Who am I and how shall I be?

Peter Mitchell by Lukas Wojtasik
© Lukas Wojtasik

That has to be the eternal question that we are all asking all of the time, even if we aren’t conscious of it. Socrates said it was the prerogative of all philosophers (and at the end of the day we are all philosophers of sorts trying to weave our way through this confusing world we find ourselves in) to “Know Thyself”

So what is identity and how does that relate to the different masks we appear to wear? How deep does it go? Is it just an idea that we hold so very closely till we actually believe it, or does it actually reflect something substantial and authentic?

Peter Mitchell by  Thomas James Fisher
© Thomas James Fisher

Masks that we wear! For many years I tried to please. Everyone! I wanted to manifest what others seemed to want me to be for various reasons but mainly to fit in (especially because I thought I didn’t fit in being gay/queer/poofta – I do go back a long way) That all fell apart when I discovered I couldn’t be all those things at the same time (a spectacular revelation) – a bit like trying to juggle umpteen balls all going in violently different directions.

It’s been a long journey of discovery (the details are irrelevant) and what I’ve found is that at the real core of my sense of being, I have absolutely ‘no idea’ whatsoever who I am. The more I look, the deeper I delve, what continues to be revealed is an endless mystery with no definition and no limits.

Peter Mitchell by Manel Ortega
© Manel Ortega

I think when I was younger this unknowable core terrified me and I hid behind all sorts of rigid ideas of me to avoid facing that indefinability. The problem with any armour however is that while it appears to offer some sense of security it is also amazingly clunky and limiting and there is always a chink for the deadly arrow to penetrate. Hiding behind being someone – some self created mask – is ultimately a place of fear – fear of being found out, fear of that identity being revealed as fake and false, and so we build up the defences higher, creating ever more elaborate designs on the mask.

Peter Mitchell by Thomas James Fisher
© Thomas James Fisher

But this unknown and unknowable core is our deepest sense of self – the I that soon becomes I am this. It is a place of radical creativity unlimited by any of the ideas we hold so close (if we let it). With this as the centre I find I can be incredibly fluid in how I exist in the world but because it comes from this core it is all real, all authentic and there is no need to defend or protect any of it – It is like the many facets of a diamond – they all reflect something different but they are still that diamond (I make no claims to be a diamond by the way, even a rough one). And if I ever find that I am protecting some sense of self it usually means that it is yet another mask to drop rather than to be polished, painted and presented anew.


Behind the Mask – editorial comments

© But I Like It Photography 2013/4

Further to the existing call for submissions – the following article is written by the curator/ publisher to add some of his thoughts to the current theme. You can choose to allow this to influence your submission or to ignore it.

So, who is behind the mask?

When I came up with the first theme ‘Obscured’ was still a loose concept in my mind and so I thought I’d turn things upside down and start at the end.

In a conversation where we are considering how and why gay men have and do obscure their true selves the end result is to work out – “well, what truly is ‘behind the mask’ then?”

Who is behind? I was aware in posting this theme without guidance that many of the responses would simply show an interpretation of the ‘mask’ element of the theme but, through this, the viewer of that will potentially be able to extrapolate their own understanding of who it is behind the mask that is presented.

What is that reality of the unmasked person. To misquote Eminem – will the real homosexuals please stand up?

To start at the end forces us to reflect on the reasons for obscuring – what are we hiding – and why? The result is not so important here as understanding the purpose behind the obscuration.

Whether it happened before or not, it’s a reality that post-industrial humanity has started to find a need to ‘persona-up’ – creating alternate presentations of themselves to different audiences – their family, their partner, their colleagues, their friends etc. All of whom would see different, controlled, aspects of the person.

Added to this  the gay male will have their ‘queer’ personality or personalities – an example of this is the multitude of my gay friends who have an alternate Facebook profile for their riskier personality. Depending on the sub cultures and cliques that person is a member or adherent of – and of the situations they find themselves in this may be multiplied many times.

Do we know who is behind the mask?Having so many persona – all with slightly different truths, personalities, dress codes, languages and even voice – is a difficult act to maintain; especially when others are party to that deception. Which makes it easy to understand why the person under the confusion of identities maybe no longer knows 100% who they are.

For those who find them in conflicting situations – they may especially have problems reconciling one personality with the moral code needed for another.

Whether or not we are in our out of the closet there are a plethora of masks and costumes we regularly swap as we go through life – to maintain outward illusions of our characters.

So, I ask again – will we ever know who is behind the mask and, indeed, is there a single person to know?

Thanks for reading – Jon (aka  Johann)

All images from ‘Here’s Cocky’ – an as yet unpublished project by But I Like It photography.