Webster’s Dictionary defines identity as, “The distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” Although this definition pretty much represents a brief explanation, it is very linear in meaning and limited in scope. Our identity is so much more complex.
I recently attended a seminar for work that focused on unconscious biases, diversity, and identity. It was thought provoking at the least, and made me really take a close look at the components of my own identity. What really gave me a pause was realizing for the first time my identity is fluid, and the pieces that make the whole – much like slices of a pie, may fluctuate in size, intensity of flavor, and prominence. The value placed on one category/ piece may evolve and become more prominent with time and experience, while other pieces become less relevant and fall to the background.
When given the task of charting out my identity, the one piece that did not alter and always held higher prominence was my gender. Being a woman has had a great strong hold on so many of my decisions and events in life. Some of the decisions have been both positive and negative. In addition, outside of gender, I also found that there were so many pieces of my identity that were and are very important and hold significant relevance. I struggled with what pieces of my identity took precedence over the others, or how to portion their slice in relation to the whole.
In my twenties, if I would have looked at my identity, there may have had fewer slices in the pie due to limited experiences and influences. Conversely, I could have had many identity labels that may have been a defining piece at the time, but are no longer relevant. Twenty years later, my identity pie looks very complex, but yet fluid. The lines may waver and fade due to where I am, what I am doing, or where I plan on going. This is, to me, a beautiful thing.
Although we cannot deny or escape some parts of our identity, I do not like labels as I find them limiting. Labels tend to categorize ourselves and can influence our psychology, beliefs, and perceived capabilities. Even though I define myself as a woman, a mother, a survivor, I don’t like to add too many labels. I like to believe I am fluid piece of this earth, evolving, learning, and changing daily. I once labeled myself a Christian, I no longer do so, not because I do not have faith, but because I believe it separates us and limits our beliefs as spiritual beings across all religious institutions, rather than unite us. I am, by definition, heterosexual, but I believe in love and human connection across all gender identities and sexualities. Although I do not see my sexual preference changing, it is not a strong piece of my identity at this point in my life.
Our self-assigned labels can also influence how others perceive us. I try to be careful and cognisant of how I identify and label myself. I am a cancer survivor and even though this has both scarred and strengthened me in many ways, some may see it as an identifier that depicts limits and weakness. If you do not know me, you may have pity for me and that is the absolute last thing I want. I am not denying this important part of who I am, but I am bigger than a diagnosis or disease. It was a part of my life I cannot and will not forget, but I want to be seen as a more dynamic individual.
In the end it was just a small, four hour seminar, but it was one that left me with not only lessons on diversity, unconscious biases and identity, but a better understanding of myself and the beauty and uniqueness of being human. I actually feel free and liberated. Living in a world where I often do not have control, I can control on how I choose to define myself and how I view others. To me that is a wonderful thing!
Wishing you beauty and love in all that you do today.