Back when I worked at a large mental health clinic, the receptionist came into the lunchroom and said a vampire was asking to see a therapist. Who would like to work with a vampire? Everyone’s hands shot up because vampires are fascinating. The receptionist must have liked me best, because I got chosen. She would show the vampire to my office and I could meet with her when I was done with lunch.
When I made my way back to my office, I thought the vampire must have changed her mind because the lights in my office were out; but they were on a motion detector switch and, when I stepped in, they went on and I saw the vampire had been sitting in the dark, of course.
We talked for a while about the vampire’s taste for blood, her late hours, and her penchant for sleeping in boxes. She requested evening appointments and came back a few times, always to talk about the same thing. I began to wonder if we were getting anywhere, and where we were supposed to go.
Then one evening, I went to the waiting room to get the vampire. Not seeing her, I said to the receptionist, “I thought you said ____ had arrived?” Hearing her name, my client called out, “I’m here.” She was no longer a vampire.
I was eager to get back to my office and ask her what had happened. “Aren’t you a vampire anymore?”
“No,” she said. “I decided I was tired of being a noun. I’m ready to be a person.”
I tell this story, not because it’s unusual, but because it’s common. People often chose to be a noun over being a person, although the noun they seldom chose to be is vampire. The noun is usually Man, Conservative, Football Fan, Geek, Straight, Liberal, Black, Jock, Woman, Jihadist, Gay, Veteran, Victim, Christian, Introvert, Puerto Rican, A People Person, a True-Blue-Red-Blooded American, or any one of the thousands of other identities you might pick up and wear, thinking they belong to you. You live in these clothes so much; you might start thinking it’s your skin.
It’s strange how an identity, which used to mean that which makes you unique, now has come to mean something you share with others. Indeed, it often seems as though you wouldn’t have an identity at all, if it weren’t for these nouns.
However, these nouns, clothes, or identities are not you. They may be a part of you; but they’re not the whole of you. You’re much bigger than any of that. The longer my client played a vampire, the more she was limiting herself. It was fun at first, different, radical. It gave her a chance to try some things she never would have tried before. She learned that she could stand out, be eccentric, and let loose a more compelling part of herself. She acquired a taste for blood. It freed her; then it constrained her. The cape had to go.
The noun tells you what you’re supposed to do. As long as she was a vampire, she knew how to dress, what hours to keep, the ways she could start a conversation. Being a vampire gave her a script. She always knew she had a part to play in the vast, confusing drama of life. But it got boring and didn’t enable her to try new things. There were parts of her that didn’t fit being a vampire. Being a vampire was always just going to be playacting; sometimes you just need to be real.
As it was, my client could only stand being a person for a week or two before she went back to being a noun. Before she did, she spent some time investigating whether she was really a woman, for she also felt like a man. Hearing this, I knew she was questioning all her nouns and, if she kept it up, might soon be free of them. But the following week, she announced she was Trans and I knew she had gone back to being a noun. It was a different noun, of course; but soon she would be entirely Trans and forget anything else she could be.
As a therapist, I would urge you to resist being a noun. Remember you’re a person. Of course, I’m more than just a therapist. After all, therapist is a noun. I’m a person and don’t have the be a therapist all the time.