I began walking toward my car anxious to escape the cool air and the crowds. Turning to Kim, I asked, “So, we almost joined a cult, right?”
This was, to be sure, not where I had ever pictured myself on a Sunday morning.
Scott had been trying to get me to attend a spiritual movement called Agape for about a year or so and I finally caved with the stipulation that Kim came along. Perhaps it was my skepticism, or perhaps it was my nature, but I began to question my surroundings as words rained down around me. I didn’t go in with the mindset that I wanted to disprove or discredit anything, but I did want to figure out if this made sense for me.
A part of that morning’s discussion focused on the “Big I” (a representation of the true self) and the “Little I” as an amalgamation of external influences. The “Little I” is the summation of being told what we should think instead of thinking for ourselves. I didn’t disagree with the duality, but I did struggle with the concept that the two selves were mutually exclusive.
In my mind, gender is one of the arguments against the distinctiveness between the “Big I” and “Little I.” The conception of male and female is integral to our fundamental nature but is also something that we learn. (I should take a moment to differentiate gender as a societal creation reacting to the biological sex of a person and not the actual physical sex of a person.) I understand the tendency to confuse the two types of “I”—the difficulty arises when we are unable to see the influences that these exterior constructions have on us. In a sense, we are like the Bluepills in “The Matrix”: it is impossible to see the fabricated world around us until we step outside of it.
Traditional gender roles and heterosexuality are no exception to this idea as they represent, for many people, the “normal” way of thinking and are, as such, frequently invisible. The notion of heterosexuality is pervasive and ideas of gender are constructed in the schema of heterosexuality. Others’ normative heterosexual perceptions continually affect who we think we are, and our identity is often built in reaction to the world around us, for we do not develop in a void. Yet, heterosexuality also depends on our ability to create, identify, and define gender—how can you conceptualize “straight” without first defining “man” and “woman”? Our general inability to escape heterosexual standards (not necessarily a bad thing) means that our sense of self is continually tied to gender and, thusly, our “Little I.”
Although we may not have always consciously debated the issue, we have been continually exposed to the constructed nature of the self. Take Superman, Anya from Buffy, or Cylons—these figures in popular culture mirror the process of learning to become human (and/or people!) and all of their processes necessitated a struggle with what it meant to be male or female in a society. The archetypes of gender that these outsiders have come up with are both incredibly false but undeniably true.
Even if the “Little I” were always bad, some followers of Kant would argue that there is nothing wrong in maintaining one’s inclusion in an ultimately detrimental system if one had made an informed choice to participate. So, rather than eschew the “Little I,” we should strive to understand how we assemble our self-images. The real danger lies in those times when we only define ourselves by external criteria or our “Little I.” Although I might disagree with Agape’s execution, I do believe that it is cautioning us against this perilous tendency, telling its followers, like every other religion, that “this is not all that we are.”