Miriam-Webster defines identity as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” While I believe that a person’s essential character or personality remains the same throughout their life (unless they suffer a trauma), there are many aspects to one’s identity that can change, and often do, as they continue to learn about themselves and their relationship to the world and their communities.
I wanted to write about some of the intersections of my identity; about what has informed my personality, how things have changed, and how I describe myself.
I am white. This isn’t something I was always incredibly cognizant of, or thought about much. Before we moved to Southern Oregon, we grew up in a very diverse area. I had friends who were Black, Asian, Latino, Indian. I thought this was normal. It never occurred to me that my friends might be experiencing racism. I never saw it. But as I have grown older, I have educated myself, and have recognized the ways in which I have benefitted from white supremacy. While I may not consider myself racist, I still experience instances of unconscious bias. While my personal experience was one that allowed me to experience and witness more diversity and inclusion, there are many ways in which my life has been informed by a society that promotes white supremacy. This isn’t always obvious. It’s pervasive in the way stereotypes linger, or in the representation we see in movies and television. And while I am still learning how to combat the racism that exists and thrives today, I have a better understanding of how my race and ethnicity have given me an advantage over my childhood friends. Other sections of my identity may put me in a marginalized position, but because I am white, I will always experience the benefits of white supremacy while it remains a foundation of American society.
I am queer. This is a term not many people in older generations like to use. It used to be a derogatory term, and I can understand some people’s aversion to it. But I like it, and I like to use it to describe myself, because it is a word I can use to describe my identity more broadly. When I thought I was straight, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be anything other than straight. I enjoyed spending time with guys and it felt fine to date them in high school. For a brief time, I thought I was bisexual, before I finally came out as gay. I never liked the word “lesbian.” Then I spent many years self-identifying as gay, and because coming out can be an arduous process, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my sexual identity outside of that. But after a few relationships that didn’t quite work out, I realized I wasn’t sure if I only wanted to date women. So now I think I’m back to identifying as bisexual. Pansexual would probably be more accurate, because I am generally attracted to people that land anywhere on the gender spectrum, but bisexual is sometimes a little easier for people to understand. But I went on a date with a guy recently, and as we were eating brunch, I had this very strange and uncomfortable feeling. I didn’t like the thought that people might look at us and assume we were straight. So while I am still interested in exploring my renewed interest in men, I will always be queer, and that’s how I like to describe myself and want to be known.
I am genderqueer. This is also a term not used often. Most people use non-binary or gender non-conforming, both of which are a little more self-explanatory. But when I was exploring both my sexual and gender identities, the term genderqueer is the first one I came across, and the first one that felt right to me. All of these terms just mean I don’t identify as either fully female or male. When I first came out as gay, my mom asked me if I thought I was supposed to be a boy instead of a girl. My answer was, and still is, it’s not that I think I should be a boy, it’s that sometimes I forget I’m a girl. And while this is a simplistic way of thinking about gender, it works for me. I don’t fit neatly into any gendered box. And it wasn’t until recently that I learned the difference between gender identity (where you might land on the gender spectrum) vs gender expression (how you present your gender to the world). I tend to present more masculine in the way I dress, but since I recently started to identify as bisexual, I have started to be more fluid with my gender expression. I even started growing out my hair (which, incidentally and strangely, at times makes me look more masculine). But I like being able to experiment and play around with my gender expression.
There are many other aspects of my identity that are constant and yet fluid. I identify as a writer, and a singer, and an introvert, and compassionate, and liberal. These are the things that help build and inform my personality and character. I enjoy that not one of these things fully define me, but all in combination. And that makes life interesting and full.