The Ying and Yang of Identity
A short story on my back and forth between who I am
Being one of the trickier ideas I have attempted to tackle, it took me weeks of deliberate thought to come to a conclusion on the subjective understanding of identity. Attempting to write multiple blog posts on the subject, it seemed impossible for me to understand the idea of what we identify as. Knowing that the I that I identify with was merely a construct, I questioned how identity worked since there was nothing absolute about it. To better understand this idea, I investigated my own past and found personal proof of this subjective identity.
An example of such is that at a young age, sometime in middle school, I began to dress a bit more casually. And by casually, I mean that I began to resort to the cheapest, comfiest clothing I could find. Going from jeans to sweatpants and button-downs to t-shirts, I began to downgrade the quality of my outfits. It was only later in my life that I began to question why I would do such a thing. At the time I gave people the usual answer of, “It is more conformable”. And that was true, I really enjoyed comfortable clothing at the time. The soft material of sweatpants was far easier to sit in compared to the tight, rough cotton jeans I moved away from. Therefore, I was not lying, yet I always knew I was holding back the whole story. There was more to it than just physical comfort; I realized in later years that my transition was also for mental comfort.
I was, and still am, an extremely emotional person. Growing up with this characteristic made certain parts of my life difficult. Accompanied by my social awkwardness and slight Asperger’s, I was an easy target in middle school. Not in a way that I was bullied, but I simply couldn’t win any fight I was thrown in. Verbally, I was a lost cause for most of my childhood. I seemed to always fall short on comebacks/what to say to the other middle schoolers who were desperately attempting to release their raising testosterone levels.
Therefore, I adapted. If I couldn’t win the verbal fights/stop them from happening, then I found the best course of action was for it to not both me. I figured that if what they said couldn’t hurt me, then I would be fine no matter how many arguments and smack talkings I lost. Not being a conscious thought at the time, I slowly started drifting into that persona. I wore clothes that showed that I didn’t care about what they thought. I brushed off any insults and made myself seem impervious to them. I came off as someone who couldn’t be hurt, which led people to question why they would even bother.
I share this experience with you because it truly confused me when trying to understand identity. It confused me because that persona, that identity, was constructed. I made that person up, and then made myself as close as I could to that person. I can very objectively reflect on the situation and see that now. Yet here I am, twenty years old, and now I can say that I continue to wear sweatpants and ragged clothing because I truly do not care. Unless I am going to an event with required formality, I typically wear the cheapest clothing I can find. A running joke with my friends is that every day I have at least one piece of clothing with at least one unintended hole in it. These days, I believe that I truly wear these clothes because it is cheap and that I would prefer to spend my money elsewhere.
Now what confused me for so long is how this could be. How could something that was once a construct feel so true and absolute about who I am as a person today? How did I go from forcing myself to wear cheap clothing to believing I enjoy cheap clothing because the idea of consuming high-end clothes disgusts me? This question is what left me clueless about identity until I literally and figuratively saw the answer I was looking for.
Walking back from class, I was listening to Caamp with my headphones on. Feeling great as his beautifully raspy voice filled my mind, a visual experience began. Much like a daydream that I didn’t really expect/control, I began to picture one of my friends and I were facing each other. With defeat in her eyes, I imagined her looking down to the ground, ignoring my attempts to cheer her up. Eventually, the version of myself in this hallucination pulls from behind his back a glowing orb with a mix of yellow and white colors swishing around on the inside. Smiling, I show the orb to my friend. This orb symbolized hope and happiness, and most of all, love. Shaking her head, my friend reaches from behind her back and pulls out her orb. Unlike mine, hers is the same size, but entirely black. Her orb symbolizes worthlessness, hopelessness, and death. Showing me her orb, through no words at all, she explains that it is just different for her. She explains that she is just not like me in that way and that we pull our energy and ourselves from different sources.
The vision of myself is not convinced. Continuing to smile, he reaches from behind his back again and pulls the same orb that she has. It is all black, and just like hers, it symbolized death. Holding one in each hand, my friend looks confused. She questions how that is possible, how I can have both death and life coincide. Then again, without any words, it is understood that this is possible because I made them both. Neither are final, and neither are absolute. I explain to her that I began with the black orb, but as time went on, I didn’t want that anymore. Artificially, I created the bright yellow and white orb. And do not be mistaken, just because I constructed it does not mean it is not real. In their own ways, each orb is as real and powerful as the other. With this understood, my friend put her orb down on the ground. Using her pointer finger, she slowly poked the black orb and just as her finger made contact with the orb, a circle of bright yellow and white splashed around her finger.
The visual then ended with me almost getting hit by a car in the physical world… I was a bit preoccupied and did not think to check before crossing. That visual thought let me finally understand identity. Rushing to the nearest empty workspace, I quickly wrote the segment below in fear of forgetting:
There is no true identity, but that’s okay. It is instead forever changing between everything you encounter and experience. The things you encounter, which is derived from nature and nurture, determine who you are and who you want to be. You are no more the person you want to be than the person you are. The person you want to be is what motivates you to be who you are now. The person you are now shows you what you wish you were more like. It’s the yin and yang of your identity. The way to find true happiness in relation to identity is by being happy for who you are now, yet also striving to be a healthier person. To have a goal of how you want to become, but not need to become it. Neither identity is more real, which is odd at first. At first, we feel that who we are now is the true identity, but that would be the same as saying the future does not matter because it is not the present yet. Who you want to be is just as important for who you are because you once wanted to be who you are now. It’s a constant perfection of who you are. And it is this perfection that is relative to what you feel is perfect. Which to reiterate, your definition of perfection is contingent on the internal and external interactions you have had throughout your life. The yin and yang of identity is a constant one because there is no absolute person you are and there is no absolute person you want to be.
I have found identity to be a rather complex balance between who we want to be and who we are. Always subject to change as time and experiences present themselves to us, I find nothing absolute or restricting about identity. I instead find it to be something that fluidly moves as we learn to care or not care about things within and around us.
If you would like to share your own views or confusion on the topic, please comment below to allow a productive/healthy conversation that we can ideally both learn from.