A cold, miserable mist greeted me when I walked out into the evening after my last semester final. The kind of mist that doesn’t quite call for an umbrella and yet leaves you damp by the time you get where you are going no matter the distance traveled. It fit my mood perfectly and summed up the semester quite well: all wet.
It really bothers me that I have not performed well, especially in this anthropology course on identity, despite knowing that there have been some extenuating circumstances involved – work issues, home issues, health issues – and as only my closest of closest’s know, identity can be a challenging subject for me. But I also know that I made some poor choices in the past fifteen weeks. All came back to haunt me this afternoon.
Given the choice of two out of five or six questions, we were to write complete essays integrating the information we gleaned from the course and our supposed intellectual interpretation of said information. I say supposed because, at least in my instance, my intellect fled from my brain as soon as I began to read the questions.
The questions weren’t difficult, really just slight variations on things we had discussed in class. What was lacking was my ability to form a single cohesive unit of thought. We had two hours to give back any indication we understood the course work. It took me an hour and a half to write the first piece of drivel and the remaining half hour to slather my paper with the second piece of nonsense. I cried on the way home, whether in frustration, relief or shame I cannot say.
Bashert, bless her non-cooking soul, had made matzah ball soup while I was off torturing myself. It was a welcome balm to my aching ego, as was the time spent relaxing on the couch with her and Yoda just watching a mystery show together. It gave me space to breathe and mull over what had occurred during the final. It gave me a chance to get my thoughts in order and think about what I would have written had my brain been in working order.
One of the choices in the questions given was to state three things you have learned about your identity through this course. This is the essay that I should have written.
Identity is a nebulous thing. It tends to defy definition because there are so many ways to define it. When researching information about my term paper, I found that Toon van Meijl attempted to define identity as “a kind of nexus at which different constructions of self coincide, and sometimes also collide”. Identity is who you are, but also who you are taught to be and who you are ascribed to be. Identity is fluid and changeable, yet fixed and determined. That is what I have learned this semester.
In my parents’ home I am the third child and youngest daughter, sister to my siblings; immutable non-choices, determined by my parents’ genetics and timing. In my own home, I am Mom; I am now daughter and mother. Two of my identities have coincided and collided. I exist in the context of both constructs.
In my spousal relationship, I am wife and not-wife, to corrupt a phrase used by Serena Nanda in her article, “Men and Not-Men”. The hegemony in which I reside still does not fully accept the identity marker of wife for my partnership in life. Since I live in a domestic partnership and have the sex designation of female, it is customary to identify my role as “wife”, but in my domestic partnership, the other is not male. Here a different construction collides. Because of my sexuality, I am not wife, but I am not husband.
Along the same lines is my gender identity; gender, as we have been taught, being the cultural interpretation of physical appearance. Because of agreements to societal changes over the years in the Western cultural structure in which I reside, I am able to utilize my own agency and choose to not wear clothing typically interpreted for people who have a feminine gender. But because those societal changes did not necessarily encompass a change in the central meaning of the generalized concepts of what masculine and feminine connote in our society, my choice of attire and even hairstyle creates yet another identity when seen from another social worldview.
In my place of work, I occupy multiple spaces. I am employee, boss, trainer, acquaintance and friend. In school, I am student, but designated as other since I do not fit the cultural profile of the typical college student. In my religious sphere, I am Jewish to the outside faiths, but may not be considered as such by those Jews whose worldview is much more orthodox than mine.
At my own nexus of self, I am all of the above and more. I identify as artist, writer, political agnostic, curmudgeon and nice person. How I see myself may not be the way another will or can view me. If I have learned anything in the time spent through this course is that identity is a process, a state of being that is always fixed and always in flux, determined not only by the institution in which we reside, but also by the resistance and agency we as individuals choose to apply.