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the question of identity?: formation, construction, politics

Saturday, 10 March 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

These questions pose a challenge for me. After finding a couple of feminist sites on WP, I have continued to read the ThinkingGirl’s site–feminist philosophy! ThinkingGirl addressed these questions; I mentioned/commented that I would try to answer them. NOTE: There is a sense that these questions point toward the binarisms of life; therefore, I might NOT be able to answer them! What does this mean about my identity, formation, construction and/or ability to have an identity? Are there limits to identity?

Who are you? What are you? These questions were listed together on ThinkingGirl’s site? I am me: an “I” and a “We.” I am a person/and individual who has migrated north from Northern Mexico, The Republic of Texas. I am a person who “checks” the female box opposed to the male box on applications, surveys, and/or forms. I am a person who yearns for justice amidst the injustices of the world, a person who strives to articulate: feminism[s], philosophy, theology, critical cultural theory, ethics, and religion clearly. I am a person who lives in a male dominated world, strives to live against the oppressions perpetuated by the Center [majority], and is proudly living at/in the margins of life. I am Robyn/robyn. I am both married and unmarried–both married and unmarried by the State and Church. I am queer/Queer. I am feminist. I am A/a feminist. I am someone who is uncomfortable with the stasis that emerges with the question “who am I?” I am a person who prefers the dynamism and differences of life and relationships. [these answers [attempted answers] are NOT listed in any sort of value–this is how they came “out.”]

Now, to answer “what” am I…I tend to answer this in terms of my university training…a sort of privileged identity, I guess? I am…a theologian, a feminist, queer. These are categories that on some level are relegated by academic disciplines! These both define me and do NOT define me.

What is your primary identity? Robyn. Robyn is a name or is Robyn an identity? I don’t know how to answer this? My primary identity? Like ethnicity? No! That’s the next question! Ok, so I think of myself/I identify primarily as Feminist, Queer, person of color and colorless, but to try and make these or other identity constructions an appendix of ME is thereby negating my identity. I am not ONE singular or primary thing/identity; I am multifaceted and have many strands woven together to create ME.

What ethnic, racial, nation-state do you identify with? I have not really ever identified w/ a nation-state–too colonial, I suppose. I live in Chicago and am a card-carrying privileged member of U.S. America. I am listed as a constituent of the U.S. American States. I have identified with the struggle of Mexicans in this country. Therefore, the ethnicity with with I can identify is Latina. Now, this is not a “box” that I can check on the U.S. Census. According to my color, I am more white than brown, and more Caucasian than Hispanic. I’ve NEVER thought of myself as Hispanic as I’m not from Spain, though my maternal grandmother’s family is from Spain.

How did you learn who you are/how to categorize yourself? Well, I do recall when I was 5 years old and leaving Catholic School, my birth mother said to me: “Do people make fun of you because of your color?” I answered “No!” I learned how to categorize myself on my own; however, I was told to categorize myself by my family of origin and society. Girls do “this” [where “this” is something very static and fits into the binary actions of what “girl” is.

How does having/maintaining an identity detract/support one being their authentic self? I think when an identity is imposed upon me I find myself struggling for air/struggling to breathe. Maintaining my own identity is supporting in the sense that my friends, community, and conversation partners do not impose their own categories of identification on me. However, the Seat of Power [U.S. America] does impose a binary definition on me. I tend to not like this!

When we confront people as labels or categories, how does that affect our ability to see them for who they are? I’ve not thought about “confronting people as labels or categories.” Folks are socialized into certain categories. I’m not quite sure how much agency folks maintain or exercise when being socialized into, for example, whiteness [if you’re white looking], blackness [if you’re black looking], and etc. Does color or able-ness detract me from recognizing folks as folks? No. I don’t have that sense about myself.

Is having a simplistic, hand-me-down identity a form of ’security,’ and a strength or an ‘escape’ from the anxiety of growing into something beyond the flowerbox you were planted in? Or both? I think folks are given the tools and/or resources to think about identity. We’ve created a culture [I’m complicit in this] where we settle for imposition or the imposition of identity and formation over against the construction of identity. While we actively participate in culture, I’m not convinced that we are a critical voice in culture. I don’t know what simplistic means here? Binary? I think folks, without the tools to think about how the Enlightenment and other cultural trends have affected the ways in which we understand ourself, become what they have modeled. Unfortunately, this is the binary system.

Do you ever ask yourself who and what you are, who and what you are supposed to be and whether you are being your truest self? I constantly ask myself if my pursuits are authentic and “true” to me. Though, true could be conceived as a relative term. True to what exactly? And, how many selves do I have? In Psychology ther is the True and False Self. What I can say is that I am continuing to become in a world that is sometimes suffocating my becoming.

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  1. Sunday, 11 March 2007 at 8:18 am

    Hi Robyn,

    thanks for answering these questions – you give wonderfully thoughtful and complex answers!

    I like the idea of “becoming” – never really being finished evolving as an individual. I think that not everyone does this, actively continues to self-identify and become more and more… authentic? themselves?

    I think that while doing this is deeply rewarding, it is often a very painful process. I think people are uncomfortable with those who do not fit easily into their socially constructed boxes, who challenge those constructions by being not quite like what those discourses impose, because they force others to also examine their own constructions of identity.

    binarisms are so unhelpful. I wish we could do away with them, or at least place them on a spectrum of some sort, but even then it would still be too one-dimensional. The performative aspect of socially constructed identities is interesting to me; I think seeing things in this way opens up a lot of possibilities for subversion, by simply not continuing to perform the behaviours that make up gender or race or sexuality. If, as Judith Butler says, there is no original that we are imitating, how fragile are these categories! Yet we cling to them for strength, which in turn gives them strength. Instead we could be our own originals!

    anyway, just some thoughts.

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