We should probably start with an introduction.
My name’s Coldwind. It’s currently my name; and my name for the purposes of writing here. It may not hold. Identity, see: it’s a funny old thing. And it’s long been one of my big problems. I have many identities; but I don’t actually have one that fits very well.
There’s a scene in the science-fiction series Babylon 5 wherein one of the characters is confronted by a powerful alien who asks her, “Who are you?”
She gives him various answers. She starts with her name: “I am Delenn.” He rejects this, pointing out that he knows her name already, and asks her again: “Who are you?” She replies that she’s the Minbari ambassador. Again, he rejects her answer: that’s just her job. “Who are you?” She identifies herself as the child of… but she’s cut off as he admonishes her again. He’s not interested in a referential answer. He wants to know who she is, and none of the replies she’s giving actually address what he sees as a simple question.
It should be a simple question – but as the writers of that scene pointed out, when we actually try to address it we see how complex it can be. We each have different identities for different situations. Sometimes we are our job. Sometimes we are our position in the family. Sometimes we’re our hobbies, or our politics. Sometimes we’re our rivalries; we’re our age, our ethnicity, our sex. Sometimes we’re our children, or our childlessness. We’re the people we love or the pets we keep. We’re our online personae – the names we use in forums or on blogs or in multiplayer games. Depending on context, we can be any of these things or countless more.
But we usually see ourselves as our name. Sometimes even that’s mutable, though: again, even names can vary depending on who people are talking to. Barry might be who our colleagues or employers are dealing with; while our friends prefer the company of Baz or Bazza. But our parents might be very fond of dear little Barrington; or they might, in our younger years, be terribly exasperated by the childish misdemeanours of Barrington Reginald Fossington-Smythe, who really should Come Here Right This Minute. (Any resemblance to anyone actually called that is entirely coincidental, by the way.) These are all the same entity, perhaps – but they may, arguably, be seen as four different identities.
This is a difficulty for me. I could tell you who I am by making lots of references and comparisons. I’m a woman, sort of, of just under forty years. That’s not me, though: that’s my age and gender. I’m British and white. But those aren’t me: they’re just my nationality and the colour of my skin. I work in the public sector, in a data processing role. But that’s just my job, not who I am. I’m married, and while I love my wife very much indeed, she doesn’t tell you who I am. It does tell you something about my orientation, but again, that’s just a feature and doesn’t define me. (And even then, I can muddy the waters by revisiting the gender question and being more specific: I’m a trans-woman – so now tell me what you think my orientation is.) My wife and I have a cat. But she’s not me, either. We live in England, but that’s just where we live. I’m of Scottish and English parentage, but Delenn’s inquisitor was pretty clear that doesn’t constitute an identity. I play Everquest II and Minecraft and am a geek in the colloquial sense, and I read and try to write a bit – but those are just what I do with my free time.
So I can tell you lots of things about me, things that define me. I’m a pagan of the vaguely druidic stripe. I’m a socialist who yet believes that a benign constitutional monarchy and associated tradition of protocol can bring benefits. I believe very strongly in personal freedom tempered with personal responsibility; and I believe the rule of law is essential in any crowded society. I abhor nationalism and believe that unity between people is always better than division, so believe that separatist and independence movements are fundamentally harmful. But I also believe that diversity of culture is enriching, and generally doesn’t lead to divisive tribalism. I prefer peaceful solutions, even if they sometimes require protracted patience and passive resistance: “better dead than red” is not rational when ‘red’ is always temporary and ‘dead’ permanent.
But again, these are my politics and religious position. They’re not me.
So the long and the short of it is, I can’t summarise my identity for you in one page. I can only give you my name, which is Coldwind, and I’m pleased to meet you.