What a week America has had!
First, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, then the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, and finally the death of one Boston Bomber suspect and the arrest of another. As someone with many family members in the Boston area, including Watertown—some a quarter of a mile from the action—where the suspect was finally captured, I am incredibly relieved to know that the only thing that happened to my family was the fear that ran through their minds as their hometown was put under lockdown. Thank you Watertown Police and all those involved who ensured a swift arrest with no civilian casualties.
Now that the manhunt is over, the fact-finding mission begins. With news coverage almost exclusively broadcasting every minute detail into the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, many labels have been attributed to the young man who remains in critical condition.
I read an article today in Cosmopolitan called, “My First Year as a Woman.” The piece focused on punk rocker Tom Gabel’s transition from male to female. Now living as Laura Jane Grace, the musician always felt uneasy in her masculine body and had identified with being a female from a young age even though she was born a biological male. Today, she is proudly raising her daughter with her wife Heather—they were married before Laura came out as a transsexual—and is finally happy with who she is. Though her young daughter still refers to her as “Daddy,” Laura no longer deals with the demons that haunted her when she was living as a male.
What exactly do a punk rocker and a suspected criminal have to do with one another? More than you might think.
Both of these stories got me thinking about how individuals identify themselves and how others identify them. Whenever you are asked to introduce yourself, it’s common to give your name and some personal detail about yourself. Some people speak about their occupation or family and others their hobbies. “Hi, my name is Bob and I’m an architect. I recently designed a building in Denver, one of my favorite cities in the country.” On the other hand, your buddy might say, “This is my friend Bob. He has a German Shepard and loves to go out for sushi.” What may seem like a trivial detail to you, a friend may find incredibly interesting and worth sharing. Sure, you might describe yourself one way and your friends and family may describe you differently, but it doesn’t mean that the clashing identifiers are right or wrong.
When it comes to Dzhokhar and Tom/Laura, we only know what we can logically assume. Dzhokhar may very well be a terrorist who sought to do harm on an unsuspecting audience, but he is also a son who has a deeply concerned father in Russia who wants to know about his son’s well-being. Though Dzhokhar’s actions, in my mind at least, can never be justified, this young man is a lot more than just a terrorist and slowly, the media is uncovering the person he is. On the outside, Tom looked like a man, but on the inside Laura was desperately trying to make herself known. As it turns out, most people were pretty accepting of Laura once Tom decided to embrace the woman he always wanted to be. She had to identify herself as Laura for other people to do so; it’s not something they would have known to do on their own.
I guess my point is this: the labels that others give us are not as important as the labels we give ourselves. No magazine or news channel or friend can ever truly know who we are or how many roles we play in our lives. I myself identify as so many different things, each unique in its own right, yet none better than any other.
But the really important question is: who are you?