As you look back at your life, what are the landmark moments in each decade? It’s an interesting thing to pause and think about.
For me, each decade of my life has been characterised by something of an identity crisis.
Each decade of my life has been characterised by something of an identity crisis.
As a child, I had big questions over whether I was a boy or a girl. I was very aware that I wasn’t like other boys and that I didn’t match up to people’s expectations of what boys are like. This feeling became so pronounced that I ended up concluding I must be a girl trapped in a boy’s body. I can vividly remember that moment of realisation and the fear of my big secret being discovered. This might be who I am, but no one was ever going to know that.
In my teen years, I began to become aware that I’m same-sex attracted. At first, I think I genuinely had no idea what was happening. But as time went on, I grew to understand my experience. It was a confusing time because I was hearing two conflicting messages: some things I saw and heard seemed to imply this was the worst thing possible, that I should suppress it and never tell anyone. These messages told me that my sexuality made me in some way ‘wrong’, somehow lesser than other people. But there were others things sending me the message that this was the most important thing about me and that I should embrace and express my experience of sexuality. Both messages were telling me that my sexuality defined who I was – one in a negative sense and the other in a positive.
In my 20s, I reached another crisis moment. My mental health was in a bad way. There were various factors at play, but one was an incredibly unhealthy sense of identity. I’d lived with this sense of self for many years without even realising it. Until, one day, I had to finally accept that I had a problem. I was standing in front of a mirror and I tried to say about myself the words of Psalm 139 – that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look myself in the eye and say those words. I realised I had a problem. Far from believing I was fearfully and wonderfully made, I had come to believe that I was a freak and a weirdo whom nobody liked or loved; I didn’t really believe God liked or loved me, and I didn’t even like or love myself. I was living with a terrible, destructive identity.
Asking the right question
My three decades have been marked by identity crises. ‘Who am I?’ has been a big question for me. But as I look back now, I realise the first key question I needed to ask wasn’t ‘Who am I?’ but the more foundational question, ‘How do I find who I am?’. None of us can know who we are till we know how to find who we are.
I had a decision to make. Was I going to let other people decide who I am? That’s what was happening when my experience of sexuality made me feel somehow wrong or lesser because of what people said about gay people. It’s also what had happened when I concluded I was a freak and a weirdo – I assumed everyone thought that of me and so I adopted it as my sense of identity. Or was I going to decide who I am – embracing as my identity what I feel or desire inside, whether that be a sense that I was a girl or my romantic and sexual desires for men?
Or was there a better option? Was there a way of finding who I am that wouldn’t be dependent on the fluctuating opinions of other people? A way that wouldn’t be dependent on the mess of changeable feelings and desires I found inside? Was there a way of finding who I am that would give me a solid, secure, life-giving sense of self? Thankfully there was.
It didn’t come by letting others decide who I am, or by letting myself decide; it came by letting God decide. My best identity is found by allowing my creator and saviour to tell me who I am and by receiving my identity from him as a gift. This gift allows me to embrace the ways I’m different and ignore anyone who judges me for them. It allows me to handle my experiences of gender and sexuality well – not suppressing them to conform to other people’s expectations and not indiscriminately embracing them, but bringing them to God’s word and learning from him how I can best respond to and steward them. And this gift of ‘God decides’ identity allows me to know that I am always loved, always desired, and always delighted in. It truly is the best identity.
This is my story, but the questions at its heart are relevant to all of us. That’s why I’ve written my new book Finding Your Best Identity: A Short Christian Introduction to Identity, Sexuality and Gender. We all need to wrestle with the question ‘How do I find who I am?’. We all need to think about how our identity relates to our experience of gender and sexuality. Finding Your Best Identity is designed to help you do just that. You can get your copy here.