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Eliminating "Identities"

I wanted to write a quick note about the significant work done at last week's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Leaders and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Allies workshops.

On a personal level, I got to work on frozen needs more directly than I ever have before. I made a commitment this fall to completely discharge what appears to be the most chronic, and often most hidden, recording I have of longing for my mother to "come back" and love me. This recording (and the garbage that has accumulated on top of it) has occupied a huge amount of my attention for most of my life and is certainly at the root of my Gay, Lesbian, bisexual (GLB) identity. The level of safety and clarity at these workshops allowed me to discharge on this. A large part of the safety is the result of the excellent work Jeanne D'Arc has done with GLB leaders over the last thirteen years. We have really cleaned up a lot of distress, and our relationships are tight enough that we can look at very defended places with each other.

At both of these workshops, Jeanne continually took the time to paint the biggest picture possible of human functioning. At the GLB and Allies workshop, she could easily have made the GLB folks the focus and given the workshop a GLB feel. This would have made it more comfortable for the GLBs and even some of the heterosexual folks. But what she did instead was make this a workshop about heterosexual identity and its role in perpetuating classism. This was brilliant. It meant that the allies' role began taking on some real meaning. The ways this felt hard on the GLB folks forced us to work directly on the oppression (since that's what was being restimulated) instead of hiding out in a "safe" place.

On Saturday Jeanne did the smartest demonstration I've ever seen on bisexual identity with a young person who was feeling pulled to take on that identity. The session had every woman in the room under thirty-five crying. How many of us struggled in our teens to hold onto some sense of our own power and limitless choices by taking on an identity? It was a huge contradiction to see a young woman encouraged to be completely powerful as a female, as she was, without adding a label.

After that demonstration I began to think a lot about how our Western notion of "identity" is so easily co-opted and misused by capitalism. Once you take on an identity, you become a market for all sorts of goods to match your "lifestyle." What began as an attempt to take a stand about who you are ends up as both an excuse to target you and a set of superficial attributes. I think this has something to do with why so many young people are taking on a GLB identity. Taking on this identity is also a way of clienting on recordings of marginalization. So what does it say about our societies and economies that so many young people feel marginal? It seems like late twentieth-century capitalism is driving more and more people away from feeling that they are at the center of anything, and this is showing up in young people's attempts to build alternative cultures for themselves.


(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00