[Hi folks! This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for January 2018 hosted this month by Ace Film Reviews with the topic of “Identity“]
Aromantic, Asexual, Agender, Wants Tea. “Describe yourself in five words” is probably my least favorite ice-breaker question. Five words isn’t enough to describe millions of years of genetic mutation and evolution. Five words doesn’t describe my culture, my beliefs, my experiences, or my habitual actions. Five words doesn’t tell you that my family has a history of depression, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. Five words isn’t enough to describe how little control we actually have when it comes to our “identity”.
The question of identity is really three questions:
The first is, “Who am I?” Are we the sum of our experiences or are we defined by our actions? How much of “me” includes physical traits, beliefs, personality, attributes, culture, ability, and virtues?
The second question is “What defines personhood?” Are we a person the moment of conception? First breath? First coherent thought? Are we still considered a “person” after physical death? What about after brain death or ailments like dementia? Is there a crime or action so terrible that it invalidates what it means to be a person?
The third question is about continuity. If a wooden ship is slowly replaced piece by piece overtime until none of the original parts remain, is it the same ship? Well, yes, because the “old” ship and the “new” ship share a continuity. We’re not the same person we were ten years ago, but our past self and current self share a continuity. That continuity is also part of the identity.
So, how much of our identity is actually under our control? Well if neurologist Robert Sapolsky is to be believed, and I highly recommend listening the podcast, we don’t actually have agency. Our actions, our identity, is determined by context, both biological and environmental, but if you’re looking for the one gene, the one hormone, the one region of the brain, the one childhood trauma that makes us who we are, you’re not going to find it. We are the result of an extremely complex symphony of causality.
Try to describe yourself in five words; How many pieces of that description was a result of your agency, the direct result of actions you took to produce that particular result?
For my five words, none at all. My first three words -aromantic, asexual, agender- are beyond my control. I’m aromantic because I don’t feel the pull that others do to form romantic attachments. I can’t order my body to feel romantic attraction and expect it to obey. The same is true for asexuality. I can’t force my body to feel attraction towards another person.
When it comes to gender I understand intellectually (now anyway) that many people self identify and feel that they have a gender. I don’t have that feeling and I can’t magically make it appear out of no where. There’s no corner pocket in my mind where my gender is hiding, waiting to pop out and surprise me. It actually took me a long time to even intellectually understand what gender is because I have no personal context for it.
As for wanting tea- Tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage after water. It has a rich history, is a key elements in many cultures, and it feeds my caffeine addiction as a healthier alternative to soda which is something I need to consider given my family’s history of health problems. So, there’s not really a whole lot of agency there either.
As I get older I realize that I’m less my own person and becoming more and more like my parents. I’ll do something or say something and realize in that moment I’ve become like my mom or dad. I could try to fight it, but it would be a losing battle. My race, my religious beliefs, and my cultural quirks all came from them. The American Dream preaches “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”, but a lot of financial success (or lack there of in my case) boils down to good, old fashioned luck. My all four of grandparents were working class, so it’s no surprise that I’m a member of the working class.
My identity is beyond my control, but I’m not worried about it. I can’t control how people perceive me, but worrying about it just makes it ten times worse. I can’t control my body, but I can keep up proper hygiene practices and eat healthy when I can. Since I’m pretty much doomed to be like my parents I can at least be self-aware; I can celebrate the traits I love and ask for help (possibly even professional help) on managing traits and habits that are less desirable. It’s pretty miraculous actually that with the infinite amount variables that “I” even exist. I think I can be happy with that.