I was listening to the Dalai Lama talk this morning in San Diego about how much happier and less lonely we’d be if we saw ourselves as one human family and stopped disconnecting and separating ourselves from one another with “I’m this” and “You’re that.”
At Los Angeles Pride last weekend Adam Lambert repeated a battle cry many continue to call for: Let’s drop the identities that separate us and just be people.
I think that’s a great ideal… but I just don’t think we are there yet.
Identity is complex because it plays important roles for humans AND our identities can box us in and prevent us from being who we truly are. It’s a double-edged sword a la Wonder Woman. I think taking a more nuanced look at identity is important.
I wrote about sexual identity at length several times in Woman on Fire. When it comes to sexuality our identities are vast and they help us define parts of ourselves that seem hard to grasp or identify because of their complexity. That’s the irony: we put words on ourselves or these parts of ourselves so we can meet them and know them and profess them to the world, which then simplifies them in some way—rather than allow them to continue to flourish in their undefined complexity.
I’ve heard countless stories of people who are frustrated by expectations thrust upon them based on an identity—or even an assumed one. Maybe you have been there.
Yet, by people naming their identities and playing with their identities they are able to find their place in community and connect with others like them. If the LGBTQ community hadn’t named all these identities (that long list is growing all the time), we would not have created the visibility we needed to demand equal rights and human dignity. Of course, just being human should’ve been enough for human rights and dignity, but it wasn’t.
The truth is that people have different needs and if we can’t speak to our differences then we can’t make adjustments to meet our different needs as one great big human family.
If we didn’t speak of disability we would not meet the needs of people with disabilities, which sometimes become a matter of being able to access basic aspects of public life and safety.
If we didn’t speak of racial differences we could not directly address racism and the incredible racial double-standards that prevent us from having full racial justice and equality as one great big human family. We do have many cultural differences that need to be acknowledged and the idea that “I see no color” just erases those important aspects of culture and heritage, and fails to acknowledge how much privilege many of us have over others.
If we don’t acknowledge that the world appears heterosexual and yet there are many people who don’t fit into that heterosexist paradigm, gay folks would remain invisible and would continue to be discriminated against over and over.
If we didn’t talk about the diversity of gender we would continue down a path of male supremacy, misogyny, sexism and transphobia and we would never see that something as simple as being able to use the bathroom is a very different need for members of our trans community and we sure would not attain true gender equality.
Aren’t we still working on all of that? Yep. Therefore, identity is important.
A world without identity might be fascinating. Imagine meeting a person and not assuming their gender or pronouns or anything else about them—and just acknowledging them as a human being. But wait! We have so many physical markers of our identity we’d all have to stop wearing wedding rings, yarmulkes, and other style and physical expressions of our identities and affiliations. Being married is one of the most common identities there is. As someone who is not interested in marriage I am frequently invisible.
Can we take on identities without being limited by them?
Can we acknowledge our own complexity and the differences in our needs without needing to name ourselves?
Would we lose our culture and community if we stopped identifying ourselves?
Identity is complex. We all have many identities that we attach to ourselves about our cultural heritage, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, ability and class AND we also have identities based on our vocation or career, our family roles, our sexual roles, our eating habits, our spiritual path and so many other parts of who we are.
Who would you be without all of those identities?
Maybe we will see the day when we don’t need all of that and it washes away because human rights are non-negotiable and universal. I would LOVE to see that day.
I don’t think we are there yet.
But it’s something to work towards.