Thursday, December 11, 2008

Please Identify Yourself!

I have actually been working on a posting about sexual development but it is going to take a little more research before I am ready to post it so I thought I would write a few quick ideas about the importance of our individual and collective identities.

How we choose to think about ourselves and specifically the words we use to describe ourselves are core to how we then behave. There is an important word in that last sentence-choose. You are not born with an identity-you are born with characteristics, predispositions, possible preferences but how you exhibit these involves choice. Some of us are certainly more aware or mindful of the choices we are making but nonetheless we do decide what we are going to pay attention to, what we are going to believe and what we will then do.

One of my major concerns about our society is the tremendous pressure for individuals to identify themselves by their sexuality. You see this specifically with the same gender movement. In times past people would predominantly identify themselves by their ethnicity, their gender, their religious affiliation, their level of education, their occupation, their degree of wealth, their geographic origins, their age, their interests, etc. Depending on the label identified with a person would then engage in behaviors that supported or promoted that identity. For example, if someone viewed their main identity as being a baseball player that would probably be the phrase they would use first if asked to describe themselves. Much of their conversation would revolve around baseball. They would wear baseball jerseys and probably a baseball hat. They would spend a great deal of time playing, watching or coaching baseball. Choosing that identity brings with it a whole host of related thoughts, feelings and behaviors which if that were a person's only identity would be limiting but certainly not destructive to society as a whole.

Most people do not rely solely on one aspect of themselves to form their identity. Someone might say that they are an educated female who is Catholic and is a Bostonian. Having multiple areas of focus allows a person more freedom of choice in subsequent behaviors and evidences a more well rounded approach to life. These individuals usually have varied friends to meet their varied interests and they are capable of understanding different viewpoints because they have different perspectives from their different identifying characteristics.

Each of our identifying characteristics carries with it certain expectations and perceptions. We do not have to follow those expectations but many people allow labels to dictate who they will be. This was very evident in our last election. People who primarily identified themselves by their African American ethnicity overwhelmingly followed certain voting patterns-over 90% voted for Barack Obama and a very high percentage voted for Prop 8. For whatever reason this cohort has a more rigid identity with higher behavioral pressures and expectations. There is tremendous pressure in the black community to stick to these expectations which if violated leads to ridicule and being ostracized. Unfortunately, many of these characteristics have been the very things that have kept the black community and black individuals from progressing academically, financially, etc.

Some of the things we choose as identifiers are conditions such as our age, gender or ethnicity and others are choices that we make such as our educational level or our religious affiliation. Nonetheless the power lies not in the source of our identifying characteristic but the degree to which we identify with it.

One of my major concerns about the homosexual movement is that 1. they want your sexuality to be your primary identity and 2. they have a very narrow definition for what it means to have same gender attraction(Gay or Lesbian), multiple gender attraction(Bisexual) or to be a cross dresser/confused gender identity(Transgender). Our sexuality is just one of many aspects of our being and I don't think the most important one. Going back to earlier statements if we primarily identify by our sexual selves that means our dress, thoughts, feelings and behaviors will all tend to support and promote that identity. The friends we make, the careers we choose, the activities we engage in will all flow from our sexual world view. There is some truth to all stereotypes and we certainly see the limitations of focusing your physical and mental and spiritual energy on sexuality. Just like having baseball as your primary identity can be limiting so can having your sexual behavior as an identity. People that are heterosexual in their orientation do not typically have that as a conscious part of their identity. They don't vote based on their being heterosexual, dress heterosexually, listen to certain music or vacation in certain heterosexual hot spots. They are free to choose a variety of behaviors based on the different parts of their personality and selves that they choose to focus on and magnify. They are more free to expand their understanding of themselves and not fit into narrow expectations that ironically are pushed by the very group trying to "free" them-the gay activists.

There is less freedom of choice in the same gender lifestyle, less self awareness, and less for society to reap from these individuals because they insulate and set themselves up in an adversarial position with the rest of society. It becomes us versus them. Conflict, misunderstanding, and anger have been the fruits of the same gender movement. Our society does not need further divisions and subgroups but rather attempts to unify and find common ground. Really the same gender movement is about individual wants, power and attention. This sounds similar to what has kept the black community stagnant for over 40 years. Actually the black community has not stood still but has continued to deteriorate. The only individuals who have succeeded have broken free from their "black" identity. Why would individuals want to follow a similar strategy with their sexuality? Why put yourself in a narrow box especially when that identity is frequently based on faulty assumptions, i.e. that you were born that way?

Obsessing on sexual things has been destructive for our society and for individuals. Let us return to a more rational and spiritual focus to define who we are. This country was based on basic spiritual truths to define who we are and what is expected of us. Let us not forsake the sacrifices of men and women who evidenced far more wisdom than we have seen in years. Having their primary identities be about spiritual things led to the development of the finest country ever in the history of the world. Let the results speak for themselves.


Laura said...

Thank you for a very informative and understandable blog. Please keep up the blogging! This side of popular psychological science needs to be heard.
I have been thinking about this point, which I have seen you refer to in past posts, about how we identify ourselves. I totally agree with you! When applied to other choices, this whole "I am gay, you must change to accommodate me" idea just seems ridiculous:
I am overweight. Using the logic of the LGBT community, I should definitely start fighting for "Obesity Rights" and make everyone change definitions of words, meanings of sacred commitments, and laws to require teaching in schools that over-eating is not just normal, but good, even. In fact, I want to make school children celebrate obesity! Just to make me feel better that I am overweight. I mean, I was born with that fat gene!
The reality is that our choices are not who we are! The essence of a person is found in their hearts and minds. Thank goodness, our choices DON'T define us, because I make stupid ones all the time. But I could start making smart ones tomorrow and would that change the essence of ME? No. I would just be a little slimmer.

Spiker said...

To quote the little guy that used to hide behind the bush on Laugh in

"Veeeeery interesting...."