To quote the Vorlon, who are you?
It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer, with all attempts feeling unsatisfactory. God side-steps this question with a rather cryptic (on might say Vorlon-like) I am who I am, and nobody since then has made much of a better job of it. When faced with this question over and over again, Delenn finds herself falling back on her relationship with others: “I am the daughter of…”.
Yes, one of my identities is that of a fan of Babylon 5.
I say “one of” because each of us exists at the intersection of many distinct tribal memberships and identities, the combination of which is unique to ourselves and contributes to our individual identity yet, somehow, still fails to completely define it.
I am a Christian. In fact, I am a Roman Catholic Christian. There are some Christians who would take issue with my second statement there, and say that Catholics are not Christians, they will go on to give many reasons why Catholics are different to real Christians and do not deserve to stand under the same umbrella. Conversely, there are Catholics who think that the Reformation was a waste of time and merely served to distract millions of people from the revealed truth that came through Jesus Christ and to reject certain fundamental truths left to us by the man who was also the son of God. That debate will not be resolved in a single thousand-word blog post, and I will leave it to those more qualified than I to do the arguing.
I am a member of the Scout Association. This is the newest of my identities, and I find myself fiercely proud of this membership. For reasons best known to themselves, a group of children and their parents trust me (and the other leaders) to provide a stimulating environment where they can learn new things, do new things and experience a slew of activities that are hard to come by in any other environment. I’d be happier if they paid more attention when I’m trying to teach them how to tie a knot, but that’s kids for you. The Scout Association has been working for over a century to provide youngsters with friendship and adventure in the (well-founded) belief that being a part of a wider movement with a focus on helping others and having as broad an experience of life as possible will produce well-rounded and mature adults and be a force for good in the world. We try to show the Scouts the world from as many perspectives as possible, and to instil respect for all people and for the planet. It’s not perfect, of course, LGBT Scouts can have a wide range of experiences, not all of them good.
I am a member of the World Tang Soo Do Association. They have been teaching me Tang Soo Do for a good number of years, and I am moderately not-bad at it. Their belief is in self-improvement through martial arts training. You don’t have to go out and fight everybody to get better at martial arts: the main focus is on doing better each week. That thing you couldn’t do last week is the thing you look at this week and, through practise over years, you get to the point where you can not only do the thing, but do it well. This approach works for things outside of beating seven shades of shit out of a plastic breaking-board, and the discipline of martial arts training serves well in wider life.
I am an engineer. This is one of my core identities. Since I was seven years old, I have wanted to become an electronic engineer and it was with some trepidation that I started my first job fourteen years later. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes for life on this single career path and my focus throughout my time in full-time education was on obtaining a suitable qualification and entering the electronics profession. Having completed that education, I found myself staring at that first job with considerable trepidation: what if, after fourteen years of slog, it turned out that I didn’t much like electronics after all. I am fortunate indeed that, upon starting work, I discovered that I do enjoy electronics and I am actually quite good at it.
I am an engineer. I know I just said that, but engineer is a personality type as well as being a job title. I think in certain ways, I enjoy certain activities, I value intellectual rigour and clearness of thought. I can be quite arrogant and can be unpleasant to argue with. The sum of these traits means that I am an engineer even when I’m not at work. At church, I am an engineer; at home, I am an engineer; at Scouts and at TSD, I am an engineer. Other words for this identity are geek and nerd. It is an identity I embrace freely, because it provides a shorthand to describe the way I think and the way I relate to the world around me: it also provides access to a community of like-minded individuals with whom I can have stimulating discussions that would leave non-geeks bewildered.
I am a fan of Science Fiction. Most hard-core fans would dismiss me as an amateur. This part of my identity has never been huge or all-consuming. I do not think that Star Trek is all that wonderful and I can take or leave Star Wars. I also do not spend every waking moment devouring the work of Peter F Hamilton or Frank Herbert. I find Philip K Dick to be completely impenetrable. I do, however, appreciate the thinking-outside-the-box approach that makes good SF a great read. A decent SF story is not all about talking computers or epic space battles, it is about people and what happens when you put a bunch of people (people, in this case, doesn’t exclusively mean human beings) in a certain situation, throw in a bit of narrative tension and see what happens. Put a hundred people together in a closed environment on an island and it’s mainstream; do it on a space ship and it’s SF, but the tensions are the same.
I am a man who wears skirts. I see no reason why these hugely comfortable garments should be limited to people who look a particular way, and I have no truck with those who conflate sex with clothing. Take a peek at the Oscars (or any other glitzy event) and you will note that all of the men look exactly the same, and all of the women are wearing dazzling clothes. (The fact that the men are judged by their abilities and the women are judged by their wardrobes is a discussion for another day). I think that the notion that exciting fabrics and beautiful garments are reserved for women and that a man wearing such an item is compromising his masculinity is completely ridiculous. My favourite skirt is box-pleated blue taffeta and resembles the bottom half of a ballgown. Can’t wear it because I’m a man? Balls to that notion.
I am bisexual. Yes. It exists. It doesn’t mean I can’t make up my mind between Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley: I simply think that you shouldn’t have to. They are both aesthetically appealing and I would not feel my identity had been compromised were I to wake up in bed with either of them. It doesn’t mean that I would particularly want to wake up in bed with both of them, either. In fact, the person I most like waking up next to is my wife and I’m not going to dump her for the next good-looking guy either (even Johnny Depp).
I carry other identities as well. I’m a man, I’m tall, I’m white, I’m British (I’d prefer to be Scottish, but I was born and raised in the Midlands), I’m a father, I’m a husband.
All of these identities put me in relationship with other people yet, alone, I still carry them with me and none of them defines who I am. Some identities must be validated externally by membership of organisations, others can be claimed simply by stating “I am this”. There are people who will take issue with my claim to certain identities and others who seek to impose identities on me from outside. In order to be fully and freely human, however, my identity must be my own, and I must be allowed that identity.
I am a person.