Your False Self, which we might also call your “small self,” is your launching pad; your body image, your job, your education, your clothes, your money, your car, your sexual identity, your success and so on. These are the trappings of ego that we all use to get us through an ordinary day. They are a nice enough platform to stand on, but they are largely a projection of our self-image and our attachment to it. –Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond
I had to reread this passage a couple of times and sit with its message for even longer than that. The words “sexual identity” leapt out from the page at me demanding to be deeply considered and reconsidered. Is something that has been so integral to my life and development simply a “trapping of the ego”?
The thought stopped me cold.
If Rohr is right, I have spent a very large chunk of my existence on Earth dedicated to living fully into my False Self. As a fierce advocate for the civil and spiritual rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I have spent nearly half of my life, so far, cultivating a strong sense of identity around this mission. Apparently, it’s a false identity.
That’s not to say that I’m not a lesbian. I am a woman who is married to another woman and has always felt a sexual attraction to women. However, according to Rohr, and many of the other teachers I am delving into at the moment, my sexual orientation has little, if anything, to do with who I really am. My True Self, Rohr and these other teachers argue, has no sexual identity. As Paul said in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our Christ identity — our shared divine consciousness — both Rohr and Paul are saying, has no human devised category of gender, ethnicity, or even economic class. Instead, in our True Self, we are all one, all connected “to something inexhaustible,” as Rohr says.
Yet, I have dedicated vast amounts of time and energy — and at least one book — to cultivating, growing and strengthening this very identity. This is the hardest part of dealing with the ego — realizing that you have put all your heart, mind and strength into cultivating an identity that, in the truest sense of reality, is completely and absolutely False.
This, however, is not to say that my efforts to bring equality and justice to a group of people who continue to face discrimination both in faith communities and the public square has been a waste of time. It hasn’t. The False Self isn’t a “bad” self, it’s simply not the right vehicle to use if your ultimate goal is connection to God, who resides in your True Self.
Working for the civil and spiritual rights of any group is a must in this world, but I have found that by taking off the cape and leaving the false identity of “LGBT Rights Crusader” behind, I am actually a much better advocate for our community’s equality. Why? Because now, when I can connect with my True Self, I become a much more compassionate crusader than I was before.
This has been the true lesson I have learned by living so fully into my False Self: I had to live through the anger and hatred of that self to realize it was false. I began chronicling this journey while writing my book Bulletproof Faith. Little did I know, it was the first step in the journey that has brought me out of that False Self as a self-righteous crusader for LGBT rights.
You see, in my False Self persona, I viewed anyone who opposed LGBT rights as evil. Someone who needed to be defeated. The thought of actually working — through compassion and understanding — toward turning those enemies into allies never occurred to me. Instead, opponents were to be crushed, shamed or otherwise immobilized or eliminated.
This kind of LGBT activism for me, I believe, was sinful! It was sinful because it came from a place of malice, a place of superiority, a place where I sought to “win” and make my opponents “losers.” I was addicted to my False Self that saw itself as morally superior to anyone who dared to disagree on this subject.
I agonized for years after writing my book about whether or not to shut down Whosoever, the online magazine I founded for LGBT Christians in 1996. I agonized because of what I thought was my own shifting theology away from more traditional Christian thought to more metaphysical beliefs. Now, however, I believe that the shift was caused by a realization that for LGBT people to really win their rights, we have to lead a campaign of love and compassion — not one of anger and shame.
This was my True Self working to emerge through the armor of the morally-assured False Self and its belief that its righteous anger would win the equality battle. While it’s true that much of the progress made in the LGBT battle for civil and spiritual rights has been made through the force of anger and shame, our final battle must jettison these False Self tactics if we are to be successful.
I believe LGBT rights will only finally be secured when we, both individually and as a movement, dispense with the False Self that touts our sexuality or gender identity as an identity. Instead, the final securing of our rights, or the rights of any oppressed group, turns on a universal understanding that none of us are free until we are all free. Whenever one group suffers under hatred and oppression, we all suffer.
I am not a lesbian — not really — because my True Self needs no such identity. Instead, I am a manifestation of God that seeks — through connection to my True Self — to meet people where they are with compassion. My True Self cannot judge another as wrong or evil. Instead, it can only see the world through the eyes of compassion — a word that literally means “to suffer with.”
We only win the battle for equality for all people when we can see the suffering in ourselves and realize it’s the same suffering we all experience. We all feel shame, anger, loneliness, unfairness, inadequacy and resentment. These are universal. When we seek to end our own suffering, we can help end the suffering of the world. We end that suffering by giving up the source that causes it all — our False Self, or ego.
“When you are able to move beyond your False Self — at the right time and in the right way — it will feel precisely as if you have lost nothing,” Rohr writes. “In fact, it will feel like freedom and liberation. When you are connected to the whole, you no longer need to protect or defend the mere part. You are now connected to something inexhaustible.” (Emphasis his.)
Giving up my identity as a self-righteous LGBT rights crusader felt hard at first, but Rohr was right, when I finally made the jump to my True Self, it was completely liberating. Now, I can read anti-gay rants and instead of feeling the need to fire off an equally ranting reply, I simply look for the ways the anti-gay ranter is suffering. They are suffering so deeply — from guilt, hatred, anger and fear. How can I hate someone who is so deeply suffering?
Instead of writing a reply, all I really want to do is hug them and let them know they’ve been heard — not that their anti-gay argument has been heard — but that their suffering has been heard. Their cry for love has been acknowledged. Certainly, in their suffering, such reactions will be rebuffed, but that’s okay. If we are committed to living into our True Self, we must continue to choose the loving answer, the caring gesture, even in the face of fierce attack.
I don’t have any of this mastered by any stretch of the imagination. I still become frustrated with love’s apparent impotence in a world filled with anger and separation. But, I remain committed every day to die over and over again to my False Self that believes my identity lies in anything outside myself — even my sexual orientation — and live into that True Self that knows nothing of hatred or fear.