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Running head: IDENTITY 1

Identity

Samantha McDaniel

University of South Carolina


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Identity

Society has built a plethora of constructions and categories with which human beings

have used throughout history to identify with, make relationships through, and cultivate systems

on. For some, commonly of privileged identities, we may have never had to really acknowledge

parts of ourselves and the implications they have on our walks in life. For others, commonly of

targeted identities, we may have not have had such a luxury to overlook our identities, because of

the way our lives are shaped by them so clearly each day. In social work, practitioners have the

opportunity to work with very diverse populations and clients from all different kinds of

backgrounds and identities. And with this opportunity comes great responsibility: calling for a

deeper understanding of ourselves and how we fit into these identities and the systems that they

are a part of. What does it mean, in this society, to be who and what we are?

Social Categories

The basic identities commonly considered are race, sex, gender, class, age, sexuality,

religion, and ability. Other identities may also include citizenship, education-level, family

background, and more. Looking at myself, I have some identities which fit right in the strict

categories and binaries of identity. For example, I am white and I am a female cisgender woman,

I am middle class and educated. These are identities our society is and has been historically

familiar with and fairly comfortable with acknowledging. However, I have other identities which

do not fit quite so well. For example, I identify as grey-asexual and panromantic, I follow a very

unconventional sort of Christian-based belief system that I have formed on my own, and I am

psychologically disabled with depression. These particular identities, integral pieces of who I am,

oftentimes leave society and its systems confused and uncomfortable. For the sake of being
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concise, I am a white, young adult, middle class, pan/asexual, unconventional Christian,

physically abled, psychologically disabled ciswoman pursuing a college education.

Target/Agent Categories

The intersectionality of all these identities and the significance of such is that there are

multiple ways in which I am affected by both privilege and oppression, and there are multiple

ways in which I am capable of both oppressing others and being oppressed. For example, though

I am a woman, which is a historically targeted identity, I am a white woman. The implications of

this is that, while women all together have a history of being targeted, women of color also have

a long and deep history of being targeted by white women. So much that the term “white

feminism” has been coined to describe a women’s empowerment movement which systemically

stifles out the voices of women of color. Another example of this can also be played out in how I

am a CIS woman. While, again, women have for centuries and across the globe been historically

oppressed, being cisgender affords me some privileges over transwomen. Transmisogyny has a

very significant body count, and it is not one that I will ever be able to identify with as I am and

have always been considered a “real woman” by society. There are even certain sects of feminist

movements which do not include transwomen (“trans-exclusionary radical feminism”), and this

is an excellent example of how the oppressed often still have the capability to oppress. Another

example of how identities intersect in my life is my experience as both a woman and a person

with a mental illness. This is seen in the ways that women are often already vilified for

expressing emotion and often called “crazy” for responding to things which hurt or upset them.

Tie this further to the way that I am also often vilified for being emotional while dealing with my

depression and also being called “crazy” for my responses to things, and the ways in which

internalizing these sentiments further affect me. And yet, though as someone of psychological
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disability I am much likely to get approved for federal disability aid, I still hold privilege in that I

am physically able-bodied even simply by having much more access to everyday routines

(working, traveling, etc.).

Identity Wheel and Awareness

While formulating my identity wheel, it was interesting to explore which identities I am

very aware of and which affect me greatly, and then which ones I do not think about as often or

feel like affect me as much. For example, I am very aware of my psychological disability. This is

a piece of who I am that affects me every single day and one that I have to constantly address not

only within myself but also in the way that others interact with me. I am also significantly aware

of my sex and gender and the way that this truly has molded the way I walk through life, from

the way I carry pepper spray on my keys to the way I have to wear make-up to a job interview, or

defend myself for wearing shorts on a hot day. Situations like the fact that South Carolina was

the number 1 state for homicide of women through domestic abuse are not things that I have the

luxury of looking past. I am also very significantly aware of my whiteness, and what that means

in terms of my privilege and my obligation to actively fight against white-supremacy. I spent a

lot of time thinking about what it means to be white in this society and how that affects people of

color, and how to work alongside and behind people of color to combat these affects. The third

biggest slice on my wheel would be my sexuality. This is one I am aware of most often when I

