Inherent identity

3 Nov

Writing about religious identity got me thinking about the complexity of what defines us and how we get defined. One popular model of identity suggests that we have primary, secondary and even tertiary identities (Loden, 1991). I like to reframe Loden’s hierarchy in terms of inherence.

At the core, we are each unique beings–utterly irreplicable. When I go, that’s it: no more me. This ineffable and irreplaceable me-ness is born into a social context, and packaged in a particular body.

Some of our identities are intrinsic to our physical being. They are very difficult, if not impossible to change: sex, race and age, for example. Our intrinsic identities include those we inherit from our families and communities: our ethnicity, class and–yes–religion. We can’t help if we’re born Mormon, and it can be as hard to become not-Mormon as it is to become not-blind. There’s no surgery to remove or rewire the beliefs, habits and everyday living that form our worlds as children.

Still, we can and do change. And this invites consideration of more extrinsic identities: those we have more ability to choose, like education, income and marital status. Of course, choice is constrained by access: being born into wealth makes it much easier to access education, health care and a myriad of other identity-shaping resources; and being born heterosexual makes marriage your privilege, not your prolonged battle still to be fought. Clearly, our intrinsic and extrinsic identities inform each other

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