"Given how long it’s taken me to reconcile my nature, I can’t figure I’d forgo it on your account, Marty"
—Rust, True Detective
Often a character will have an aspect of himself of which he's ashamed (or that society insists he should be). It might have something to do with his heritage, such as being illegitimately born
or some other inheritance considered unfortunate by society
. It might have something to do with his lifestyle
; e.g., if he's gay or geeky, or he collects belly button lint
. Maybe he was forced into an Emergency Transformation
which he can't undo, and he's been bemoaning
"What Have I Become?
" Or maybe it's an obstacle he faces, like being handicapped, dyslexic or incapable of thinking rationally
. Could even be a matter of love
. Whatever the issue is, expect the character at some point to receive an epiphany that leads to him embracing whatever makes him different.
Often leads to a Moment Of Awesome
, An Aesop
or both. If in a musical, expect a whole song to be given over to this, and it may be a Dark
or Triumphant Reprise
of the "I Want" Song
. May result in a character repairing broken mirrors and defaced pictures of themselves
. Due to its nature as a characterization trope that signals self-acceptance, confidence, and a certain degree of enlightenment, not to mention vanquishing inner demons, may be a rather spoilery trope. Where the character decides they're happy being a monster (although often Dark Is Not Evil
) see Fully-Embraced Fiend
The Trope Namer
is the eponymous song from La Cage aux folles
. The song is by a professional drag queen who sings about how he is not ashamed of who he is, and has become very popular in the gay rights movement.
Compare It's What I Do
and I Am Not Him
Not to be confused with I Am Spartacus
or I Am Who?
. Or "I am Who I
am", which is the best translation that scholars can find for YHWH, the name of the Judeo-Christian God (the context of that quote isn't really an example of this trope either way).
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- Dragon Ball Z:
- Renton in Eureka Seven says this a lot, especially as he tried to climb out of his father's shadow early in the series.
- Kyo Kara Maoh is full of people with subtextual identity issues. The two surviving members of the Half-Human Hybrid Rutenburg division make a study in contrasts on this point:
- Yozak is the cheerful, improbably competent, muscled, crossdressing red-headed spy who seems incredibly at home in his own skin, though some of that might be coping mechanism. His mother died and he spent his childhood (i.e. about thirty years) starving because of the customary ostracizing of anyone with half-Mazoku children in Shimaron, and he harbors some resentment against Mazoku for their less virulent but still racist treatment of half-bloods. At any rate, he is very I Am What I Am by this point in his life.
- His best friend and captain Conrad, though, is "the perfect guy," probably the best swordsman in the world, of practically royal lineage on both sides but unable to hold any rank higher than 'sir', gives off the creepiest Stepford Smiler vibes sometimes, especially when explaining without rancor about some other shitty thing, and has apparently, his entire life, needed to have someone else to base that entire life around. When he was a kid, he had a Big Brother Instinct around Wolfram. After Wolfram rejected him for being half human, he eventually attached himself to Julia. After Julia died, Shinou arranged for him to transport her soul to Earth and make sure that the baby it became was born safely. And after that, his whole reason for being is Yuuri.
- Setsuna Sakurazaki from Mahou Sensei Negima!. She's not particularly ashamed of the fact that she's half-tengu and therefore can sprout wings at will, but she is ashamed of the fact that said wings are white rather than black (it's hinted she may be albino), which marked her as a instant outcast of her demon tribe. Never mind the fact that her True Companions think that the wings are awesome and that she looks like an angel.
- In Midnight Secretary, Kyouhei first considers his vampire pride, where being a vampire is most important thing that defines him. However, later in serie when he is called out by other vampires on how low he has fallen, he claim that it doesn't matter what he does, he is he and that he is vampire no matter what. He also claims that he doesn't want to be bound, but realises that he was bound by his pride as a vampire
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
Shinji: "I hate myself... But, I might be able to love myself. Maybe my life could have a greater value. Yes, I am nothing but I. I am I. I wish to be me. I want to continue existing in this world! I am worth living here!"
- One Piece:
- Usopp gets this a lot.
- Robin at Enies Lobby.
- Ace in the War at Marineford Arc finally comes to terms with his heritage as the son of Gold Roger. Too bad he dies soon after.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann combines this with He's Back, in the shape of a Badass Boast:
"Just who the hell do you think I am? I'm Simon. I'm not my bro. I am ME! Simon the Digger!
