of myself or hurt me. But, what is the use of learning and growing, just to hide out of fear because it is easier?
Why am I so worried about being a Kelly to someone’s Beyonce? And what does that mean? Living in fear, not gonna work, we know that, but also, one should be so lucky as to be Kelly. Where does that come from? I don’t know, but I know it’s time to let it go. What use is talent, if you refuse to use it, because, “the time isn’t right” or because you are afraid. And a thought that continues to circulate in my mind is, “Did Harriet Tubman do all that she did so that one day, I could be talented and prepared, but too afraid to do something about it?” Ms. Tubman escaped. She escaped and returned repeatedly to save others. And I’m too afraid to follow my dreams, out of fear that I might loose some sort of centered-ness it took me years to develop? Is that what she risked her life for? I don’t think so. Then, I think about myself as child, full of dreams of the future, when one day I would be free of my father and step-mother. Imagining all the things I would finally be able to do, how free I would feel. Fantasizing about one day being my true self. Sitting in my room every night, bargaining with this idea of God, to help me get where I want to be. Sad and scared. How could I let that child down? How could I look back and say, “I’m sorry you are enduring all that you are right now and it’s true, you will be out of this situation one day, but I’m too afraid to do all the things we so desperately crave. I’m scared”? How could I look in his tear-filled eyes and say that? How could I look to my future self, on his death bed and say, “I’m sorry, you are filled with regret for not putting every ounce of energy into being and doing all that we wanted. I was just too scared.”? How the fuck could I do that?
I truly believe we convince ourselves of whatever it is we want to believe. We work hard to shape circumstances to fit the narrative we want. Whether it is good or bad, we convince ourselves and others. Well, it’s time that I convince myself that there is no excuse in this world for me not to be all that I can be.
In closing, I will share two quotes from Michael Burnham of Star Trek: Discovery.
Just as repetition reinforces repetition, change begets change….Sometimes the only way to find out where you fit in is to step out of the routine. Because sometimes, where you really belong was waiting right around the corner all along.
See your path. Stay on it. Reach your destination. Cadet to Captain. Just like that.