Identity baggage: carry it like an overnight bag on a red-eye flight

I’m a white woman, a lesbian, a wife to another woman, a great granddaughter of a Jewish Pogrom survivor. I have divorced parents, family members with mental illness and I live with a learning disability. I’m 35, just out of reach of what my church qualifies as a young adult, and I have no children. When I go to work I’m reminded just how masculine my field is—I am the estrogen elephant in the room.

This is MY identity baggage, no one else’s (by the way don’t look up identity baggage online, you’ll never want to fly again for fear of never finding your lost baggage). These are the things that set me a part from the whole. Being set a part from the whole is not something a human wants. Humans are social beings with complex hierarchies that crave acceptance. I was reminded of this very fact when I went in to have my hair done and my hair dresser handed me a magazine in which every page was filled with “what is in and what you shouldn’t be caught dead in.”

Yet, in all of this trying to fit in, we get separated out by our identity baggage. We get categorized neatly by race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status, political party; the list can go on and on and on and on. These things for the most part are a huge piece of what make us individuals, things that we should honor and celebrate. These things also stereo-type us, and can make us feel like we don’t belong when we end up in situations where we can’t relate to those around us. This is when aspects of our identity become baggage, because all of sudden you are things that others around you are not.  That innate feeling of wanting to belong and to relate to those around you leaves you feeling lonely and uneasy. Evolutionary speaking this makes sense; remember those David Attenborough nature films from your childhood? The monkey that looks different gets kicked out of the tribe to fend for its self, sometimes the monkey overcomes, and sometimes the monkey dies. Could that feeling we get when we find ourselves being the only one in a homogenous crowd, be an evolutionary signal to warn us that we may get singled out or worse kicked out of the tribe?

The animal who survives always embraces its uniqueness, always knows that her differences are strengths not weaknesses. Sometimes the one that is different is never kicked out or ostracized; instead the group embraces the uniqueness of the individual because they can see the strength and advantage in the confidence of the individual. This is how culture evolves and adapts, when it embraces the uniqueness of the strengths of individual.

We are all on a journey and we all carry baggage, none of us carry the same things. Sure some of us may have similar outfits, but we all wear them differently. When we pack these bags we should: pack only those things which keep us comfortable, carry the things which help us survive, and embrace the baggage of those around you, because you never know when something they carry may lead to survival of the group.

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