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viewpoint

Different

| Monday, March 6, 2017

I went to see “Show Some Skin” on Saturday night. Some of my friends had gone the previous nights. Julia said she cried 80 percent of the time. Katie said she felt uncomfortable. I took a notebook to write down my reaction.

The show was sold out so we arrived at 6:30 p.m. to get on the waitlist for the 7:30 p.m. I took the time to read the show’s pamphlet. This year’s theme was “Break The Silence.” Previous years’ were “Tell Me More” and “Who Matters.”

First, I read a section titled “Invitation” on the first page: “We sincerely hope the show inspires you to engage with the topics of identity and difference in meaningful ways, whether in quiet self-reflection or in dialogue with each other.”

Then, I read the list of monologue titles, broken up into Acts 1 and 2. Topics included sexual assault, alcoholism, imprisonment, race, sexuality, stereotype and suicide; also love, friendship and family.

We took our seats in the Annenberg Auditorium at 7:27 p.m. The lights dimmed and the show started. At first I just listened.

One said: “I am different.”

Another said: “Started being comfortable in my own skin.”

Another: “A girl with a buzzcut is a rare sight.”

Then, I started writing, dialoguing privately with each monologue. Trying to understand.

Another: “I am people like me.”

Another: “Tuck them away in a world of academics and money.”

Another: “I didn’t know they made black people like you.”

Another: “Her body is his for the grabbing.”

When the show ended and the lights came back on, I realized my shoulders had been so tense that they nearly touched my ears. I filled 10 pages in my notebook.

I look at my notes as I write this — my response to the pamphlet’s invitation “to engage with the topics of identity and difference.”

What does it mean to be different? Not normal, not the same as everyone else.

Difference is about identity. But no two identities are the same. No two members of the same “different” are the same, not even in their differentness — that which makes them belong to the same “different” in the first place.

Not all “differents” are created equal. “Differents” is not a misspelling of “difference.” It is a plural noun.

Skin color, sexual orientation, gender and socioeconomic status are all parts of our identity. White, straight, male and middle-class are all examples of “differents.” These happen to be my “differents.” Each person is their own: a composite of “differents” that add up to a different identity, a different person.

There are two lines stuck in my head from the monologues.

One: “I am different.”

Two: “I am people like me.”

As authentic and lived experiences, one and two are both true. As factual statements, they contradict one another.

You are you. I am I. A is A. This is the law of identity.

Because you are you, you are different.

There are people like you. But you are you, and thank God.

The discussion of difference and identity is not a pursuit of sameness. It is a defense against those who don’t understand that their own arbitrarily assigned “different” affords them no right to hate, oppress, assault, abuse, belittle, berate or condemn others with different “differents.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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