I’ve just lately come into contact with an old friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in about ten years—about half of my life, since I’m 24. A lot has happened in those ten years. Fulfilling a life-long dream—she always used to talk about “being the law” when we were younger—she’s preparing for a career in criminal justice. She has also come out and was an active member of her college’s gay and lesbian campus life. It hasn’t always been easy. She told me that she was known as the “big black butch girl” in college because of her outspoken views. Perhaps more importantly, her family has had difficulty coming to terms with her life. Their religious views make it hard for them, her father in particular, to accept the life that she now leads. And though her relationship with her family remains intact, it has stretched and altered.
Meanwhile, I have graduated from college and attended a year of medical school, a decision that has caused me no end of heartache. It was a choice made under familial pressure, my father in particular. My unhappiness was palpable and now, I have made the difficult decision to leave school and pursue other career options. My mother has been supportive; my father, on the other hand, has had more trouble coming to terms with the change. Coming from a South Asian family, a career in medicine is a gold standard. You simply do not leave medical school, even if it takes you eight years of graduate schooling as opposed to the standard four. As with my friend, my relationship with my family has changed—my father and I can barely speak right now, and I am viewed by my extended family as an anomaly, the only child who will not be a physician.
My friend and I have very different personal circumstances, but the similarity of our experiences is not difficult to discern: we are both searching for acceptance from those closest to us. We care what our families and friends think of us and respect their opinions. And though our culture stresses individuality, we are shaped by our experiences with others. Ultimately, however, you have to figure out whether others’ opinions or your own is more important to you.
Personally, I believe that life, with all the challenges it presents in and of itself, need not include disputing notions of personal identity. After all, we are all at the mercy of the biological wheel, a force that stops for no one. In the end, the sex of the person you love or what you decide in particular to contribute to society is unimportant. What is important is that you love that person completely and execute your chosen profession to your greatest potential. Our job as humans is, as E.M. Forster urged, to connect—to discover humanity by understanding our commonality, to create relationships, to foster potential in ourselves and in others. The rest is just details.
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