What is an identity, and what does it mean?

Identity is a fairly straight forward concept. Your identity is what defines you as you. It is comprised of what you’ve gone through in your life. It pulls together your cultural background, social status, personality, gender concept, and other such traits.

Through the combination of these traits you develop a sense of awareness that gives someone a sense of belonging. Whether or not you have personal analyzed yourself, your identity is what you pull from to interact in the day to day. That being said, we live in a social structure that implies individuality and uniqueness are needed to “survive.” Especially, when we’re younger where we feel compelled to seek out both individuality and acceptance to belong.

For many individuals an identity is very straight forward. Let’s look at some typical American “jock” tropes:
*German/Italian heritage, Middle class family, Jock, Student, Has siblings [One older, One younger], Straight, Cis-male identifying.

Obviously, I picked a pretty generic “identity” of a high school student in suburban America. This identity, from an outside seems fairly straight forward, and easy to conceptualize. Obviously, we don’t know his personal history. Let’s just go with he had a fair standard life, nothing to “abnormal.” Now, this identity will probably see changes but there is a sense of belonging here that is fairly “normalized.” [Ep. 19, S. 4] That being said, many of us will continue to forge and build our identity well into our college years, and even beyond. Mostly, we deal with the sense of “who we are” when we’re 13 to rough 20/22.

-But Raine! It’s only until 18!

Kind of? You see as we as a society, and global structure continue to live longer and longer. Our stages of development tend to spread out a bit more, as we have longer to figure it out.  Also, as will all averages, individuals will continue to take longer to figure out a sense of self. There are always variables to averages, and some figure out their identity early and some take years to figure it out.This means you may have some who may take until their 30’s to begin to fully understand themselves.

You see, a good way to look at one’s self and path of growth structurally is very much comparable to a tree. Why is that? Well, we tend to branch out a bit and kind of see what works and what doesn’t. Yet, when we live in a society like ours where “knowing” where you belong is important. Many individuals who find themselves as outliers may feel “forced” to pick identities. The way our culture works, we also have many political structures to navigate through. A better way to say that would be institutions, which include settings such at school/college/university. Often western culture, and the areas influenced by western culture, you see a very binary system in place also. This is often further problematic for individuals who many not necessarily fit neatly into one of two categories.

A good, and shocking, example of this is a family guy episode. One in which Meg begins to identify as a lesbian into order to “belong.” While a bit problematic normally, this episode brings up some valid points. In fact, as problematic as it can be as a show it tends to use Meg’s lack of belonging in unique ways. Very often she is “characterized” as forcing herself to belong in a rushed way. Often times associating with things she doesn’t necessarily agree with.

Let’s look at our “Jock” again. In America’s current social structure individuals who are male are re-enforced to be “masculine”, and not express “emotions.” This can lead to individuals who struggle to express themselves and cause emotional barriers to prevent further development.  Let’s say our “Jock” went away to college, where he was exposed to a more diverse campus and other identities he may not have seen before.  This will show him that he can also branch out a bit and even explore his sense of self.  Our “Jock” may begin to find himself attracted to males, or other avenues to expression such as art. Now his identity may begin to look drastically different from the one had in high school.

-Okay Raine, where are you going with this?

Ultimately, I’m try to show case that this forced identity structure we’ve sort of developed in America, and other western cultures, is deeply flawed. We get individuals who attach themselves to identities, or senses of “self” to find a spot to fit in. Instead of letting these individuals sort of explore this identity, or “self” we mock it or invalidate it. Which isn’t a valid way to handle anything, and it works both ways. Not only are we rushing individuals into finding a place to belong, we’re also associating these individuals with “unique” identifiers. Individuals who may identify as gay one year, and then bisexual the next year aren’t “flip-flopping” they’re being to understand. This should be just as valid as staying as “one identity”, though no ones identity ever stays the same during their entire life. As everything impacts someone’s identity.

Now, I’m all for individuals choosing to identify how you want. Yet, if you’re only response to someone trying to understand or being confused by an identity is to be offended. It’s not a very healthy way to grow, or to understand one’s self. Especially if your response to someone trying to understand or even challenge your identity is to try and invalidate theirs. My giving time to educate with those who are genuinely trying to understand, you give greater avenues of growths for these individuals. Further, by educating those who are confused and don’t mean ill-intent in their questions. We’re broadening the network of support for others individuals also.

For example, using the term Cis to insult one is not acceptable on any level. Not only does it invalidate the scholarly approach to using the word. It invalidates someone else’s identity. Just because someone doesn’t share your experience, doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to sympathize with yours. That said, if in trying to sympathize with someone else’s experience you find a unique identifier, great! Yet, take your time to understand it fully and be aware it can change. Don’t chose an identity just to “belong” real sense of belonging comes when you’re you.

As always, Be Yourself. Be Awesome.

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