- As of the defeat of the Impure King Blue Exorcist's Rin has accepted his Hell Fire and heritage as the Son of Satan. Unfortunately, others aren't so ready to agree with him...
- Inori in Guilty Crown accepts that as long as she can protect Shu, she doesn't care if she was just created to be the host for Mana's soul.
- Kabuto of Naruto came to believe that his existence was a lie and so he reshaped himself into a different person to escape that lie. Itachi trapped him in an Epiphanic Prison which Kabuto only escaped when he accepted his original life.
- William of Log Horizon and his fellow guild members all came close to giving up on raiding because each death forced them to face all of their personal failings and weaknesses. After the worst death yet he began a rant about his weaknesses, but his acceptance of them and refusal to just give up turned it into a Rousing Speech for his entire guild.
- Too many characters to count among Marvel Comics X-titles and mutant spin-offs. Whether hero or villain, whether their ability has inconvenient side or not, whether angsty over it or taking it in stride, before, during or after an about-face (or about-heel) and back, almost every one has an I Am What I Am moment at some time.
Film - Animation
- Balto: Balto spends the first half of the movie angsting over his half-wolf heritage, but then buckles down and uses his ?wolf powers? to save the sled team and get the medicine to town.
- Dumbo: Dumbo is teased for having abnormally big ears, which are what later enable him to fly. As his friend Timothy Mouse puts it, "The very things that kept you down are gonna carry you up and up and up!"
- This is perhaps the main moral behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack Skelington, the Pumpkin King, had become bored and dreary with scaring and longed for something more. After discovering Christmas and attempting to take a shot at it, only to fail miserably, he has a BSOD Song which leads to up to this trope:
Well, what the heck! I went and did my best! And by god, I really tasted something swell! And for a moment, why, I even touched the sky! And at least I left some stories they can tell, I did! And for the first time since I don't remember when, I felt just like my old boney self again! And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King...That's right. I AM THE PUMPKIN KING! HA! HA! HA! HA!
- Kung Fu Panda:
Tai Lung: You cannot defeat me... You're just a big... fat... panda!
- And then in Kung Fu Panda 2:
Django: Where are you going?
Rémy: Back to the restaurant! They'll fail without me!
Django: Why do you care?
Rémy: Because I'm a cook!
- "Frozen": After spending her life trying to conceal her ice powers, Elsa finally comes to terms with herself and her powers, resulting in Crowning Music of Awesome:
Elsa: Let it go, let it go/Can't hold it back anymore...
- All throughout The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, SpongeBob is told that he is Just a Kid. After his harrowing journey, he realizes that "no amount of mermaid magic, or managerial promotion, or some other third thing can make me any more than what I really am inside - a kid," and that he is OK with it because he managed to do what nobody believed he could for this reason. And then he unleashes The Power of Rock.
- Popeye: Popeye uses this phrase as a Catch Phrase, mangled by his usual pronunskiation: "I yam whats I yam, and dat's all dat I yam". Probably the Trope Codifier
- In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sam reveals to Flint that she was teased for being a nerd as a child, so she changed her look and hid her smarts behind a bubbly ditz personality. Flint not only gets her to reclaim her nerdiness, but to revert to her earlier glasses-and-ponytail style.
Flint: I mean, this is the real you, right? Smart, bespectacled...who wouldn't want to see that?
- A villainous example in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit where Victor Quartermaine says this to Lady Tottington in regards to killing rabbits.
- Wreck-It Ralph has the Bad-Anon Creed: "I am bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me."
- Repeated at the end, it becomes a combination Tearjerker and Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when it's implied he feels proud of being a hero in Vanellope's eyes, even if the rest of the world views him as a villain.
Film - Live Action
- One of Max's last actions in the movie Bent is taking off his shirt and replacing it with a blood stained shirt with a pink triangle sewn onto it, to finally show pride in himself against the nazis.
- That's the main motive behind A Better Tomorrow. Initially, Mark is convinced that gangsters like him can't really change their ways and run an honest life, and at one point even scolds about it his former boss Ho, who is trying to do just that. But later on, Mark acknowledges the fact that only by taking their destinies straight in their hands, people can really call themselves free, and even ends up being killed while lecturing Ho's brother (who is a cop and quite the Inspector Javert of the situation) on the goodness of Ho's efforts.
