Journey to Wholeness
Identity: Yours and Mine
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
One of the challenges of this changing world is the understanding of one’s own identity and then hopefully, the understanding of other’s identities. In the areas of gender, sex, and sexuality there has been an explosion of exploration, research, popular conversation, and the struggle of each individual to explore and, then live, one’s different identities.
Each person’s identity, the stable sense of one’s goals, beliefs, and life roles, is established over time by self-reflection, experimentation, and exploration. Our identities may be fluid over time. Some may never be explored, remain undecided, accepted without exploration, or explored and then become a stable, committed part of oneself. Each person is unique and may be in different stages of exploration or acceptance. This is most noticeable in early to late adolescence though it continues throughout our lifetime.
Let’s look at gender. Historically gender is defined as the binary of male and female. This was based primarily on the biological aspect of propagating humans, or how our bodies manifest gender differences. Roles developed as “hunter” and “gatherer.” Different societies created different roles or identity expectations for males and females. Some historians have said there were times in history when matriarchy prevailed, while for many thousands of years, the societies have been more male-dominant, or patriarchies. Patriarchy has, in many cultures, been prejudicial towards women, seeing them as weaker, less equal, and needing domination.
Women, over time, have questioned the roles assigned to them. As a young woman in the 70s in this country, I was aware there was much published, spoken about, and politicized, about women’s roles and the demand for equality in all areas. Fast forward to developments of the last decade. We have seen more legal protections for women, the legalization of gay marriage, and now, the further exploration of gender roles and definitions. Some are spotlighting the choice to be identified as male, female, or non-binary.
A non-binary person (often using they, them pronouns) can identify as a separate third gender, identify with more than one gender, or have a fluctuating gender identity. This is often confusing for family, friends, and others. It may be confusing for the person, themselves, as they are sorting out things about themselves. Another area of gender preference is the transgender person who is identified at birth as having a gender that is not compatible with their self-perception. This may also be very confusing for people acculturated to the belief in two genders, determined at birth.
Another area of changing roles is sexual preference. The dominant heteronormative society is one in which males prefer females and females prefer males sexually. There has historically been a condemnation of same-sex preference, Lesbian, Gay, or bi-sexual preferences being punished by law and cultural discrimination. This has changed in the last decade as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have been recognized legally and culturally. There is still much dissension about this today!
As each person is developing in their sense of self, their identities, especially in the areas of gender and sexual preference, Martha Kauppa, LMFT, in an interview in the Milton H. Erickson Newsletter (Vol. 43, No. 1) gives us some very helpful guidelines each person can develop.
“The ability to look inside yourself, and figure out what you think, feel, desire or prefer, separate from what anyone else might want you to think, feel or prefer,
The ability to become grounded enough to be able to share that with someone else, even if you think they’re going to have a hard time hearing it,
The ability to become grounded enough to be able to hear something from someone else that’s hard for you to hear, to stay in that conversation and lean in with curiosity and warmth.”
Finding your sense of identity in these areas may be difficult, especially due to societal pressures, and your own learned experience. I am seeing people coming out as gay, lesbian, transgender, or non-binary at many different ages. Young people are struggling with their own inner processes, the pressure of peers and social media, and family expectations. A friend of mine transitioned from male to female in her late 50s. The permission for listening to oneself is growing as is the opposition to condemnation and the desire to return to older cultural norms.
The old beliefs can hinder you and others in your own search for your true self. What we know scientifically is that gender and sexual preference are on a very divergent spectrum. There are many aspects, physically, hormonally, genetically, etc. that influence our individual selves. It is up to each of us to be grounded in our own personal, authentic awareness. We can reflect, experiment, and explore, aware that our identities are ours, and ours alone. As we accept and love ourselves, we can then do the same for others.
Jude LaClaire, Ph. D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem solving. For counseling appointments, seminars, in-service training or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org; www.heartlandholistic.com