I wrote a post in December 2015 called “Identity” in which I talk about evolutionary and revolutionary approaches to how we identify ourselves. It was a reflection on how we choose to rebuild or develop ourselves as people over time, and I’d forgotten I’d written it until I read Liberty‘s comment on my Handles On Doors post about us being a result of choices we’ve made.
Identity was written partially in response to a conversation I had had with a friend who told me that they would reinvent themselves under different versions of their name (taking my name as an example, I could be Michael, Mike, Mick etc), often accompanying the change of name with a change of image and, from what I can gather, a change of physical location.
It was a conscious decision to rebuild; a look at the old and a desire to be something else. That change in name and image perpetuated a change in action that would not have occurred instinctively resulting not in an evolutionary rebuild, but one that was revolutionary. I’ve already said in “Identity” that this doesn’t sit well with me. I agree with Liberty that “we are”, and trying to change that by what we do, so consciously, seems strange.
It didn’t set well primarily because the focus was on a need to rebuild under a different name. The same thing that prompted “Handles On Doors” also prompted this thought in me.
When I was researching what it meant to be identified as “cis” something, I stumbled across an article giving a definition. The article was open to comments, and those comments were filled with questions very much along the lines of “I do this, therefore am I that?” It was full of people actively seeking to put a label on themselves based on their actions.
When I was at school, we were merged with another that had a dyslexia “Unit”. Some of us knew that if the school had a certain number of dyslexic pupils, it got exponentially more funding to help these pupils. Suddenly, the people who were normally bottom of our class became dyslexic, nearly overnight. I’m not saying that they weren’t dyslexic and that the extra help wasn’t a benefit, but the way the school went about it felt like those pupils were being given a label to drive an alternative agenda, and that the help was only afforded to them because of this label.
“The Unit” (as it was known) altered my perception of labels. I became cynical to their purpose and believed them to be constraining. I still do, in most circumstances. My friend that changed their name, I felt, constrained their natural self. I feel that people can all too easily identify as something with a label and alter their behaviour accordingly, or notice an instinctive behaviour that doesn’t fit with that set of ideals and cause themselves stress as they don’t “fit in” and so search for another way to rebuild themselves.
It’s that “fitting in” that, for me, is where labeling lives and dies. Recent events have somewhat caught me unawares, and being able to identify something and name it has been hugely beneficial to me. I can see how being able to be part of a group can provide support and understanding and, I suppose, provide meaning.
However, labeling can also cause unfair stereotypes and assumptions on a multitude of things, and when those affect how we build relationships I’m not convinced that that is always safe.
The point about our choices defining who we are is that we always have that thread that goes back to previous experience, that keeps however many iterations of ourselves tied together as being “us”. Evolving ourselves to an extent where we can accurately apply a label incidentally makes sense, but trying to rebuild ourselves with the ultimate aim of fitting in to a particular name or group feels like a very constraining, limiting and unnatural life to lead.
I guess all good things have to end
And things will never be the same.
I just wanted you to know,
To know that doesn’t change a thing.
Resin On My Heartstrings by Newton Faulkner, from the album Rebuilt By Humans