- The Color Purple: "I might be ugly, black, and dumb, but I'm still here!"
- An unusual villanous example in Kingdom of Heaven: the Templar Grand Master stands dripping blood from men, women and children and stares into the middle distance - "I am what I am... somebody has to be."
- Planes Trains And Automobiles: Del Griffith delivers an incredibly touching rebuttal to Neil Page's tirade about him, which may be the perfect rebuttal to any "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
Del: You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you... but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I'm not changing. I like... I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get.
- Note Del's very brief hesitation before saying "My wife likes me;" it's a beautifully subtle touch from actor John Candy as well as some rather tragic foreshadowing to the reveal that his wife actually passed away years ago.
- Frederick in Young Frankenstein, after confronting his creation, he tells him how wonderful he is and promises to show that to the entire world, embracing his heritage at last.
Inga: Dr. Fronk-on-steen! Are you all right?
Frederick: My name is FRANKENSTEIN!
- Mystique. From X-Men: First Class, "Mutant and proud".
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Red Dwarf, Kryten the android becomes human. At first he's thrilled, because mechanoids tend to view humans as awesome. As he starts belittling his origins and insulting his spare heads, he starts to realize that he can't change what he is inside; an android who can't tell the difference between Popeye and Descartes. Also, it provides this funny moment:
Human Kryten (Hands Lister a Poloroid photograph of his penis): Is that normal?
Lister: What, taking pictures of it and showing it to your mates? No, it's not."
- Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
- Parodied in The Catherine Tate Show. Jamie, fed up with his grandmother constantly criticising and swearing at people, says in despair "Why are you like this?" She responds by launching into a rendition of "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles.
- Spock throughout Star Trek. He even addresses it word-for-word in "This Side of Paradise":
: I am what I am, Leila
, and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's.
- One episode of Pushing Daisies has Ned say that he's not sorry or ashamed about what he does, because "it's what brought everyone I love into my life".
- Kurt from Glee: He decides he's not afraid to be who he is, and tells his father that he's proud to be who he is, and that he won't hide in the closet.
- Scrubs: Three words, "I'm. The. Todd"
- In episode seven of Game of Thrones, the Magnificent Bastard Petyr Baelish describes to a couple of his "employees" the epiphany he had in regards to this trope after getting defeated in a duel, saying, "I learned that I'll never win, not that way. That's their game. Their rules. I'm not going to fight them. I'm going to fuck them. That is what I know. That's what I am." Rather than try to be a warrior, he vows to be The Chessmaster.
- In the season 3 premiere of Breaking Bad, Jesse, blaming himself for the death of Jane and the airplane crash that her distracted father accidentally caused, tells Walter, "It's all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am. I'm the bad guy."
- Veronica Mars: Invoked word for word in response to people sometimes calling her out on her role in upheaving people's lives (she's a private investigator - and naturally nosey).
- Lake Wobegon's town motto, according to Garrison Keillor, is the plural form of this: "Sumus quod sumus, we are what we are"
- Jane Eyre: Jane decides that, if she has to live without friends and without love to keep her self-respect, she will do so. That is her nature, not to compromise, and she will be true to it: "the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."
- This phrase and variants of it are repeated throughout the first book of the Sword of Truth series, usually after one character or another laments that they wish they were someone else, who didn't have to worry about their magic or saving the world..
- Discworld: In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching overcomes the Fairy Queen with the very selfishness the Queen taunted her for when she realizes she's willing to fight for the things that are hers. Then she lays claim to the entire land.
- Forgotten Realms:
- Drizzt, once he stops apologizing for being a drow.
- Galaeron Nihmedu. First, he suffers from prejudices as a sorcerer, then he's cut off the Weave (one of worst fates for an elf) and others see him almost as undead. But once he regains control over himself, he does what's right for him and neither reacts to cold reception nor wangsts himself out.
- This is a dominant theme of The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, which is told from the viewpoint of an autistic character. That said, given the choice in the end of whether to undergo surgery that will cure them, not all of them will end up choosing alike.
