The Way Social Pressure Bends Identity

In “A Matter of Discrete Divisions”, Coyote discusses the social pressure on people questioning various aspects of their identity to eventually resolve their questioning.

Some aspects of my identity may have been subtly pushed by such social pressures, but I still accept those parts of my identity. I can take back those aspects and go back to questioning if I want to, but I don’t want to.

I want to make this very clear – what I am about to describe applies to me, specifically, and is not intended to be a prescription for how other people should identify. I don’t want other people to feel obligated to treat their own identities the way I treat my identities.

As I indicated in a previous post, my approach to aspects of my identity I question at this point in time is ‘if it’s too hard to figure out, the answer is probably no’. For example, I figure that, given that it is so darn hard for me to figure out whether or not I experience romantic attraction, that means it’s either ain’t there, or it is so irrelevant to my life that it might as well not be there, therefore I am aromantic.

That approach also applies to gender – I feel very little discomfort with other people treating me as a cis-female, so rather than going through a questioning process to figure out whether I really am cis-female, I just accept myself as such. It’s close enough to accurate that I don’t want to invest the effort to discover an identity/label which describes me more accurately, even though I suspect a more accurate identity/label/description is possible. If my discomfort with being pegged as cis-female were greater, I would probably find it more worthwhile to question my gender identity.

Now, part of the effort/cost of questioning is dealing with other people, including the pressure to not be questioning indefinitely. Coyote describes it as:

I have to wonder if there’s some ticking clock I wasn’t made aware of, counting down until my time is up. ‘Cause sure, you can be unsure, but you better get that uncertainty settled eventually. Better get everything straightened up nice and exact and classifiable. Not now, not yet, that’s fine, but eventually.

I don’t think this is the only effort/cost of questioning – I think, even in the absence of social pressure, there would be elements of ‘Is this really X, or is it really Y?’ However, this kind of social pressure increases the effort/cost of questioning.

I find questioning tiring enough that I generally don’t stay there indefinitely – if nothing else, I’ll end up throwing up my hands and saying ‘This simply doesn’t make sense to me, therefore I’m not identifying as anything at all!’

The social pressure currently does push towards picking concrete (especially binary) identities over grey/ambiguous identities. However, I can imagine an alternate universe where social pressure goes the other way – where it’s considered fine to be questioning, say, one’s romantic orientation indefinitely, but that one shouldn’t identify as homoromantic, or aromantic, or biromantic, etc. unless one is 100% sure that is the ‘correct’ identity. In such an alternate universe, I would probably choose to identify as quoiromantic rather than aromantic.

So, by saying that in this universe I identify as aromantic, but in that alternative universe I would probably identify as quoiromantic, I am acknowledging that social pressure is a factor in my identity. Does that make my identity less authentic? I don’t think so. The whole point of having an identity is to help me interact with other people, and there is always some kind of social pressure when interacting with other people. Therefore, I cannot completely divorce identity from social pressure. And if I stopped interacting with other people, then I think the entire notion of orientation or gender identity, among other identities, would become pretty useless to me.

That is not so say that all kinds of social pressure are okay – I think some kinds of social pressure are harmful, including the type of social pressure Coyote describes – and I think it is beneficial to reduce or eliminate harmful social pressures. What I am trying to say that even identities which are partially shaped by social pressure are still valid.

5 thoughts on “The Way Social Pressure Bends Identity

  1. Pingback: Linkspam: August 5th, 2016 | The Asexual Agenda

  2. Yes. I’m actually aro that way, because agonizing about the specifics more just doesn’t seem to be worth it. Sometimes I add the qualifier of being functionally aro: I’m not looking for a romantic relationship and wouldn’t know what to do with one, even if I know how what “being in love” feels like.

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