Who Owns Our Identity?

It is a funny thing, identity. Is it ours to own, or is it dependent on the grace and permission of others? Can a dog have pups in the oven and make them cookies, and can we try on identities at will and demand acceptance? I have multiple identities. I change in and out of them as though they were gears in a car, according to my needs. Some of them are rusted and others are rocky and at times I feel oddly fake for claiming them. Why do I have such difficulty asserting who I am? And why is it important to do so?

I grew up in an environment where my identity was questioned by others, with sneers and contempt and authority. You are who we tell you to be, it seemed. And you are not who you want to be if we do not accept you as such. My first instance of identity clash, if I can use this phrase, came at school when I was given a religious identity as Protestant, a faith I do not practise, have never practised and which was allocated purely on the grounds that I had arrived from England into a European School. I rejected it of course. And I assumed another religion in late childhood when I began to adopt Judaism. And in this choice I instantly came up against a wall of resistance, a sneering contempt for a choice others felt I could not make. I could not simply become a Jew because I, gasp, chose to! Whatever next? This left a sense of fakeness, a curse I carry to this day. I made a list of identities I have which feel shaky. They include where I come from, my right to be married, my religious identity, my citizenship and my profession. To a degree others define how I feel about my physical appearance.

So what gives us the right to claim an identity? Is it birth? Must we remain in the identity granted by sheer accident? Can we change our nationality and can we have two or more nations and still be fully entitled to claim all of them? What if we do not hold citizenship but feel we should? Are we allowed to claim a nationality, or must it be conferred? Who, for instance, can claim to be a Scot or a Catalan, nations that are stateless at present? And might I refuse to consider myself British if I hold a UK passport? Would that make me a traitor? Does holding a passport by virtue of having married a citizen of that country entitle us to say we are of that nation? Can one ever truly become Japanese, if we have a Japanese spouse? And can we be both American and Iranian?

Can we change our gender? If so, does it require the consent of others in that gender? Is our sexual orientation fluid, and do we alone get to define it?

Do our choices need to be validated by others? Do our choices need certification? Can we claim to belong to a different age group if that is how we feel?

I am not sure if I will ever feel at ease with my identities, and yet I find it endlessly fascinating.


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