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Authentic Identity

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A few weeks ago, our SGI research team discussed some actual questions that Dr. Yarhouse has received during presentations.  One of these questions was “How can I respond to the gay person who says, “Your choice of adopting an identity ‘in Christ’ is a way of fooling yourself and not being authentic?”  This question seems to assume that the only way for an individual who experiences same-sex attraction to be “authentic”is to adopt a gay identity label.  To question someone’s label is to essentially tell them that you are not comfortable with the way that they are labeling themselves or presenting themselves to you and to others.  When a question like this arises, it can be very important to define terms and define what phrases mean.  For example, determining what “authentic”means to each individual is important or helping each person understand that identity labels can mean different things depending on who is using them.  The person could reply by saying, “If you are genuinely interested, I’d be happy to discuss what authentic means to me and how my identity expresses that authenticity.”

This calls for people to develop empathy for the person that they are questioning and see things through the other person’s eyes.  This requires a cognitive complexity that can often be difficult to develop.  One way to encourage this empathy and cognitive complexity is to use parts language when describing identity labels.  This helps people recognize that they can have many different things in their life that make up their identity.  For one, this may lead to a gay identity label.  For another, this may lead to an identity in Christ.  Or.a gay Christian identity. Or a celibate gay Christian identity. This does not necessarily mean that anyone is “fooling”themselves; rather, it gives space for people to make meaning of the multiple parts of their life that are congruent with their values.  It is important to recognize that each of these labels, or other possible labels, can seem like an honest and authentic identity to  the person using them.  In this sense authentic identity is not something that another person can decide for you. It is explored and may change for a person over time and as their beliefs and values develop and shape identity.

-Justin Sides