identities vs. labels

(this is another entry that i transferred from one of the lost january artices from my old blog)

the following thoughts are inspired by a conversation in daily dose of queer about gender identies:

what’s an identity? what do i need it for? why do others need me to have an identity? is an identity a type of label?

these are the questions that swirl around me: when i step in front of a mirror and open my eyes, i want to recognize the person i see as me. can you imagine looking into a mirror and seeing, say, paul martin, or someone totally unrecognizable?

actually, in fairy tales and myths, having no mirror reflection is a sign of evil. oliver sacks, in his fascinating book the man who mistook his wife for a hat paints a vivid picture of how terribly disorienting it can be when people cannot recognize faces (a neurological condition called face blindness or “prosopagnosia” – that’s our word for the day 🙂

the matter of face blindness brings up another aspect of identity. as i was thinking about this, i went from trying to imagine not recognizing myself to not being recognized by others. that really scared me.

the thought of being invisible or just part of the landscape to those that matter to me is terrifying. (i saw “it’s a wonderful life” for the first time last christmas – this is exactly what happens to james stewart there).

i want myself and others to be able to say, “this is isabella”. that’s my identity.

so how’s that different from a label? a label, i think, is generic. it doesn’t care who has that label. and most labels aren’t so much for people, they’re for boxes with people parts in them.

for example, part of me is in a big, big box labelled “woman”. another part of me is in a box called “mental health professional”. you and i are in number of boxes, too, labelled “internet users” and “english language readers”.

some of these labels, like the latter two, are pretty neutral. others, like “honour roll student” or “troublemaker” have big red value stamps on them: GOOD!!! and BAD!!!

and that’s the issue. we want to be seen and recognized. we don’t want to be labelled. when i see who you are and acknowledge you, i see the whole person. when i label you, i take parts of you and stuff them in a box. and that’s just too cramped!

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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