Sunday, November 30, 2008

Balancing Identity and Integrity

Identity is a tricky thing. I’ve often struggled with feeling like I have many different identities – why can’t I just have one, all-encompassing me identity? How are identity and integrity related?

Let me begin this post with a list of ‘identities’ with which I associate. I am (in no particular order) a Quaker, a chemist, a daughter, a sister, a student, spiritual, an ice hockey player, a young adult, queer, female. Several of these items could have many different meanings. What kind of Quaker am I? What do I mean by spiritual? What kind of chemist am I, and on what level? Do I mean queer as in strange, or as in something other than heterosexual? However I define each of these terms right now, many of my definitions may change by the time tomorrow rolls around. Labels are tricky like that.

It is so easy for us as humans to pick one label that strikes us and put it on someone, and to see everything that person does and says through that one label. As I said a moment ago, labels are tricky. We easily forget that one label represents (or attempts to represent) something that is often layered and changing, and doesn’t include all the other facets of a whole human being. Placing labels on each other in this way ‘otherizes’ and disconnects us from each other. We must strive to put labels aside and see the whole person. We are all in this world together, however we identify.

Many of us at times hide one or many parts of our identity from others. Sometimes it is out of convenience, sometimes it is out of concern for safety, sometimes it is because we fear the judgment of another. I think it is safe to say that everyone has at one point or another hidden a piece of themselves for one of these reasons, even if for some that piece was very small. Where does our integrity come into play? How can we balance honesty and safety? How can we work for change if we don’t step into uncomfortable, possibly dangerous places to take a stand for who we are? Early Quakers did this all the time. If Friends were persecuted in one area, more Friends flocked there to stand witness, as Friends. This showed a great commitment to integrity, and was also dangerous. Mary Dyer, for example, was hanged on Boston Common for refusing to leave Massachusetts and for refusing to change when she was exiled for being a Quaker. She didn’t hide who she was or what she believed in, nor did she run from judgment or danger to the point of being executed. Would that I had such integrity.

I identify as queer (or gay in a very general sense of the word). This label represents (or attempts to represent) something that I find to be layered and changing. I have often hidden this identity from others out of convenience, and out of fear of judgment. I feel compelled by my sense of integrity to be more open about this large part of myself. I struggle because I feel that by claiming this identity I am in some ways separating myself from some people, and that is the opposite of what I mean to do. I feel as though I must stand up for who I am so that I may more fully connect with others, so that I may work toward bridging that separation so that it is no longer inevitable. This is hard. Sometimes it is easier to hide.

I invite you, whoever you are, to join me. Be uncomfortably honest the next time you find yourself wanting to hide a part of yourself. It could be something small, it could be life-changing. You may be surprised by what happens.

(Props to those of you who already practice this. Keep up the good work.)

much love,


RichardM said...

I hadn't ever considered it before but now that you bring it up, I do think that the truth testimony calls gay Quakers to be out. How can you be plain and truthful, if you are hiding a significant part of yourself.

In my professional life there is a pretty strong prejudice against people who are religious. the dominant norm of philosophy for the past fifty years has been atheism. So I would avoid mentioning that I was religious until it began to bother me. Now I don't wave it in front of people but I don't make any attempt to hide the fact.

The truth sets us free.

Anonymous said...