“How do you identify?” It’s a question no one ever use d to ask. Just how much of one’s ‘identity’ can be summed up succinctly enough to provide an answer to this question? And just what is identity? A friend said to me once, that – ‘some people’s hair is their identity’ (I had asked her if she wanted to join me in a charity hair cut – suffice to say she wasn’t keen). Really? I thought. Hair? As I began to mull this over I realised whilst hair isn’t an issue for me, there is one aspect of my identity that has been consistently
problematic, one pigeon hole I’ve most struggled to squeeze myself into – the one labelled ‘female’.

In today’s diverse and inclusive society, happily one can now choose to identify as something other than female. Trans, two spirit, non-binary, genderqueer – which is it to be? Do I feel more relaxed seeing these new gender tick boxes appearing on forms? After my initial excitement, I realised the short answer was, in fact – no. Whilst I love the fact that awareness is increasing around the (somewhat thorny) issue of gender, and
it’s becoming easier to have these types of conversations, something feels like it’s being lost. As if now there is such a wide selection of labels and categories to choose from, there simply must be an identity that ‘fits’ each person. At its extreme, could this result in women who express themselves in what is considered a ‘male’ way struggling to identify as actual women? Is there an expectation that we will all be able to relax and get along beautifully only once have comprehensively mapped everyone’s characteristics and assigned each other the right category? This clearly leaves little room for individuality, anonymity, mystery, doubt, uncertainty, subtlety, or – God forbid – changing one’s mind. Are we being encouraged to “pick a category” and then “stick with it”? How is one supposed to grow and change for one thing? Rather than tick boxes and labels I prefer the sliding scales of the genderbread person as a more realistic attempt at representing the complexity of gender. For one thing categories alone don’t account for how we might have experienced the world to date, before there were so many categories, and how those experiences may contribute to how we see ourselves now, and to our identity.

Along with many other women I have been misjudged, misunderstood, underestimated, undermined,
patronised, – all on account of being female, and have felt expected to conform to my gender stereotype by
many. I’ve been told various ‘facts’ and opinions about women: “I just hate loud women”, “women aren’t
funny”, “women are manipulative”, “women can’t play team sports as well as men”, and of course the wellknown
fact that – “women just can’t cut a straight slice of bread” amongst others. I’ve experienced men –
even one who I considered a dear friend – refuse to place a hand on my shoulder for prayer (in a room of
men and women) purely on account of my gender – he was very nice about it – “it’s just the rules”. When
I’ve resisted or challenged these views, however politely, let’s just say it’s never gone that well…. So I’ve
decided I’m stubbornly remaining female. Albeit one who eschews the stereotype. I consider my identity to
be the same as everyone else’s on the planet – i.e. I am a unique human being (for me that also translates
to ‘child of God’). I wouldn’t presume to be able to understand and know everything about someone based
solely on how they choose to identify. We humans are complex, surprising, interesting to get to know, and
ever growing and changing – whatever our gender, sexuality, hairstyle or adeptness with a bread knife.
Everyone behaves and expresses themselves in their own unique way and I would love to live in a world that
simply allowed that to happen, without strict categories or labels, well, at least no more than 1…
þ – Unique human (please provide tea, biscuits and years of friendship if you wish to know more).

Angela Bambury