Had to pause in the…

Had to pause in the day's work to point you to this fascinating piece by Debbie Notkin on Intersectionality of Identities. It reminds me of how fairly often these days, people try to present me with a singular identity, most often 'S. Asian-American writer'. And I have to remind them that I'm also a woman writer, also a queer writer, also a poly writer, also a mom writer, also a geeky sf/f-loving mainstream-fiction-writing writer (which bewilders them the most, I think). (Of course, some of why we get presented with unitary identities is for political activism reasons, so it can be a purely pragmatic choice. I don't want to discount that. But I'm thinking more about assumptions, rather than deliberate choices to focus on one element of identity.)

It's weird, how people latch on to different aspects of your identity, depending on context. There's the Bangladeshi cabbie from the other night, who, on hearing that I was Sri Lankan, pronounced delightedly that 'we are the same, you and I!' There are the moms who, on realizing that I am also a mom, proceed to talk only about mommy stuff with me for the next few hours, even though we were talking about other things before that. (To be fair, I do some of that too, though I think as a new mommy, I have more of an excuse. :-) There's the convention hotel where I wander into the wrong part of the hotel, and am mistaken for a doctor -- because there's a medical convention going on, and I'm South Asian, so... There's the street, where people speak to me in Spanish because of the color of my skin. There are even places where all of my primary identities disappear -- a family party with friends of my parents, where I become 'Mohan's daughter' -- one of three, briefly interchangeable. There's the gym, where the other plump girl and I, on seeing each other in a sea of toned spandexed bodies, share smiles of relieved complicity.

No conclusions here; just noodling out loud. But it's interesting. What are your identities? Do any of them seem primary to you? How do they shift in different contexts?

3 thoughts on “Had to pause in the…”

  1. “What are your identities?”

    That is a really hard question, and a fascinating one. I can call myself a white male topologist from the southern Appalachian mountains who loves mathematics and teaching it, practices a Pagan faith, believes religion is about practice, not belief, loves sf/f literature, especially by people of cultures different from mine, studied ballet for seven years many years ago, is a devoted parent who longs to be a grandparent, recognized himself to be polyamorous as a teenager, decades before the word existed, and loves writing long, really involved sentences that I constantly have to edit most of the time. (The previous sentence is left unedited for illustrative purposes.)

    Are any of these “identities” or are they just descriptors? There are of course many others, and I do not know how or where to draw the line between what is an actual identity and just a descriptive term.

  2. I am assuming that since no one has responded to my comment above, my question is either as difficult as I think it is. Or is it just not an interesting distinction to anyone else, as to whether something is an identity or merely a descriptive phrase?

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, David. I’d view them as ‘descriptors’ though. To me, identity would mean seeking out nationality and heritage as priorities.

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