Identity in a Grain of Sand

My resolution was broken before I even made it

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
A girl on the beach, contemplating identity - image by the author via Midjourney

At the time of writing, it is the second day of 2024. Pessimistic statistics indicate as many as one out of twenty New Year's resolutions made just two days ago have now been broken. Within another two weeks, as many as one out of five resolutions will be discarded completely.

Maintaining our pessimistic streak, we could interpret the statistics above as a commentary on humanity's innate inability to follow through on anything we attempt. Instead, I view the statistics as a demonstration humans discover identity as much as develop it.

Yesterday, I met a friend for lunch (not as a New Year's resolution). He and I met on the job in 2018, and since I transitioned gender in 2022, I have wondered whether friendships I began as a man could survive as I changed to present as a woman.

To be clear, my friend and I had a great conversation. As we parted, what went unsaid was just as telling as what we discussed. Our conversation solidified how much change (or how little) humans are capable of accepting in our lives at once.

I have changed, certainly, and my friend changed with me - but not to the same extent I did.

Friendship after transition

Before my gender transition, I worked in the technology field. I engineered software, I designed systems and databases, I organized features into a schedule and stood over people until the software was complete. These active aspects of my job were well-suited to a masculine presentation.

Later in my career, however, I moved into management, where I was surprised by my success. I discovered managing people truly requires what I consider a feminine touch. A good manager is able to nurture her direct reports, to heal wounds in her team, and - most of all - able to let go of being the star and surrender to the result the team delivers.

My friend and I initially bonded over discussions - no, let me be honest here: bitch sessions - about every injustice in the company that employed us. Yesterday, however, I spoke about building relationships and delivering speeches to benefit the transgender community. I spoke about humanity's need to care about each other out of respect for our inherent similarities.

To his credit, my friend engaged wholly in the conversation. In fact, he gave me a hug after walking me to my car. This new behavior was a far cry from what two years ago would likely have been a punch in the shoulder and "OK, well...fuck off, dude. See you next time."

Nobody asked me to change

My friend never asked me to transition gender. I never asked society for permission to make major changes in how I present and behave.

Instead, I changed and blindly hoped everybody I knew would be able to see enough in me to want to stay in my life. It appears my friend does see me, and yet our relationship also changed in subtle ways.

But his success seeing me has hardly been universal - one friend is still incapable of accepting me, and I am forced to break off all communication. (This year, he sent a holiday greeting misaddressed to "Mr. and Mrs. DEADNAME Herrick." I was able to refrain from leaving it on his doorstep - at the very least, both my wife and I are doctors.)

To my mind, I am now who I have always been. Despite what I knew deep inside, I put on a masculine face to satisfy the social expectations I believed governed me. As I transitioned, I stripped away the masculine face to reveal the feminine face underneath.

My friend is likely to see the process in the opposite direction - that I appeared to apply a new, feminine face on top of my true, masculine face. This difference in perception reveals a complication in relationships I will dissect further.

For today, however, the difference in perception also underscores a facet of identity applicable to making goals - rather apropos on the day many New Year's resolutions have been broken.

The origin of identity

Identity runs far deeper than the clothes we wear, the job we work, and topics of discussion at lunch. The external - that is, our physical presentation and some aspects of behavior - is an implementation of identity driven by a negotiation. The negotiation takes place inside - between what our social environment expects and the person we know we are.

We don't need to ask ourselves about our beliefs - they are self-evident; they simply are. Although we may frequently behave in ways that contradict our beliefs, we know at some level that we betray the person we know we are when we do.

Underlying the implementation of identity is an origin of identity - how we know our motivations and desires. This origin has been postulated to reside in genetics, brain structure, hormonal balance, or neurochemistry. It has been glimpsed as a soul, a connection to a Collective Unconscious, and described as “that which observes.”

The debate - for my purposes - is irrelevant. Although I would die a happy woman knowing the complete origin of identity, I am also enough of a scientist to recognize this debate will rage for longer than my writing career.

What matters for my purposes is that an origin exists, and it appears largely unchanging across the time scale of a human life.

The accretion of identity

Each of us is capable of committing to changes in our behavior - at least temporarily. The New Year's resolution is a perfect example.

This year, we claim, we will become better people. This year, we will change an aspect of ourselves either we do not like or society does not accept. With the arbitrary change of the calendar year, we will leave behind this old, shabby person in order to embrace life as a new, wiser, and far-better-behaved person.

Change - whether it manifests at the physical level, in our individual psychology, or at the greater social level - is rarely revolution. Change is incremental. As we live, we learn new skills and adjust our behavior in a way that adds to, but does not completely replace, the old.

Our implementation of identity changes by accretion. Identity is a pearl, which - in a metaphysical irony - preserves the irritant responsible for its existence within its delicate beauty. Accretion requires a substrate on which to grow, and accretion takes time. What is rapid for one person is glacial for another.

No resolution in sight

To return to New Year's resolutions and lunch: people who did not see me every day during transition might be shocked at what hormone therapy and a good hairstylist can accomplish over time. As I look back to photographs Before Transition (BT), however, I am able to perceive After Transition (AT) the woman who lived hidden until I released her.

Thinking about my deeper motivations and behavioral patterns reveals the woman who drove me my entire life. It is not an accident I became the person I am. Change is incremental, yet with time, a worthless grain of sand becomes a valuable pearl.

As a result, I did not make any New Year's resolutions for 2024. I intend to stay this course - a mere change of calendar is insufficient to turn this ship.

By acknowledging who I am today and choosing not to take extreme measures to change it, I am not giving up. No, I am being honest with myself - even compassionate. After all, there is a reason resolutions are broken within a day.

The origin of identity doesn't stop just because we ask it to.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.