- The Bible: In The Book of Exodus, God famously responds to Moses asking Him for His name with something we can't quite translate into English - it's often rendered as "I AM WHAT I AM" or "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE". In doing so his God proclaims that He is beyond mere names and references the Hebrews' (sacred) placeholder-name for their technically-nameless God, YHWH (lit. "that which was, is, and will be"). Another translation of the line (quoted in Dogma) is "I AM HE WHO IS CALLED 'I AM'."
- This can also be interpreted as God saying that as He's the only one, he doesn't need a specific name. If there was only one tree in the entire universe, we'd just call it "the tree", not a fig tree or a birch tree or anything of the sort.
- From the same Source is an arguable contender for the Trope Namer. Paul, while addressing the Church of Corinth, explains the simple origins of faith and the ideas around which the Gospel is shaped. He describes the humble salvation of the twelve disciples and then his own, giving us this piece:
- In one fantasy short story, God tells the modern world (by having every single broadcast radio and TV signal at the same time announce it) to justify humanity's continued existence within a short deadline. After the U.S. government puts in every known fact into a computer, the computer gives them the name of someone to talk to. When they talk to him, he thinks for a few minutes and replies with the (slightly adjusted) Bible quote above. "We are what we are".
- The following exchange from Night Watch between the Light Other Anton and the the Dark One Zavulon:
Anton: "Zavulon, you are the spawn of darkness."
Zavulon: "Indeed, I am. But only that darkness that was inside me."
- In V. Gor's Demon series of novels, a human brain copes with the dogfighting in space all right, the problem is the body housing said brain. A few planets start searching for volunteers to undergo augmentation.
- The eponymous Demons are said volunteers for whom the Bio-Augmentation worked properly, including a few who were successfully treated for the various Psycho Serum side effects.
- The Devils are former rejects from the Demon project. The project was considered a mixed blessing at best as a significant number of volunteers became SuperSoldiers without the desired piloting skills. They became the dedicated ground force for the war to free the far more valuable pilots from planetside action.
- The Ares project claimed to replace human pilots with a superior AI. Since no known AI can handle space combat, the unscrupulous scientists simply took both volunteers and rejects from society and encased their brains on life support in the ships.
\ Demons and Devils are fertile, but only among themselves, effectively becoming new humanoid species. All three groups, Demons, Devils, and Ares fighters, slowly come to realize and accept that their aren't human anymore. Avoiding both Pro-Human Transhuman and Transhuman Treachery, they pledge their loyalty to the Demons' native planets only.
- Eminem: "I am whatever you say I am! If I wasn't, then why would I SAY I am?! In the paper, the news EVERYDAY I am! I don't know, that's just the way I am."
- The song "What I Am" by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians ("What I am, is what I am, is what you are or what"); referenced in the Aretha Franklin song "A Rose is Still a Rose"
- "I'm Real" by Jennifer Lopez (both the original, and the remix with Ja Rule).
- The Bonzo Dog Band had "What Do You Do".
I do what I do,
I am what I am,
We are what we are
We do what we can!
- Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch" is all about this trope; the chorus proudly proclaims "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover," followed by several other contradictory attributes (Child/mother, sinner/saint) and announces "I do not feel ashamed!".
- Mercy Me's "No More, No Less."
- This is said by the narrator in the Alice Cooper song Fantasy Man
- Lady Gaga's single "Born This Way" (2011) from her second studio album of the same name.
Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
* The Imagine Dragons example at the top of this page is arguably about this theme. It's about embracing who you really are and how it's impossible to do so, even when minor changes in your life are made.
- Mean-spiritedly subverted in Demo Reel. After four episodes and God knows how many years of self-loathing, Donnie DuPre accepts himself as both Donnie and Jimmy Boyd, a film-maker who will make good movies and someone who can remember his tragic past but not obsess over it anymore. Turns out he's neither, he's The Nostalgia Critic, and his whole existence is a punishment.
- Popeye: "I yam whats I yam, and dats all dat I yam"
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: "My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Firelord Ozai, Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the throne.". This doubles as a Badass Boast, although while it intimidates his opponent, the people he was protecting from them really don't like who he is and run him out of town.
- In the first episode of Gargoyles, Goliath responds to humans' dislike of his race with "We are what we are".
- Kim Possible's Ron Stoppable: "I am what I is."
- Justice League Unlimited episode "The Doomsday Sanction" features a villainous example. When Doomsday says that he'll kill Superman, he asks why. The creature replies "It's what I am. I don't care why."