Identity Crisis

In chapter 42, Krista McQueeny examines the complexity that comes with having multiple identities. She starts with stating three observations about identity. First, identity is not inborn, but, rather, something that is socially constructed. Second, identities are fluid and can change over time. And third, she says that we perform identities in “social interaction.” In other words, we act differently depending on the people we are with. Another important point McQueeny made was that identities are not “additive.” Identity should be centered on the quality not the quantity of one’s experiences, McQueeny breaks down the concept of “identity” to argue that in order to examine how people experience multiple identities one must use an intersectional lens that allows them to study the myriad of consequences attached to each identity. McQueeny emphasized that even seemingly broad and inclusive identities can still fail to recognize the spectrum of people that fall under that identity. For example, on page 297, she writes that, “The white lesbian women in these churches were committed to inclusiveness. Even so, their performance of motherhood reinstated white, middle-class families as the cultural norm.” McQueeny cited multiple homosexual women who have felt confused or out of place due to their complex identity combinations. She addressed the importance of recognizing the complications associated with having multiple, often conflicting, identities, in an effort to see an increase of acceptance in society. A quote that best encapsulates McQueeny’s argument is as follows: “One way to examine the consequences of multiple identities, as they play out in daily life, is to consider identities separately or in tandem. By doing so, we can see the consequences of multiple identity performances for one or two systems of oppression at a time” (NSS 298).

McQueeny’s exploration of confusion when it comes to sexual identity reminded me of our study and discussion of transgender individuals. In chapter 20, “Transgendering,” Tauches writes “the heterosexual-homosexual distinction assumes that everyone falls into one category of sexual identity. Transgendering, however, could result in ‘passing,’ in which a person is seen as having the sex other than that with which they were born” (138). Transgendering falls under the crux of having multiple identities that McQueeny talks about. Again, we see the pitfalls of having exclusive or binary categorizations. This unjustified categorization is also seen in Hoy’s passage about the “down low brotherhood.” Here he explains that, “Black communities often have their own culture of homophobia in which homosexuality is seen as a white phenomenon that afflicts weak brothers or sisters” (381). Here is yet another example of certain identities being stigmatized and grouped together in society for no logical reason. Why is being gay a “white” thing? These impenetrable beliefs about groups are exactly what McQueeny is confronting. Identities are not black and white but rather vast and diverse. Our society should reflect this dimensionality.

Interestingly, the psych homework that I completed just this afternoon reinstated this societal dilemma with multiple identities. My online textbook stated that, “Humans share an irresistible urge to organize our world into simple categories.” Is all this categorization just human nature or is there a sexual hierarchical agenda behind it? I’m not sure. I do know, however, that society’s compulsive categorization leads to exclusiveness and confusion amongst members of society who do not fall into such clear-cut identities such as Christian white lesbians or down low black men.

A great quote to summarize this issue is from feminist writer, Dorothy Allison. She once said “Class, race, sexuality, gender and all other categories by which we categorize and dismiss each other need to be excavated from the inside.” There needs to be an abolishment of this rigid categorization, which fails to pay respect to identity diversity.

When the LGBTQI panel came to class last Friday it was evident that the oppression of strict categorizations are something that all the panelists seek to combat. I cannot remember the name of the woman who was to the far left but I do remember her specifically saying that her sexual identity is much more diverse than the “norm.” She is a mom and has an intimate relationship with her son’s father, however, she also has multiple female partners with whom she has either a sexual or romantic relationship with. She is just one example of people whose sexuality cannot be defined under the restrictive terms that we have.

When we read chapter 36, “Sexual Narratives of ‘Straight’ Women,” all three case studies, Alice, Diane, and Hannah, recognized that sexuality is not as simplistic as people like to think, even themselves. The subjectivity of sexuality is seen when LaMarre explains that, “Although Alice had initially identified as a heterosexual, after we had discussed her fantasies and desires she modified her statement, saying ‘OK, how about this? I’m a heterosexual with bisexual tendencies’” (255). In fact, heterosexuality did not even come about until the 20th century.

McQueeny, Tauches, LaMarre, Hoy, the LGBTQI panel, etc all have tackled the complexity of sexual identity. As Gayle Rubin believes, sexuality is a spectrum that does not allow for singular identification. I wonder how this concept of multiple identities varies geographically? That is, does a person living in an urban area, say New York City, have a different experience than a person from a small, suburban, “cookie cutter” town? Furthermore, is it easier to identify as a person with a complex sexual identity as one matures? So much of youth is centered on finding out “who you are” but perhaps it takes some aging to realize that the answer to “who am I” doesn’t need to be defined simply. Thoughts? Also, check out this clip from an old Sex and the City episode and listen to how these four women grapple with the concept of bisexuality. Keep in mind this show aired primarily in the late 90s and early 2000s.

One thought on “Identity Crisis

  1. I absolutely believe that urban areas tend to be more willing to adapt to progressive beliefs and a variety of identities. Because there are groups from all over the world migrating in and out of a city, residents get to experience a multitude of cultures and find a niche where they are most accepted– whether in religious, racial, sexuality-based, etc. communities. This, too, allows for people to grow up and shift between communities that identify differently to a place that feels safest. In a smaller town, there tend to be fewer cultural shifts and a smaller population that probably doesn’t have many diverse communities. For example, non-white residents will be grouped together and non-heterosexual residents will be placed in a different box. Because of this, I think it makes it much more difficult for one to self-identify as they grow up, especially those who don’t fit in the generally accepted “alphabet soup.”

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