This Post Instead

I have, completely unintentionally, been ‘teasing’ a gender identity-based post for a couple of weeks. Starting with some righteous (maybe self-righteous, I don’t know) indignation over some comments in a friend’s blog, I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. There’s a lot of emotion and complication wrapped up in that concept. Gender, in particular, is fraught for me because I’ve been outside the accepted framework of what gender is for all of my life. But as I’ve spent time inside my head stirring the concepts and thoughts around and around, something occurred to me: I am more than the individual parts of my identity and it does everyone a disservice by focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

Now, don’t misunderstand: looking closely at one topic is an important investigative technique and allows a writer to explore detail that would otherwise get lost when examined among other topics of equal weight. And I do intend to write that other piece. But this is the one that’s fighting to get out of my head, so I’m writing this post instead.

What is it? What am I writing about if not a piece focused on gender? I’m having a hard time articulating that. As I said, gender is but one of many facets that comprise the whole of a person’s identity. But “who am I” is an existential conundrum that can’t be captured in a blog post. And it doesn’t lend itself to a tidy, memorable essay subject line.

I think that what I want to convey is really a simple, timeless concept that every person has to come to terms with in their lifetime: we each define ourselves.

The cacophony of “it’s not a choice!” being screamed at me through the internet is deafening. Hold on. That’s not what I said and that’s not my message.

I am fully aware that certain aspects of our identities are innate and not the subject of personal choice. There are some things that are in-born. Sometimes those innate characteristics have to be discovered, much as a sculpture within the marble needs to be discovered by the artist. Socialization is a powerful tool to enforce specific mores and values, some of which are at odds with certain specific identity characteristics. So, those of us born with those characteristics that are targeted by those mores often have a hard time discovering our full or true identities, When we do discover them, living them is no more ‘choosing’ an identity than being born is a choice to exist.

However, the ultimate identity comprised of those various individual characteristics (whether they are innate, or the product of life experience or direct choice), is our own definition. We get to define ourselves. Those pieces of who we are that we’re born with are the baseline. They don’t have to define who we become. Just because there are innate factors that were chosen for us by nature or genetics or environment does not mean that that’s all we are, or that we can’t rise above or add to them to become who we wish to be.

That’s a long way around to say that we can choose the best version of ourselves.

I touched on that thought or one near it in a prior post about some things I’d newly learned or learned in a new way. Essentially, I said we have agency to choose how we react, whether to momentary stimuli or to ingrained socialization. Guess I’m reminding myself of that lesson.

Although there are a number of ways I describe myself to others, even to myself, those shorthand labels don’t define me. I’m more than a list of characteristics. I’m more than the labels that I wear. That’s obvious. But the fact remains that labels and descriptions are useful tools to identify ourselves, to guide personal development and enhance discourse. It’s helpful to know that a person identifies in a certain way. It makes conversation easier, makes interacting with others easier, makes it easier to be respectful and makes it easier to avoid offending and being offended.

Bottom line, I guess, is that the parts are not the whole, but knowing what the pieces are helps you to know when the puzzle is finally together.

For now, I think it’s enough for me to know that all of the pieces of me that I know and recognize today, all the pieces I’ve discovered, those I always knew, and those I’m still working on, are a present and valid picture of me. They are as much “me” as the me I’ll be when I’ve added new pieces, whether through intentional work or life experience. And, that I can contemplate the possibility of a “me” different from the one I know today is win enough for now.

Thar’s a lot of philosophy and introspection for a Sunday evening. Thanks for bearing with me. I hope you have a great week, full of certainty and free from existential uncertainty. Be well, my friends.

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