Identity Crisis

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Sometimes, when we human beings have lost touch with our true essence on the inner, we require – and tend to create – all sorts of distinctions to set us apart from or above others on the outer.

At this morning’s dance class, I encountered a new classmate – a friendly soul who came right over to introduce herself.  Her accent sounded potentially Germanic, but I wasn’t curious enough to inquire about it.

Moments later, she revealed to the entire class that she was Catalan.

“You mean Spanish?” I asked.

“No, Catalan,” she said. “It’s my identity!

“Well, it’s your language,” I countered. “It’s not your identity.”

Over the past several years, all kinds of new identities have started springing up, right about the same time gender-neutral public toilets came into vogue. I encountered those toilets yesterday in Little Five Points and was so put off, I refused to use it. I’m not gender-neutral. I’m a woman. And, as a woman, I like using the toilet for women only.

I don’t care what anybody says, I don’t want to be toileting in the same vicinity as men. Or anybody with a penis, for that matter. By now, we’re all well on our way to sublimating our feelings about it, lest we be ridiculed, derided, or…ooooooooh…..canceled.

According to google (a genderless search engine), possible disadvantages of gender-neutral toilets include increased instances of violence (due to the presence of penii, no doubt); people being too embarrassed to use them; objection due to religious strictures.

Whoever came up with the idea of gender-neutral restrooms are probably the same barbarians responsible for building new houses without bathtubs.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? He was just a regular, old, amorphous, brown plastic spud with no identity whatsoever until you started adding on features. Then, and only then, did he become a Mister.

Ears, eyes, eyebrows, noses, mustaches, hats are what brought his gender to life. I always assumed Mr. Potato Head was heterosexual but now that I think of it, some of those mustaches……

The brilliant teenage child of a friend mine (whom I’ll call Cameron) identifies as non-binary. Cameron once explained to me at length and with great patience and clarity what all exactly “non-binary” entails.

Cameron informed me that “they” is the correct pronoun to use when addressing a non-binary person. Cameron (they) elucidated like a college professor, and by the end of (their) Cameron’s lecture, I thoroughly understood and went on to educate others.

Now, imagine how Cameron’s lesson impacted ME: me – a writer, a linguist, an instructor of the English language itself – to be told to use a plural pronoun when addressing a singular person!

I’m not averse to using another pronoun but it’s got to be one that makes sense!

Out of respect for Cameron, I did use the plural pronoun “they” in “their” presence, but it always felt stilted and contrived. Not to mention the mental machinations my brain had to go through to make sense of it.

It’s fine that non-binary people want a special distinction to show that they don’t identify with one gender or the other. No problem, whatsoever.  But why not make up a new pronoun that’s linguistically-correct, doesn’t feel so awkward, and makes the user feel put upon?

The honorific, “Ms.” came into popular use with the arrival of MS magazine in 1972, even though it had been in use in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Back then, “Mister” did not connote marital status, nor did “Ms”. It was during the 19th century that Mrs. and Miss came to be associated with marital status.

From Wikipedia:

The earliest known proposal for the modern revival of Ms. As a title appeared in The Republican of Springfield, Massachussetts, on November 10, 1901.

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts… Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation Ms is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as “Mizz,” which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.[       ~Ben Zimmer, “Hunting the Elusive first ‘Ms’’

I’m certain that non-binary folk can put their heads together and create a new appellation all their own. I nominate Cameron to head up the committee.

Vegans tend to be a particularly challenging identity to deal with.  I can honestly say that I’ve never met a vegan, who, in due time, didn’t turn out to be a splinter in the ass. I don’t care what you (don’t) eat, Vegan! Don’t bother me about what I do.

I know a particularly fanatic vegan who, through her animal activism, did open my eyes further to the abhorrent treatment of edible animals (I was already not eating mammals to begin with).

She was passionate about the cause and I respected her for her stalwart position; but, at the end of the day, all she really wanted was for everyone to be vegan. She was neither open to nor buying my position that not all humans would be able to sustain themselves on a vegan diet.

She, herself, had sacrificed her feminine curves to a rigid diet that seemed to play out a lot like an eating disorder. I’ll never forget the night we were out at a music venue and all she could order from the menu was French fries and a glass of red wine.

Vegan leather is an identity as well, isn’t it? It’s also an oxymoron because “leather” requires animal skin. Vegan leather is essentially plastic, which is essentially petroleum, which is essentially a major reason why we have greenhouse gases and global warming.

Rather hypocritical, n’est-ce pas? Oh, well. As long as no animals were lost in the pursuit of my rigid ideology.

Human beings are never going to stop eating animal flesh. It just isn’t going to happen. So what’s wrong with making use of the animal’s hide – an organic substance which, unused, would end up where, exactly? The landfill? The ocean?

Then there’s the “vegan” French lady from the coffee shop who showed up one day wearing a pair of leather pants that cost at least a couple grand. Designer-quality, buttery- soft, gorgeous brown leather.

“Didn’t you say you were a vegan?” I inquired.

“Mais oui,” she said. “But I bought these second-hand at the consignment shop.”

Oh! Okay! Okay! I get it. Leather pants are allowed as long as you aren’t the first person to buy them. Apparently, vegans also subscribe to the old axiom, “Never pay retail.”

I wish we could all loosen the reins on our identities, and especially on identity politics. At the end of the day, we’re all just Mr. Potato Head.

Even simpler yet, we’re all just plain, everyday potatoes – huddled together in the same rough-hewn burlap sack, rubbing our eyes against each other, commingling our dirty skins – no potato any better – or any more “special” than another.

Sometimes when I’m out in the world thinking that I’m the cat’s pajamas, I go find a mirror, stand in front of it, and look deeply into my own eyes. “I’m only a potato like every other potato on this earth,” I remind myself. “There’s nothing special about me.”

Then I go back out into the world and notice how I connect differently with everyone, freely embracing and indulging – even loving – all the identities I encounter throughout my day, knowing that,

in truth

it’s all made up

and none of it matters anyway.


Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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