On the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” they posit that you don’t have to answer questions to understand your identity, rather the key to your identity is buried deep in your genælogy. You are who your genes make you, they assert, and the way to understand that truth is by understanding the history of your ancestors, because their stories are what inform yours.
I do love watching the show, because I love history and connection, but I often laugh when I see the celebrities interpret what they are given. They are offered a whole boatload of symbols tied up in the stories and seem to assume that the meaning that they assign to those stories is the real meaning that exists in them.
The process of assigning meaning is usually seen as the process of discovering absolute external truth, rather than the chance to discover their own relative internal truth in the way they identify connections with their relatives.
Seeing smart celebrities weave their own stories with their heritage, though, is a satisfying process for me to watch, though, because it reveals the seekers truth more than it does the history. The participants who know themselves and what they value take much more from the process than those who are not yet fully formed, which may be why those who research their family trees tend to be older and more settled people.
TBB and I were discussing the days when ethnic roots provided a big chunk of our identity in this country. You knew who you were, often, by first knowing your ethnic heritage, which gave you a kind of confidence.
Today, though, in our mushy, suburban lives, we don’t know who we are, rather we know who we aren’t. Our identities aren’t firmly rooted, rather they are reactive, always moving around based on what we reject in the moment, what squicks us right now.
We don’t know who we are, rather we know who we aren’t, which makes us dangerous, always ready to lash out at people and ideas we want to keep ourselves separate from.
We are who the marketers want us to be, always in flux and always malleable, ready to jump on the next big trend, grabbing the next trendy identity prop, the next fashion, whatever comes hip in the next tweet or instagram.
Disconnecting with the social sways of fashion to connect with the individual solidity of personal style requires us to move from the gusts of the tabloids to the bricks of history, no longer blowing in the winds but instead rooted in some kind of solid truth.
We need deep anchors for that truth, so tracing our personal stories back to the genes and history of those who passed their blood and heritage to us gives us the strength to stand strong in our own identity. Living in a world where only the trendiest is venerated means that we have to separate ourselves from that instant affirmation to own our own deep truths, to stand for our own rooted identity.
How do we learn to trust our roots in a society that doesn’t really value rootedness, a culture that no longer seems to understand that identity can’t be changed in 140 characters?
That may seem an odd question for someone who identifies as trans, an identity that many claim to be against solidity, but for me, my trans journey has always been about connecting to and affirming the fundamental against the social pressure of trendy fashion. My goal has been to be deeply rooted in what connects humans over time and across cultures so that we can then also celebrate what makes each one of us essentially exceptional.
Without strong roots, we become convinced that we have to work to fit in on the surface in order to be connected with other humans rather than trusting that our humanity is fundamental to us and that we are never separate from others.
Without strong roots, we only know what to reject and mock, not what gives us the grace to embrace the humanity in others, even challenging others with unique and queer expression.
Until you know and embrace who you are, until you grow strong roots, you cannot stand up for others, delighting in differences that offer new views of our shared world. Style over fashion, substance over trends: that’s what builds the classic and the connected.
A reactionary life is a life controlled by others, for if you want to be seen as one of them or seen as not one of them, they shape your choices. Being yourself, centred, actualized and integral, requires strong roots that connect you to who you really are.