The Venn Diagram of Identity

By , March 13, 2013 8:47 pm

I live at the center of a Venn diagram – circles overlapping circles, the logical relations between a finite collection of sets. Each set a community, and each community overlapping to a greater or lesser extent. This set for theater (with a sub-set for Piven), that one for the queer community, this set for high school friends, that set for college friends, this set for A, that set for B, this set for 1, that set for 2. Overlapping circles and ellipses and shapes indescribable. A puzzle: Piven and theater overlap, Piven and queer do not. Queer and theater overlap, theater and family do not. Place all sets in such a way that they describe their relations; at the center of all sets lies me; the hub and nexus of my various communities.

Not the nexus in a self-centered way – I don’t believe I’m the driving force behind these communities. Rather, I describe myself as the nexus in that we are each at the center of our own lives. I can only describe my communities, that is to say “The communities in which I am involved,” as they relate to myself. But if I am the nexus of my life, the nucleus of my cellular makeup, what is contained within the greater structure? Why do I find it difficult to connect to a larger communal body?

I imagine it’s because each community – each set in my personal Venn diagram – only overlaps with a part of myself, and not the whole. In a traditional Venn diagram, the overlap is complete: Set 1 contains all objects made of wood, Set 2 contains all tables, their overlap, their intersection, is all tables made of wood, with no exceptions. But I can’t describe myself as “all” of anything, with no exceptions. I’m trans, except for the time I spend teaching theater, or interacting with family, or hanging out with cisgender friends, and my trans identity recedes into the background. I’m a educator and a performer, except when I’m playing video games, or geeking out about sci-fi, or flirting with someone at a bar. (Although that last one certainly contains a large dose of performance.) Likewise, there is no one else whose sets overlap completely (or even mostly) with mine. Friends from high school? Shared history, but not trans. Trans friends? Shared experience, but little overlap when it comes to my identity as a performer. Peers at Piven? Perhaps the strongest overlap – language and mission and tools and training – but not queer. Fellow touring artists? Shared experiences and drive and focus, but not queer.

Striking out on my own has (thus far) paid my bills. Being one of the few solo artists and educators focusing on trans identity means I’m entering a wide-open field. There are almost five thousand degree-granting colleges in the United States. I’ve worked with fifteen or twenty; the playing field is big enough to keep me busy for a while. But it has also been lonely – the trans community’s issues are my issues, due to my identity and my profession. But my issues are not necessarily those of the trans community.

None of this is to say that I expect (or even necessarily want) to find someone whose communities perfectly overlaps with mine, whose Venn diagram is indistinguishable from my own. I also suspect some of this isolation is self-imposed – there are people out their, people in my communities, with whom I could discuss all these overlapping identities and be heard and understood. Woe is me, the poor, successful performance artist, getting paid to do what she loves. How horrible her success must be. But finding ‘my community,’ a community with the expectation of a little more overlap and a little more shared experience, would be nice.

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