Human beings are many things: sociable creatures, curious minds, and survivalists. Since the advent of language, we have relied on the identification of our surroundings in order to alleviate senses of danger or unfamiliarity (e.g. scientific study of poisonous animals or plants, advantageous treatments to illness, etc.). As humankind has progressed, we have turned this ideology inward towards ourselves through identifying each other by race, gender, sexual orientation, educational level, or geographical heritage.
The question becomes: If identification was once for survival, are we exercising the same reasoning by continuing to subscribe to a system of classification?
However, it’s possible that this creation of identity grouping can alternatively be seen as a way back toward each other through building community support, eliciting shared experiences, creating feelings of belonging or validation, or gaining education on how to understand cultural norms of a given group.
As we recognize and celebrate Pride month in June, let us take a look at identity formation, the individual versus group experience, and coming together to demonstrate pride in the identities that create the sum of our parts.
Are we really so different, you and I?
Aristotle once said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. We have heard this rhetoric across the many dimensions of time. When we think of identity, the same could be true – that we are all a part of the human race as a whole. However, there are so many parts of us that make us special, and ironically, many of which create divisiveness across the spectrum of human rights and political platforms (i.e. LGBTQIAA+, racial, and gender equality).
. Identities can either be visible (race, binary gender expression, physical disabilities) or invisible (affectional/sexual orientation, non-binary or transgender expression, socioeconomic status, chronic pain), which simultaneously creates diversity and adversity.
These visible or invisible identities are also intersectional, meaning that they can intersect and represent both global majority or minority populations (for example, a straight Hispanic transgender man). When we view the whole person at once (read more about our whole-person approach), some elements of identity become more salient, present, disguised, or diminished, which can often depend on one’s perception of safety in their environment. For this reason, many people seek out communities and surroundings that are based on shared qualities with those around them.
Within these subgroups, we also run into issues of non-adherence to the needs of other intersecting identities – long story short, communities often tend to not be “one-size-fits-all”, as they shouldn’t be. We are beautiful, we are different, we are similar, and we are individuals. Safety, kindness, predictability, and trustworthiness are qualities we seek as social beings.
A study at the University of Connecticut found that many LGBTQ+ youths within the Generation Z population are adhering less and less to traditional use sexual identity labels, leaning more into non-specific identities such as pansexual or queer. The truth with identities is that their significance depends on individual stages of development and alignment with a group as representative of their experience.
To label or not to label…
Here are some of the ways we can calculate the benefits and risks of the use of labels:
|Autonomy… Making the choice to explicitly or implicitly identify within a group provides an opportunity to create a sense of self-esteem and personal choice.||Groupthink… Use of labels assumes the risk of one’s ideas or philosophies being grouped in with the beliefs of said group; and/or individuality in representation of creative thought may feel stifled.|
|Connectedness… Shared experiences within a group that has firsthand exposure to some of the triumphs and struggles makes us feel more socially infused and grounded.||Marginalization of other identities… Intersecting identities are often not well-represented or considered when assuming one particular identity (i.e. erasure of race or gender within the LGTBQ population).|
|Belonging… The use of labels can make individuals feel as if they have somewhere to “fit in” or belong.||Misrepresentation… Through not using labels, one might find expressing themselves more challenging.|
|Familiarity… Surrounding one’s self in a group through use of a label provides familiarity when interacting with those who share the same identity.||Feelings of incongruence… Assuming an assigned identity label might feel incongruent to the spectrum of which people experience parts of themselves.|
|Safety… As survivalists, we often look for those who understand and accept our experiences, which allow us to feel safe and secure.||Isolation… Others may use labels against another, especially in marginalized populations, leading to exclusion and discrimination.|
|Expression… Free expression allows us permission to live a life of freedom and authenticity.||Exposure to stereotypes… Assuming an identity comes with the added risk of having to challenge and embrace stereotypic or common things about that group, even if they do not align with you individually.|
|Alignment… When our labels match our hearts, we feel aligned with our core self.||Lack of individuality… When we label ourselves as belonging to a group and its ideals, we lose some power over individual thought or autonomy.|
Each of us has our individualized set of beliefs, values, and intentions. Identities are meant to help others learn about us, to help us learn about ourselves, and to learn that we are also allowed permission to step outside of them and vocalize who we are all on our own.
If you or someone you know is struggling with identity or sense of self, please visit us at our website www.thirahealth.com for a greater understanding of what we do and how we can help.