Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What I've Learned About Identity



When I was a child half a century ago, I knew I was female. I felt it in my bones. My identity was as certain as if someone says you are a dog and you know you're not. "Get off the couch!" they yell. Cowed, you might wear a collar but in your heart you know you're human. That's how it was with me.

As much as one can know anything, I know I'm female. I asserted that gender-identity at every turn. I told my parents, playmates and teachers that I am a girl. They disagreed -- and pushed back hard. Given society's failure to grasp trangenderism at the time, my protests had no chance. I was forced to be a boy, present as male, and live a life that wasn't authentic. The experience didn't alter my self-image; it merely caused me to distrust society. If a group doesn't recognize you for who you are, you play along but develop psychological distance from the group's tenets.

When I was a young man thirty years ago, I aspired to a career in law. The profession encouraged me to groom and clothe myself in a particular way. The legal system rewards conformity and punishes deviance from expected norms. I conformed and obtained benefits from a successful legal career.

Twenty years ago I tired of the company of lawyers. Boring conversations with people wedded to Procrustean views left me cold. My relationships with colleagues felt empty and unsatisfying. Propelled by dissatisfaction, I looked outside that circle and found new friends in an activity that offered me another identity -- I became a biker. This new identity supplemented and didn't replace my prime social identification as a lawyer.

Seen by others as a mid-life crisis, I dove into motorcycling for its intrinsic joys. Speed! Physical thrills! But as exciting was the opportunity to socialize with a wider circle. I met riders who are car-mechanics, cable-workers, cops and criminals. When meeting other motorcyclists I learned to downplay my work as a lawyer because that identity often stokes embers of class-hostility; instead, I offer myself as simply another rider and our mutual passion opens the door to friendship. Once I become friends with people, they don't mind that I am a lawyer; they accept it as a facet of someone they trust.

Finally, a decade ago, I revived my long-abandoned effort to be seen as female. I candidly revealed my true nature to friends and strangers. I adopted a female name. I posted pictures of myself online presenting as female. I blog about my life and soul.

Some friends now accept me as female; some cannot. New acquaintances find it easier to view me as I am; older ones struggle to reconcile the new identity with the old. I discovered that young people are also more open to gender-fluidity; older ones cling to the binary understanding they were taught.

I am still the same person I always was, but how I am viewed by others has evolved over time. Valuable lessons can be learned from why people do and don't accept the reality of other people's existence. What those experiences taught me are, first, we exist separate from limited understandings of others; second, conformity and deviance carry rewards and punishments; third, nobody has authority to overrule our own perception of ourselves; and, finally, the path to genuine relationships is embracing, explaining and seeking acceptance for who we truly are. It took me five decades to learn these lessons. Their truth is enlightening.

34 comments:

  1. Beautiful writing and message. I'm glad that you have found ways to improve your life and to live your inner feelings openly. It must have been so, so hard to grow up with those restrictions. You did so well in spite of them. I'm glad to have found your blog - thank you for sharing yourself here.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them.

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  2. To echo Jenny, thanks for sharing yourself here. I have learned so much through your blog. I never truly understood transgender until I met you, and I am thankful for it, and for you.

    I imagine you've helped a lot of people gain an understanding of what it feels like to be trapped in a specific role, just because of your physical body and society's perceptions. You're very brave, and I love how you share your struggles and your triumphs with equal honesty and humility. Hugs to you, my friend.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I hope I've educated people. Being hidden and unknown hasn't helped those like me; perhaps being visible will.

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  3. I'm glad you are taking the chance to expose yourself here for what you really are. I hope that soon you will be able to walk the world so that your insides align with your outsides. Imagine the freedom and joy you will feel!

    bisous
    Suzanne

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  4. You write SO well Ally!!! Thank you for sharing your struggles, joys and experiences with me and all of us. You are a beautiful being who teaches all of us. I hope you continue to enjoy being the true female you!!Xx
    Ooooh, and thank you so much, my old landlord finally sent on my post and the tie arrived!! That was so kind and sweet of you to send it!! I loved your brilliant Ally writing paper too!!!!Xx

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    1. I'm glad the tie made it to you. And isn't that stationery cute?!

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  5. We all have multiple identities, in a way. Or, perhaps we should distinguish a professional role from identity... but as you said, your professional background is something that you wanted to downplay, to be accepted as a biker, or to avoid being judged solely as a member of a certain socio-economic class.
    And yet, being a lawyer is also part of who you are (although a professional role is an identity you have chosen, unlike the outward physical traits of a gender that does not match the gender you feel you are).
    My point is, your identity is more complex and more multifaceted than just your gender (or your professional role): yes, you are transgender, a biker, a lawyer and many other things, and none of these should be mutually exclusive. We are all many things, at the same time. Yet, we often compartmentalise these facets of our personality: you are a lawyer at work, a biker in a certain group etc. But in reality, aren't you all of these, and much more, at the same time? Or, more precisely, aren't you a mixture of all of these aspects of your personality, and why should they be selectively presented only in certain situations, and hidden from certain people? I know your point was that you wish be seen as female, but shouldn't people also accept you as the complex human being that you are, with your interests and professional background, without you having to hide any part of yourself?

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    1. Yes, you're right Tiina. We're all complex -- and yet people simplify and categorize others routinely. I'm glad you added this dimension to the discussion: it expands and improves it.

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  6. That's why I still love you Ally! You're a truly unique person! And this post is deep, meaningful and touching. You're also a very tough gal! Missed u - hugs from Greece.

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    1. dimi!! So good to hear from you!! Thanks for the kind words.

