Within the past year, my dad has said these two things to me:
"Persephone? Noooo, no, no, you named that cat!" "No, I didn't want to name any, I remember I was afraid I was going to get attached!" "Okay, so you're telling me... Aubrey HEDRICK named a cat after a Greek myth." "Hey, her other cat was named after a cat in a book!" "She was?" "Yeah, Lillian was from a book, the character said something about Lillian the 'beautiful panther'. I dunno, Aubrey told me, I never read it." (Father gives me a look as if mind is totally blown. A, Aubrey naming animals after literary references? B, Aubrey reading books Jessica hasn't?) "Well... I don't know."
"Luke's fun to talk to." "You would think that." "What?" "Well, of course you enjoy talking to Luke, you're both extremely intelligent - and absolute bastards. I don't know what I did to deserve two of you..." (The context here is like, a friendly, casual dinner - not meant as malice, that's just the party line.)
The thing is, the first time I read Milan Kundera it was because I took it off my sister's bookshelf, and I am pretty sure I didn't name that kitten, because I was going to college the next year and couldn't keep one like every other sibling, and I really was too afraid of getting attached and then breaking my own heart. Binaries only work when you amputate all the inconvenient loose ends about people.
And that amputation, it's poison. I remember as teenagers, my sister shattering plates and spitting in the food and cutting people out of pictures, all suffocated rage under that "Breezy" name, and I remember being thrown out and then thrown back and then thrown out again, one big firestorm, and I never, ever, wanted anyone to see me as anything else, but the one time I actually literally fell apart, legs actually buckling so I dropped to the ground, the only one who saw was my sister. As I remember it, she said, "Jessica?" and I was not capable of speech, so she just sat there and watched me lose my shit until I was done. And then I wiped my eyes, said I was fine, and apologized for losing it, and after that we went to sleep. I felt guilty for years, for accidentally showing her that I wasn't, if an absolute bastard, also an absolute rock. But I also resented her, and everything she was, everything she GOT to be that I couldn't, how I couldn't even approach that side of myself without seeming to give up my own ground, my assigned corner, how even if I did I would be laughed at and put back into my place, and the ways she got treated that I didn't, the things she got that I didn't, until I was hardened about it, living up to my reputation, like if I was going to be cut to fit this mold then I was damn well going to excell at it. And I know she resented me, for probably the same reasons, and even now, when she has a knee-jerk contemptuous reaction to something intellectual, I think, ah, that's the mold talking, isn't it? But even when you know that, it's hard not to step right back into that assigned role, shut down that insult like the brilliant heartless bastard you are assumed to be... That poison, once there, just keeps working, and sure, you can doctor it, but that doesn't make it go away.
Anytime there's an either/or, both sides lose. Don't do it, don't sort people like that, yourself or anyone else, not on an ideology or a personality trait or a physical characteristic. If there are lines, they're there for playing with - think hopscotch court, not war zone. People always think if they go towards the other side they lose themselves, and it makes them terrified of each other. I think the die-hard liberals and conservatives, or the fundamentalists and the atheists, or pick your fronts, really, the idea of sitting down and, not having to listen, but listening, of their own free will, and thinking, this is a good, intelligent, well-meaning person who is basically like me but has gone in a different direction - I think they'd all rather jump off a cliff. If you have to cling that hard to a belief (or a non-belief, as the case may be) I think you're scared if you relaxed, you'd drop it. And you know what? Going towards the other side WILL change you. But having done it, I can say you won't lose yourself. You kind of can't lose yourself. There's a core person that you are, and reclaiming the amputated little bits doesn't change that - it fills in the cracks, makes you stronger and less afraid. The poison is still there. Probably always will be. But you can break the mold.