Hi, I'm Tucker Lieberman. One cool thing about me is that when I'm asked to write about being trans, I write about something completely different, and when I'm given no instruction at all, I write about being trans.
'Identity' represents our shifting meanings
I don't have a personal motto or mission statement about what I believe "identity" is. I don't try to define "identity."
I believe we all identify in multiple ways and are identified in multiple ways by others. Categories make meaning out of chaos. A meaning doesn't have to "make sense," but it links various experiences, feelings, relationships, and symbols, so we experience one thing in terms of something else. The meanings of our identities are always changing. If an entire category becomes useless, sometimes it's dropped. We begin identifying—or others begin identifying us—as something else. We can apply an identity retroactively, considering our pasts. Or, an identity can be aspirational and futuristic.
Was that a definition? I hope not.
We feel we absolutely must describe our experiences!
"I really don’t think we can make sense of any of this," said Jakky Banking-Obi, interviewed by Àkpà for muqabalal, where "this" referred to the whole world. "This world & the systems that we, as humans have chosen to operate in. It’s entirely possible we are not supposed to make sense of it but maybe just live it."
While we're living it, we can write about it. An "essay" is literally an "effort," but it doesn't have to be an effort to make sense of the world.
Writers often try to make sense of our lives, as observed by Kristopher Jansma, interviewed by Freddie Moore in Hazzlit, though he personally "very much did not want any of what had happened to make any kind of sense." He "didn’t want to write something that said: 'And then I learned a valuable lesson from everything that had happened!'" Finally, he said, "I got over that and realized I had to write about it anyway."
So I'm going to live even if life doesn't make sense, and I'm going to describe the world even if my observations don't make sense.
Any of us might be wrong, and that's why we're here together
Yes, large language models (AIs) may soon be able to convey information more accurately than we humans can. But so what? "I enjoy reading human writing because I like getting mad at people," Jay Caspian Kang wrote a few months ago in The New Yorker. And "the reason we read books and listen to songs and look at paintings is to see the self in another self, or even to just see what other people are capable of creating."
In creative expression, "people are asking the big questions," Matthew Zapruder wrote for LitHub a year ago. "They don’t already know the answers and are not necessarily trying to convince us of something, but we can be with them while they are searching."
The above reflections probably have something to do with identity: with meaning-making if not sense-making. That idea feels right to me, right now.
I have many words with which I could describe my identities, but I'm not writing a laundry list right here, right now. I usually don't list my identity labels because my readers can't know exactly what I mean by those words, because I'd feel the need to explain why I think those labels are relevant to some specific thing I'm saying, and because the list will always be incomplete.
Each identity has its own nuance in relation to the nuances of the other identities it touches. They move together like ripples. They're ways of being, not collect-them-all action figures. Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don't. They may be evident without being named. Or, we name them because it changes the meaning of what we say and do.