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Is a Group Really Your Identity?

Ville Kokko

Posted on October 11, 2018 09:04

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I know belonging to a group is important to people's identity, but sometimes, I just want to shake them.

I recently read about how one cause behind transphobia may be that people breaking pre-defined gender categories can cause those identifying with the categories to feel their identities are threatened:

"Nearly everyone in a Western society defines a good portion of their personal identity by their gender. Many names are considered to be appropriate for only one gender, and our name is perhaps the most identifying part of who we are as an individual. Similarly, our gender often dictates the clothing we wear, the style of haircut we get, and whether we grow or remove our facial hair! Thus, for many individuals, the notion of blurring the boundaries around gender can be experienced in the same way police officers might respond to a proposal to rename them as ‘security professionals,’ with nothing left to distinguish them from a mall cop or a summer student installing home security systems."

And, I mean... I get it. The police example alluded to (see original for more detail) actually makes sense. And sure, those things about gender, and others, are bound to be part of a person's identity. I know I am not unaffected by them myself.

However, my sympathy is rather damped by the implications in case of transphobia: In order to feel better about what you identify as, you want to prevent others from being what they identify as. Others who actually had to think and struggle about their identity, too.

And that dent in sympathy makes me go down another unsympathetic trail of thought. In Western, supposedly individualistic countries, people's identities are still made up of... what? Group membership? Gender?

I don't know how well we could do without that, but it's still not... right.

What does it mean in practice to have it as part of your identity to be, say, male? As one example, it seems like it often means looking down on women and making a point of being different from them. Though this is in no way required to identify as male, it's the way we're often taught to do it and the way a lot of people still do it. They define themselves by looking down on others.

Undeserved pride is also a common consequence of group identity. It's great if you can feel happy and comfortable about what you were born to be like, the country you were born in, and the like. But gender or race or nationality doesn't make you better than anyone else.

If you feel that way, you'll only end up being worse – such as treating others badly, holding double standards, or avoiding the important duty of criticizing your group or country because any criticism feels like an attack on you personally. (Satirized here.)

Often people cling to group identities because, through no fault of their own, they have little else to be proud of. But whenever we can, we should build our identities on our real achievements and real individuality, not just group memberships that were handed to us.

Ville Kokko

Posted on October 11, 2018 09:04

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Source: AZ Central

Frank Becht, 89, is accused of using his dead brother's identity to collect Social Security benefits.                ...

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