I’ve been struggling with what to post this week. Part of that is the last 2 weeks have been pretty emotional and exhausting, part of it is that I received an outpouring of support for my last post (both touching and overwhelming) so there’s some internal pressure because, like, people actually read this mess, and part of it is that I kind of struggle with identity in some ways. I was very tempted to go with my body positive post, just to have something simple to write (although, yes, that has issues, too), but I haven’t been doing the exercises I want to be doing with that and have, instead, been reading the books that were sent to me (In the Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant and The Finder of the Lucky Devil by Megan Mackie – thanks to the awesome peeps) as well as The Solitary Wiccan’s Bible and doing a lot of thinking. A LOT of thinking.
I am kind of fascinated with identity and how it’s formed, what it does for us, and where it causes issues. I am hoping to go back to school soon for my Masters in Student Affairs Administration, and one of the things that helped me to know that would be a good fit for me was finding out that a lot of the classes focus on identity, diversity, and inclusion – all things I love talking about. There’s just one issue for me: I fucking hate labels. It’s not that I don’t think they can be good, but they are shorthand and people are inherently lazy. They have a function in terms of exploring identity and feeling a sense of belonging, but get dangerous when they become exclusionary and the basis of SELF. When the function of the label is so primary that anything that threatens what it means to be [this thing] must be addressed and eliminated. And at the same time, I also get the frustration of seeing people wearing your label in a way that misrepresents what it is. How do we ride that line between accepting and discerning?
Well, in academia, we start with defining. When I talk about identity, or the process of identifying as something, I mean the part(s) of you that you need to express and can result in a sense of belonging within a particular community. This is also complicated by the fact that we often feel the need to express certain parts more than others, we may have more private attitudes about certain aspects of ourselves and our expression, or certain aspects of our identity come into conflict – sexuality and religion are a common area of identity confrontation, which frequently causes something called cognitive dissonance.
Also, people really hate to feel excluded, whether or not they have any right to community they feel is excluding them or whether their own personal presence disrupts the feeling of safety within the community to which they feel they should have access. In that same vein, people tend to enjoy excluding others. When we feel we have access to a fairly exclusive community, we feel special, sometimes even superior. And when we finally feel like we belong, we want to protect that feeling. Having that feeling ripped away is one of the most painful things we can go through. And leaving a community where we don’t feel we truly belong can be one of the most liberating.
OK, that is the much abridged version, but as I’m not going to be teaching a class on this, especially in this post, I will leave further exploration to the broad fields of psychology and sociology. It’s a frickin’ huge topic.
Because it is such a huge topic I am not going to explore all aspects of my identity in this post – this is going to act more or less as a base post and my activity for the week is going to be to flesh out these aspects in smaller vignettes, if you will. It is the very nature of the beast that I will hit upon an identity that will be shared and, perhaps or maybe even it is likely, you will disagree. That’s okay, discuss it. I have some solid ideas on some parts, but not necessarily on others.
And the thing is I don’t actually feel like I belong anywhere. Part of the problem is, conceptually, I am aware that an identity and a community are vital for a sense of belonging, which is an important and needed part of the human condition, and I am also aware that identities and communities are socially constructed, frequently negotiated, and, for my money, at the end of the day, artificial. While we have Descartes going “I think, therefore, I am,” I end up saying, “I think, therefore, I am…. I think… right, guys? I mean, this is my experience with it, but you’re here, too… what do you think?” Even in the close and tight-knit communities where I, arguably, have a place and what could be termed a “right” to be, I am usually the odd-ball – the one with her own ideas of how this is going to work and what this means.
So, astrologically, I think it is pretty telling that I don’t have any planets in this House. According to one article I read, when you are doing a reading for a person, not having planets in the House of Identity and Self places extra emphasis on the person’s Sun Sign, the House it is in, and what sign the Ruler of that Sun Sign is in, and where it is placed. For me, my Sun is in Virgo in my 2nd House: Possessions and Values, Virgo is ruled by Mercury, which is also in Virgo in my 2nd House, almost literally right on top of my Sun – in fact, they are conjunct, within 1 degree of each other, which means they more or less act like one big super planet. That House is ruled by Leo, which is ruled by the Sun, which is in that House. That’s a lot of reinforcement of analysis and self expression.
Given this and given my life experiences, I would have to say that my identity and sense of self is heavily wrapped up in my analyzing process, the way I think, and the way I express what I think. Any time I am looking at belonging in a community there’s 2 questions that come up and recur, whether I recognize them or not: 1) What is my purpose here, both in how it relates to me (what am I getting out of this) and the community (what do they get out of me being here)?; and 2) Is this a community that allows me to practice my values and do they have compatible values?
There’s a lot that goes into the community section, but as for the self stuff, I think I express my identity intermittently and usually only if I think it is relevant to the interaction involved – kind of an assessment of whether the knowledge of how I identify will serve the purpose of our relationship. I’m fairly open if people ask, but even still I have found that there are both positives and negatives to expressing my identity on a need to know basis.
On the positive, I think it allows people to get to know me beyond the labels. Whether we like it or not, as people we tend to prejudge based on what we know of whatever label we’re working with. Also, there are several aspects of my identity that some people are really solid on, but I’m particularly fluid. Not necessarily expressing those aspects up front allows me to refine and play without feeling like I have to represent or qualify how I might not represent that label.
Some qualities of my personality related to me that I think defy labels:
- Socially and just generally capable
- Intelligent, quick-witted, inquisitive
- Generous, kind
- Hard-working, workaholic
- Creative, fun
- Take charge
- On the go, driven
- Not someone to start an argument with
On the negative, some people have taken suddenly finding out a part of my identity as if I was lying to them initially when they actually just assumed a normative experience. And in a lot of ways I feel that is on them, however, I do at least partially understand that sense of not knowing how to proceed because the person you are talking to isn’t part of the community you assumed them to be in. In addition to the “you lied to me” trope, I vividly recall a post from a guy I knew in high school stating that if you aren’t vocal about it, then clearly it’s not the Truth. He was speaking on religion. Now, I heartily disagree, however, I do occasionally feel like I am doing inclusion and diversity a disservice by not standing up and being counted as X thing.
I’ll go into some of these aspects in more detail later on, however, for now and to finish, here’s the current role call of my Identity:
- Nationality: I am a citizen of the United States.
- Heritage: Mostly European descent, primarily German, but pretty sure we’ve mixed it up somewhere in there.
- Body Type: Capable, curvy, overweight.
- Gender: Female, non-conforming.
- Sexuality: Queer and Sapiosexual – libidinous, probably kinky.
- Military Affiliation: Army Veteran, Active & National Guard; OIF Apr ’03 – Jul ’04 (hard core); Oct ’05 – Aug ’06 (FOBbit).
- Religion: Wiccan-flavored Neopaganistic Witch with a dash of Unitarian Universalism.
- Socioeconomic Status: Stuck between working and lower middle class.
- Education: Liberal Arts educated Bachelors in English: Writing and Rhetoric, double minoring in Chinese and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Emphasis in language and education. My views are progressive, inclusive, and creative.
- Political Views: Unaffiliated, but mostly liberal leaning toward progressive. However, if people didn’t tend toward being lazy dicks, I would be Libertarian.
- Family Status: Single mother, one child.
- Mental Health Status: PTSD, medicated. Assault Survivor.
- Abilities: Intellectual, Communicative, Pattern Detecting
- Roles: Teacher, Student, Counselor, Mediator, Ally