Who are we?

I rather want to talk about identity again. It seems to be one of those topics that I just love to keep on visiting. I am increasingly fascinated by concepts of identity, ways people self-identify, what aspects of a person might be an “identity” and what is kept separate.

Sometimes clothing choices get thrown in here too. Specifically, when I see people talking about clothing in terms of conformity or lack thereof, and always someone will sneer at all those non-conformists insisting on conforming to the prevailing standard of nonconformity, and I just keep thinking that’s missing the point. Clothing has a bunch of different uses. Of course, the primary two are protection from the elements and hiding body parts that are considered taboo. But beyond that, there are all sorts of stylistic choices people can make as to how they cover themselves. Those choices are largely informed not so much by personal style, but as a way to announce to the world what group you identify with. Whether you’re a metalhead or doing business casual, your clothing choices tell the world around you what you are choosing as an identity. Change the uniform, and you change your identity and how people will perceive you.

So yeah, subgroups and counter-cultures almost always come with a uniform – a look you will be expected to conform to in order to be part of the group. It’s a way of showing allegiance. It doesn’t just matter in counter-cultures either. It matters in the business world – it matters a lot. Wearing the right clothes, showing through the bits of fabric that you use to cover yourself that you belong in their world and deserve respect and attention and the right job. It may seem stupid, but it matters a whole lot.

Anyway, I don’t only want to talk about clothes. Identity is such a thing. It’s fascinating to me to see how so much of the autism community is about autism as an identity (and yeah, I’m in that camp too), and it’s fascinating to me when people reject the autism identity and want it to be something separate. I am very interested in how and why people make these choices – deciding which aspects of themselves are intrinsic and which are not. Why do I say that I am a crafter, rather than a person who does crafts? Or a cat person, rather than a person who has cats? Or a person with red hair, rather than a redhead? Some things are intrinsic to me, some are not.

I have actually occasionally pondered putting all call out, asking if anyone would be willing to make me a couple of lists of self-descriptions – one of things that you are, and another of things that you have. As with crafting and cats and hair, I imagine many (if not most) of the items could be put in either list depending on how you choose to phrase it. Which is, in fact, exactly the thing that I am interested in – which traits would you put in which list, and why? (by the way, if I did ask, and I could offer a way to do so anonymously, would you do it? I haven’t been brave enough to ask yet and I’m hoping for some encouragement here)

Increasingly I think that identity, and being able to carve about a space for oneself via identity, really matters. Being able to identify with a group matters. Choosing who you are, it matters. I’ve always been different, and over time I carved myself out an identity based around being different. When I went in for my assessment to see if I had Asperger’s, the psychologist was able to identify me as the possible aspie immediately. I was surprised, but she told me it was something she saw a lot of. The people who are different all their lives are the ones who frequently wind up turning it into an identity, so my pink hair, long skirt, and boy cut t-shirt with a cartoon on it showed me as that person.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and I don’t think I have much of a point. These are just thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and I wanted to share them. Identity – it’s interesting.

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2 responses to “Who are we?

  1. That self-description thing sound really interesting, and something I’d definitely be willing to participate in. For example, I very much identify as a short person, even though I’m 5’3″ which isn’t all that short in most countries in the world. But here in the Netherlands, I’m a lot shorter than most people I know, and that’s coloured a large part of how I move through the world and how I see myself. Another aspect is being bisexual, which actually DOESN’T have that much of an impact on my day-to-day life, but is a huge part of my identity because it informs how I look at people and how they relate to me. Something I have, on the other hand, is freckles. I don’t have that many, they’re mostly on my cheekbones, and I was never bullied about them. I love having them and I don’t want to be rid of them, but if they were gone I wouldn’t feel like I was no longer me. So they’re not part of my identity.