Identity is another word that is perhaps as hard to define as gender. I remember when ‘identify with’ was a new phrase that caused some difficulty with grammarians and any of us who couldn’t quite understand it because we never thought we’d ever done it.
Fascinating though, because identity isn’t something we spend a lot of time thinking about. I am who I am (isn’t that Yahweh’s response to Moses?). I think, therefore I am: Descartes. How could I be anything or anyone else?? I have found myself telling people recently that rather trite thing: ‘just be yourself; no-one else can do it as well as you can!’ But it is true – isn’t it?
After yesterday’s blog about the self(ish) half-life, I have been thinking more about identity. My desperately synthesizing brain hoovers up things I hear or see, and among today’s flotsam are a deed poll form on my desk saying who I am, my LinkedIn world where puzzlement reigns over the ex-colleague who doesn’t look quite the same but does all the same things, and my Facebook page which isn’t my face any more inviting people to transition to my other page. It’s also an unformed poem that will arrive one day that says ‘I᾿m still here’.
If you wear glasses you will know that feeling of the first time you could see again properly, and then got so used to them you found yourself looking for them when they were already on your nose! And yet everyone else said: ‘there’s something different about you …’ and couldn’t quite place it. The view from the inside was the same, but clearer. The appearance from the outside may have seemed quite strange. Fancy dress parties can give you very uncomfortable feelings too, and your sweet darling child in a grotesque hallowe’en mask can be very disturbing. Change your gender presentation, and all that you are is subsumed by what your identity does to someone else’s identity.
I have to admit this took me by surprise: that my identity, with which I had struggled for so long on the inside, but which I felt only found understanding rather than change, had actually shaped other people’s identities too. Perhaps that is my truth: was I was so good at being a man because I was shaped by all those identities around me? Like stress-balls packed tightly in a box, the memory of shape is only revealed when taken out. I came out and found my shape – but those I was packed in with most tightly then also found their true shape, and it didn’t always fit with mine any more! Had I really shaped their identity and stopped them being true to self? I say that about me, so perhaps I should not be surprised after all.
I feel different living now as I do, but I don’t feel that I am different. The ‘what’ of my presentation and declared identity is no more to me in some ways that the glasses I first put on to make me normal again. I am still here, looking out, and the ‘who’ is completely unchanged, except for the joy of restoration to a single identity instead of one that was increasingly split. The same eyes, the same hands, the same terrible jokes but the same gentle humour; the same concerns, attitudes and fears; the same loves, the same aspirations to live a good life, the same courage to do what’s right. The same needs. Nothing I ever did that felt best in life was because I was a man. The suit might have been impressive, the feelings of not belonging in male-dominated meetings was not. And yes, let’s be personal, sex for me is a pooling of resources, an equal sharing, never a male dominance, never done because of my apparent gender, never because of the body I was given.
And yet for all that, gender is such a powerful thing when identified, that other than for my own sense of identity, I have to the external world lost my identity and gained another that is completely different, and that needs to be assessed all over again for validity, for preference, for befriending or for unfriending. The deed poll says it, LinkedIn says it, Facebook says it, even my family says it. It must be true; there, my passes no longer work, and hang around my neck useless and irreplaceable. The pictures, the names, the codes of acceptance, the permissions to enter: all these externals, in the end are regarded as my identity, not the me that I am inside that has simply come home and finally belongs only to find some people have, well, just gone home too. But my door is always open, because it always has been. It’s part of my identity to be like that.
The poem in the adjacent post to this (Losing my touch) was a vision I had of returning to an old familiar place and finding it shut down and deserted behind a chain-link fence. You’ll get the gist, but I just thought as a poem it worked quite well too.