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  7. Thank you for this - powerfully written and only you can write it about you. "conformity and deviance carry rewards and punishments" - that hits home for so many of us, whether it's to do with what gender we are, or our career choices, or (esp here in a southern state) our politics. It takes courage to "do you", as the kids say, but it brings more joy. xo

    -Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.com

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    1. Yup. I'm glad people grasp this important concept.

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  8. Í love this post of yours and I dont have some fancy philosophical comment ... All I can say is that I am so happy that I "met" you and am honoured to call you my friend ~ You are an awesome human being whether you are Ally, Ralph the lawyer, the April-foolster looking for some way of scaring Robin, the gourmet chef or the risk taking biker speeding around a race track ... I love all of you'!!!

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  9. very heartfelt post on how you became you. I admire your fighting spirit, and how much you have earned for it. Finding new friends sounds like a integral part of your happiness, a group of friends with varied interests and backgrounds is more interesting- I am glad that you can be who you are.
    I think many of us are complex beings, if someone truly gets to know one another. It is wonderful to know who you are , even as you allow yourself to continue to grow. I am curious though, and I hope you do not mind asking. I do not see your name on the blog, I would love to see Hi, I am Ally.... arne't you first and foremost Ally? You have earned that. I hope that is not too presumptous... ( it is a bit, I am sorry to be so personal, and hope you do not take offense)
    xx, Elle
    http://www.theellediaries.com/

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    1. Elle, you are always welcome to ask anything. I appreciate your interest. I didn't realize I don't have a name here. To most of my friends, I'm Ally; to some IRL, I'm Ralph. I might add an "About Me" page; I didn't when I was setting up the blog because my identity then was in flux and I didn't know how to describe myself. I do now.

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  10. My friend.. I applaud you. I think people feel distrustful of things they do not know. That's something I know all to well. This story was brave and I'm so happy you wrote it. Who knew we have so much in common. We definitely have to meet up. I haven't forgotten.. just had to get myself together. I'm currently in GA but when I get back we have to go for tea :).

    Kia / KTS
    www.houseofkts.com

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  11. I think the lessons we learn over time make us better people and reading the wonderful passage you shared here, hopefully can make some people more open to other's journeys!
    People are such interesting creatures, and I feel like I've given up trying to understand many of them.
    I need to be surrounded by others that enjoy people (no matter age, sex, political views, color, etc) and are open to different views!
    Enjoy your weekend and thanks for sharing! jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

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    1. Lovely response. I like open-minded people like you!

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  12. It's great to read it really. However I do understand your friend who knew you were male for years and now have to adapt and look at you differently. Some people are so good wearing a mask so you could never think it was a mask. Although I now several transgendered people and always assumed them properly (e.g. Ally is a girl, not even a question). But soe time ago one of people I know confessed of being transgendered. It's hard for me to switch to the new name and she reference. I accept her being her now and have no issues but 's really hard to use the new name and 'she' instead of 'he'. And I also feel stupid for being blind all of those years. May be something like that happens to your friends? may be they are sad and feel uncomfortable now because they didn't guess/feel anything before.

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  13. Thanks for sharing your journey, darling! I am a recovering lawyer too ;)

    xoxox,
    CC

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  14. This was a pleasure to read and learn more about you. I also love your courage. Some people cannot accept change, but without change we'd all be stagnant and without struggle we'd have no progession. We are complex individuals, life is not always easy, but we can certainly try to understand one another by how acknowledging how much we are alike than different. Thanks for sharing! x
    FASHION TALES

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  15. I can totally relate to what you write and I agree with you - 1. we have so many identities and depending on the time of life and the cicrumstances one or another part is shown. 2. the people around us shape us. I had this conversation with my husband the other day, saying that I would not be the one I am today if I was not with him. Sounds weird, but its so true.
    Thanks a lot for your last comment : )
    Xx
    Larissa
    cenestquedelachance.blogspot.de

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  16. First things first, thank you for this beautiful and open and honest post. I think as a society we're taught to categorize everything. From birth, we are assigned a gender. And though, as you say, we're able to understand now that some people don't identify with their given genders, I can see from an older POV why that might be confusing.

    But just because it's always been the way, doesn't mean it's right. I find it fascinating that we are so unique and beautiful and different and that we can fit in whichever box we like! The important thing is that we always feel authentic and true to ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You'll always be Ally to me. <3

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  17. Ally, I cannot even begin to understand what you have been going through. I have gay and transgender friends, and sexuality and gender were, are and will never become issues between us. Aren't we all people at first?

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    1. I agree with you... but I face prejudice all the time. This week in fact. It sucks that some people can't "see" me.

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  18. I hope you know how very positively you influence people and that thanks to how open you are you're getting such an important message across: first and foremost we are souls. Hugs.

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  19. Eloquently, marvelously well said, Ally. Your closing paragraph is one of the most profoundly accurate and simultaneously touching things I've ever read. It brought me to tears and I couldn't possibly agree more with what you wisely wrote. Thank you for this beautiful glimpse into your mind, soul and life alike.

    ♥ Jessica

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  20. Oh... you are a writer too. Such a very well written piece. That is another part of you: you can write.
    For me it is easy. I think you are a nice person. Period. You do not harm anybody, you are kind and you have interesting things to say. That is all I need to know. Would be lovely if the rest of the world could think the same. I have to say that life is and will be tough for you. Especially in the States. Although not everybody is open-minded in The Netherlands, it is a lot better. In our bank the board of directors have even signed a pledge to make sure that everybody can work in our company feeling safe and welcome, no matter what race, belief, colour, gender etc. We even have a LGBT community within the bank. A couple of times I make advertisements for them to show the world how we feel and work.
    Greetje

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    1. That's interesting -- and encouraging. I always knew there had to be better societies than this country.

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