Our Place In The Tribe

All Over The Map | January 2018

By Liz Massey, January 2018 Issue

I woke up giggling the other day because I had a long, elaborate dream about competing in a combination karaoke-and-long-form-storytelling contest at a local bar. I realized after the dream was over that, as campy as things seemed, it really wouldn’t be all that far-fetched for me to be involved in something like that.

I identify as a nonfiction storyteller and a musician, to the point of mentioning it on my social media profiles.

At this point in my life, I find such easy self-identification as comforting and not confining. One of the gifts of middle age for me has been a much greater sense of who I am. This gift has been especially helpful in times of crisis; for example, earlier this year it was much easier for me to figure out my role in the resistance movement because I already had an understanding about which of my talents might be most useful to others.

Some might say that this blessed increase in personal power has happened because I embraced the archetypes, or vocational prototypes, most suited to my skills and my personality. While Americans like to think of themselves as rugged individualists, the truth is that our society is just as tribal as all the ones that it is built upon.

Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien called archetypes “blueprints for human behavior,” and the influential psychologist Carl Jung asserted, “All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes.”

Our LGBTQ community could benefit from viewing our individual members as carriers of one or more archetypes. Indigenous societies understood that it took everyone’s contributions to maintain a strong group. A similar focus in our community could bring purpose and direction to our youth, as well as help us all strengthen and cultivate our shared queer identity.

So, what primitive prototypes might we claim for ourselves, if our idea of “roughing it” is staying at a two-star motel? Arrien reduced her “four-fold way” to the roles of teacher, warrior, visionary and healer. Jung and others named a larger cast of archetypal characters, including the caregiver, the rebel, the explorer, the lover, the artist and the magician or trickster. We all know friends and community members who fit these descriptions, as well as delightfully unique queer-specific ones such as leathermen, fairies, male/female illusionists and aesthetic tastemakers.

Embracing your archetypes starts by simply noticing which of these labels resonate for you, or what other self-descriptions come to mind without a great deal of thought. Other steps toward living an archetypal life can include these:

Deepening one’s capacity for self-reflection.

You can’t become more completely who you are if you don’t really understand who you are. Arrien recommended silence, time spent in nature, creative activity and truth-telling as the “universal empowerment tools,” and they are definitely a great place to start.

Acknowledging the “shadow side” of your archetypes.

Every role can be overdone. Visionaries can float away to dreamland, warriors can destroy everything around them, healers can cure everyone except themselves, and teachers can atrophy into vindictive schoolmarms or masters. No archetype is better than any other, and we need all of them to function as a whole society.

Recognize and encourage each other’s archetypal embodiment.

When you see a friend or relative exercising their talents and benefiting others with their gifts, point it out to them. People are often modest and uncertain about what they do well; it’s a good thing to let them know you see their excellence and love them for sharing it.

Help young people discover and express their archetypes.

We so often view children as needing to be filled up with knowledge before they can find their life path. Education is important, but sometimes the most helpful thing for a is child having adults who keep them walking on the path of fascination and delight that they found when they were very small, and guiding them back to that roadway when they get lost.

Getting in tune with your archetypes is not conforming to negative community stereotypes – it is yet another way to reinforce each person’s individual mix of talents, skills and positive qualities. Feminist author bell hooks, writing in the book “Teaching To Transgress,” illuminated the path between this act of spiritual self-definition and the power of community:

“When we talk about that which will sustain and nurture our spiritual growth as a people, we must once again talk about the importance of community. For one of the most vital ways that we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.”