am around my family and realize that I cannot be my whole honest self to them for fear of being

completely outcast or ruining very important relationships. This piece of my identity hurts the

most because it is one which I am often very aware of, but that I do not have the privilege to be

open about, for risk of negative backlash in many aspects. This backlash not only exists outside

of the LGBTQ community, but also within, as asexual individuals and bi/pan individuals are
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commonly erased/excluded from queer spaces. Some of the identities I’m less aware of are my

religion, my class, and my age. From an obvious standpoint, in all of these areas I fall within a

pretty “average” slot, and thus these things do not feel like they affect me quite as directly as the

identities mentioned earlier. Feeling less affected by these parts of my identity, however, can

possibly be tied to privilege, as I am able to navigate life relatively “normal” in these areas

without facing much discomfort or backlash.

Critical Incident Inventory

The first time I realized I was attracted to multiple different genders, I knew it would not

be something I would ever be able to tell my family. And the first time I realized that I very

rarely experience sexual attraction, I knew that finding love and a relationship that would be

sustainable would so much more difficult. I come from a very conservative family, immediate

and extended, but I also am very close to all of my family, both immediate and extended. I highly

value my familial relationships and the friendships I have in this space, so realizing that I would

have to compromise who I am and those relationships I love was a very significant moment in

my life. I have decided that I am not (yet) willing to risk the destruction of some of my dearest

relationships by being honest and open about who I love. And this has caused a very sad divide

in my family that only I am aware of, but one that is very evident to me. Realizing that I was

asexual also had a very interesting effect on me, as I was in a relationship at the time I was

discovering this about myself. Realizing that I was very much in love with and attracted to the

person I was with, but that I was not necessarily interested in ever being sexual with him (or

anyone else in my past or future), really reframed the way I had to experience relationships. My

relationship not only carried along with it this strange feeling of obligation to respond to his

sexual desire even if I didn’t feel it the same, but also this fear that he would think I did not love
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him based on this part of me. I’m no longer in this relationship, but this realization has really

lead to more complicated attempts at relationships, since sexuality is considered normal and so

inherent that the concept of a relationship where one partner is not necessary actively sexual is

one that society is not sure how to navigate. It has led to a lot of complications in my relational

life and also how I’ve internalized what society says I’m supposed to be like, when I am not.

While both of these pieces of my identity have really shaped my activism, the person I am, and

the people I am with, they have also had profound and difficult effects on how I am able to

peacefully navigate my life.

Triggers

As a member of a targeted group, depending on who is targeting me at the moment, my

most common responses to triggers range from leaving, avoidance, and silence to naming,

discussing, and confronting. My main response in any case of a triggering experience is using

discretion to figure out how I am able to respond. If I am in a public space or a large classroom

and am triggered but do not want to be further vilified or am too drained from being targeted to

discuss, I will leave the situation, or remain silent while thinking about how I might respond in

my own head. However, if I’m in a setting with people I know better who are triggering me by

saying something hurtful about one of my identities (and I’m safe to be open about this identity)

I try my hardest to remain calm and respond by explaining why what is being said or done is

hurtful. Sometimes, however, if I’m comfortable with the people I am around but my patience

for being targeted has run thin, I may lash out against those people, out of hurt and anger. As a

member of a privileged group, I often try my hardest to respond to triggers with an open mind

and listening ears. Hearing some things may originally hurt me, as being told you are part of an

oppressive system is never a fun thing to hear, and I may be silent or surprised by the sentiment.
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But after actively listening and understanding viewpoints, I try to respond with strategizing. As

the agent group, the best response we can have to hearing the triggering notion that we are

oppressive, is to work with targeted groups to figure out what we can do to help end this

oppression.

Conclusion

Though many of these identities can be argued to be social constructs, the issue is that

they are just that. Parts of who we are shaped by how society categorizes us, how we categorize

ourselves in our society, and how this affects what our day to day lives look like. Self-awareness

is a very important key to competent social work practice, and consistently exploring and

wrestling with who we are and what that means will help build up even stronger practices in the

future.
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Identity Wheel

IDENTITY
Age (T/A)
Class (T/A)
Race (A)
Religion (A)

Sex/Gender (T/A)

Ability (T/A)

Sexual
Orientation (T)