What is a Personal Identity or a Sense of Self?


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Normally reading the comments on any article dealing with transgender issues is a mistake but I sometimes feel compelled to do so. I forget what the story was about, but I found one comment intriguing. This was a cis person who commented saying he didn’t have a gender identity and I found this strange. Obviously, it was said to invalidate the transgender experience. It wasn’t until sometime after that I was thinking of our personal identities where gender identity usually plays a small role.

There isn’t a lot of information on personal identities on the internet, but I found what I was looking for on a website on brain injuries that explained everything nicely. The website is Learnet which is A Resource for Teachers, Clinicians, Parents, and Students by the Brain Injury Association of New York State. This site contains a number of tutorials on the brain and one subject was What is Sense of Self.

It started off with something that I already knew and that is everyone has a personal identity. On top of that there are a number of ways we think about ourselves that combine into our personal identity. It includes roles, attributes, behaviors and associations that we consider important. These associations can be based on a number of aspects that combine to create person we believe ourselves to be.

I’m ex-military and before I retired I attended seminars to prepare me for life after the military. One of the presentations pointed out that after retirement I could no longer identify myself as a tech in the RCAF. As it turns out I can identify as a veteran but that’s not the same. The important thing to understand is we all identify ourselves by our occupations. If you are a teacher, doctor, lawyer, or plumber you may self-identify as the job you have.

The website didn’t include gender as part of a person’s self-identity but it’s important because it is present in the associations that follow. Obviously, I had a problem with my gender identity to the point that I felt the need to legally and medically change my gender. If a person doesn’t have a problem with their gender identity, then it may not be considered relevant, but I disagree and that will come out in great detail when we get to the associations that follow.

Next are social relationships. These include being a husband or wife, a friend or colleague of another person. While my gender identity may have been that of a woman I have to admit a portion of my personal identity was that of a husband. When I started to transition and understand parts of myself better, that part of my self-identity became that of a wife to another woman.

It’s with family relationships where gender identity really makes itself known. Are you a brother or a sister? How about a son or daughter? If you have had children, you are a mother or a father. All these terms indicate a gender as well a family relationship. I suppose one could say the are a sibling of someone or a child or spouse or parent of another person but who really thinks this way.

There are another six associations listed on this webpage and, while they have nothing to do with gender identity they should be mentioned because they are a part of our personal identity.

Next are the quasi-occupations and they include helper and volunteer. I’ve done the volunteer thing and will do that again especially as the provincial election is coming up and I’ll certainly help with the campaigning in some form.

The next associations to talk about are avocations. These include athlete, musicians, artist, collector and here again are helper or volunteer. For myself I can state that I help host this radio show and I do so on a volunteer basis. When I introduce myself do I mention I do this? I admit that I do sometimes. I was an instructor in the Canadian military and I enjoyed it very much. To me this is a continuation on that theme. I do know that very few know much about transgender people and this is a method to get the word out.

What is ironic that I’m doing a show on transgender issues on a university radio station where most of the students really don’t think that being a transgender person is a problem in any way. To paraphrase Keith Olbermann, young people have this problem where they have an inability to do what older ones still can and that is to pretend that this matters anymore. Something to think about.

Next on the list is affiliations and this can mean things like being a Shriner or a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I’m a member of the Royal Canadian Legion but this really doesn’t fit into my personal identity other than the fact that I’m a veteran.

Then there are abilities or disabilities. Some examples are smart person, funny person, shy person with a disability, or patient. I consider myself to be a helpful person or a friendly person. Those are aspects of my personal identity. I also suffer from diabetes and have been diagnosed with heart disease, but I don’t include them with my sense of self. The only time I think of them is when I take my pills.

The last two associations are salient attributes and spirituality. Salient attributes include being reliable, hard working, good looking, lazy, or dishonest. Spiritually covers being a child of God, Christian, Chatholic, Buddist or Wiccan. I wouldn’t consider myself as reliable or hard working although others might. I consider myself to be Christian but not that type of Christian who would work to restrict the human rights of others.

As a person ages their personal identity will change. The biggest change in a sense of self seems to occur when a child starts going to school. At home they may be used to being called smart, strong, fast, etc. but find the opinion of others may be different. Maybe you are not as smart as your mother thinks you are and your sense of self may change as a result. We all grow and our sense of self changes as we do.

That’s it for this week. By the way, these are my notes for a radio show I do on transgender issues. I’ve been doing the show with another host for about a year and a half and a third host for about six months. It’s been a lot of fun and we hope we’re educating people about us.