by Aaron Gates
As people, we often like to put ourselves into categories. As writers, we tend to do the same thing. We say things like, “I’m a fiction writer” or “I’m a poet” or, if you’re me, “I’m, like, kind of a poet, I mean, I like to write poetry, but I don’t know if I’m a poet, exactly . . .” And, well, all dear-god-am-I-really-a-writer issues aside, what I’m trying to get at is that often we limit ourselves as we seek to define ourselves. We forget the complicated nature of things, of humans, as we try to classify what we do and who we are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Labels and classifications can help us find the next book we want to read, the next TV show we want to watch. Labels can also help us find support groups, communities, friends who have had similar life experiences.
Recently we’ve seen a movement to break away from labels that are too broad within the queer community. The queer community has had the label of “Gay,” “LGB,” LGBT,” and “LGBTQIA+,” to name a few. People are moving more and more to show the diverse parts of their identities. Gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, demisexual, biromantic, and others. This movement to encompass all the diversity of someone’s identity is what led us to use the term “queer” as an umbrella term here at peculiar. We want to represent the deep diversity in every writer and artist, and in the queer community.
What does this have to do with writing and creating? I think it’s important that as we create, we acknowledge ourselves and the history we bring to our creative process. When I traveled back to my parents’ home for the holidays this year, I was reminded of how much I have changed from the shy little boy who grew up in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Now, this was nothing new to me. Ever since I came out, I’ve worked to become more of who I feel I really am. I’ve worked to let more parts of my personality out that I was ashamed of or hid while I was in the closet. I felt that process meant I needed to change a lot. And maybe it did. But somewhere along the way, I pushed a lot of my past away. Maybe it was from painful memories, maybe it was from a loss of ideals and connections that were held in my youth. I don’t know. But either way, I focused more on my now.
Buy my past is part of who I am. And as I’ve worked more on my writing, I’ve realized more and more that there are parts of me that don’t make sense if I don’t accept every history I have. As I came home for the holidays, I remembered again that no matter what, there will always be a part of me that grew up walking through the forest, playing in crick beds, going to church, and so many other things. As much as I come home and see that I don’t really fit in my hometown the way I used to, I still come home and feel a connection.
I believe that for us as writers, artists, creators, we have to accept every part of us, whether we like it or not, to find our truth. We are complicated, with a million different facets to our personalities, to our experiences. But if we do not acknowledge these parts, accept them, celebrate or learn from them, we are cutting off a part of who we are. We are denying it. We can’t love ourselves if we don’t even fully acknowledge who that person is to be loved.
So, for the new year, I hope everyone can work to explore their own identities, to question why they dislike any part of who they are, and to see themselves more fully. We are so much more than any list of labels in our lives. And I hope we can apply this to our creative processes. Learn from other techniques. If you write prose, study poetic tools of assonance, repetition, concrete imagery. If you write poetry, learn how prose writers craft their work through scenes, outlining, rhetorical situations. Learn how artists create their works through layering, perspective, focus. Learn how writers use words to frame, to build, to create ambiguity or paradox. And through this process, I promise, you will become more skilled in what you create. But, perhaps more importantly, you will learn more about what you have in common with those around you than what your differences are. You will understand more what it means to be human.
As always, give love.
Aaron Gates is a Utah Valley University graduate, having majored in Writing Studies. He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of peculiar and has also served as Editor-in-Chief of Intersections, Tech Editor of Touchstones, and a senior editor for Essais, all student publications. His poetry has been published in Warp and Weave and Touchstones. Aaron has an unhealthy obsession with Channing Tatum, Calvin and Hobbes, and Thai food; he and The Walking Dead are currently seeing other people.