The story opens on the scene of a house party, maybe a college house party, but given the circumstances it’s most likely a high-school party. There are groups of young men and women corralling together into circles of friends and judging, nay, ruminating on their classmates and the social hierarchy that exists in their microcosm. “She’s so fake” or “He’s cool, he keeps it real” these statements swirl in the air and float off above the heads of the party’s attendees.
Some of the statements are inevitably overheard by the subjects of the statements, and at that moment, they feel either a deep betrayal or the juices of an exceptional little ego boost. For those betrayed, they will spend the next several hours or days wondering how their closest friends could say something so biting, so contrary to the sociology they believed they were portraying.
An epiphany rises, and it’s an epiphany that will stay with them until they realize themselves completely and accept themselves wholly and unabashedly when they are 25 or 26 and sick of the dramatization they’ve played out their entire young life. That epiphany is that they have to be “real”.
Essentially, everyone seeks the apex of being truly authentic, of being their own person regardless of the demands or structures imposed upon them by the great other (society, family, government, etc.) Who am I really? They ask. They may search for themselves in their friends, their habits, or their activities and they may come to believe that what they’ve incorporated into their lives as truths may be the answer but they’ve never really asked themselves why they do or believe these things.
Personally, I don’t know if I’ve ever had real success figuring out who I truly am but I like to think I have. In truth, I remember the way I was when I was a kid, unencumbered by responsibilities and social hierarchies and I seek to be that same person. A quiet, curious individual who had a hard time with social interaction and wished to spend most of his days playing outside in the forests behind his house.
A momentary lapse of social engagement in the form of a psychotic break with reality in my early twenties disconnected me from the intense urge to fit in. To say my sickness was a blessing would be a stretch but if anything, it caused me to re-evaluate what I was doing and exactly who the hell I was.
I want to believe that there comes a time in every young adult’s life when they need to re-evaluate. Sickness or not, they realize that what they’re doing isn’t working and things need to change. Of course this reflection may not even come in the twenties, they may be well into their fifties when they realize their entire lives have been built on the expectations of others but I’d argue that it takes some sort of life-altering event, trauma or otherwise to cause them to think about things.
That said, what essentially is being real? What is authenticity? In my experience, it seems that only true authenticity is the realization and acceptance of a person’s fears and worries and the resulting knowledge gained about what they believe and what they prefer that comes from those conclusions.
So many people spend their lives running from those fears that by the time they’re ready to accept them their habits from running have become fully incorporated into their personality. Other people may have known that something was off, but they just explained it away by saying that that was just the way the certain person was.
A hard example for me to share is the fear I had throughout most of my early twenties that people were making fun of me and saying that I was gay. It was a paranoia that I had, thanks in part to schizophrenia, but thanks in other parts to some assholes in college that never went away. I fought it as hard as I could for a long time trying to act as manly as possible and trying to be the stereotypical man’s man that it ate away at my peace of mind. Whenever the paranoia crept up I panicked, literally becoming short of breath and feeling an overwhelming need to escape whatever situation I was in.
Things changed when I started going to a therapist I hated for a short time. I only lasted with her for about two or three months before I said fuck it, but there was something she taught me that stuck with me long afterwards. That was the idea that a lot of people are simply too afraid to be who they really are and the only way to get past that was to accept the things they feared.
It took about a year of intense self-reflection after that for me to accept the fact that I very well may be gay, after all, I took an interest in how other men looked and compared myself intensely to them and sometimes I thought I was attracted to them. I was interested in gay culture, I think now because I wanted to know if I was actually gay, my brother was gay so I wanted to understand him and to top everything off, I felt a love for my friends of the same sex that worried me and all that scared the shit out of me. Eventually though, I learned to accept those things.
It was that acceptance mixed with a question posed by an internet video of a man asking a question to straight people that cemented my reality. The question was, “When did you first decide to be straight?” I realized in that moment that I never had decided to be straight, I just always was. Since I was a little kid I knew that I was attracted to girls, I always had been and I always would be. If the same was true for gay people than my worry was for naught.
I gradually began to accept the fact that people, and essentially I, was a multifaceted product of environment and it was ok to be a little gay, whatever that means. But I didn’t have to live in fear that my speech, actions and demeanor could be misinterpreted and I could do, for myself, whatever felt the most natural, be it gay-seeming or not. I am who I am, and nothing anybody thinks about me can change that.
Authenticity it seems is the core realization that you are who you are and you are who you have always been. It’s the unshakable confidence that you know the person you always will be and no matter what anyone says about you or no matter what pressures you face from society, there will always be the true you that you can count on.
It takes a lot people decades to realize this and like, I said, many times a catalyst has to be involved but once you have faith in your true self, there’s nothing that can hurt you.
It sounds stupid but it’s true.