Can you show me some I.D.?

By Caitlin Kelly



We live in a lanyard culture.

Everyone’s got some sort of laminated badge hanging from a chain or a ribbon or clipped to their belt.

As a self-employed writer, my business cards, in two styles, and my website (which I had professionally designed for me) help to identify me to potential coaching students and clients.


But, as 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman wrote, I — like all of us — contain multitudes.




I’m a wife

I’m Canadian

I’m an immigrant/expatriate

I’m an athlete

I’m a collector of antique and vintage objects



I’m a photographer

I’m an obsessive listener of radio

I’m nominally Episcopalian/Anglican, although I haven’t attended church regularly now for almost two years

I’m a feminist

I’m heterosexual

I’m socially liberal

I’m a Francophile






I’m a traveler

I’m a mentor

I’m a teacher/coach


I didn’t even think (?!) to include my race (Caucasian) or gender (cis-female) because, to me, they’re not worth mentioning….which in itself is a sign of privilege.

I get it!

Nor do I mention my age because it’s a quick and unpleasant way to pigeonhole and minimize me and my value in a culture that fetishizes and rewards youth. I don’t identify with my age group at all, even if perhaps I should.

My husband, American-born, is Hispanic and, while he speaks no Spanish — nor, as friends once asked me, does he wear a guayabera or dance salsa (!) — he likely identifies most as a photographer and photo editor.

We have no children, so the default roles of parents/grandparents are not ours.

I’m endlessly fascinated by how people identify themselves, and which identities they choose to foreground and which they choose to hide or deemphasize.

We live in a time of competing and loudly shouted identities, when intersectional feminism often gets angry and frustrating, as women try (and often fail) to comprehend one another’s challenges.

We live in a time of extraordinary income inequality, where identifying with a particular socioeconomic class can be relatively meaningless when there are millionaires who consider themselves “poor” in comparison to those with billions. Those who who fly only first class looking longingly at those who only fly private.

We live in a time of deep political division, where civil conversations stop dead, or never even start, so identifying yourself with one camp or another can be dangerous.


How do you define yourself?


What are your primary identities and why?


Have they changed?

20 thoughts on “Can you show me some I.D.?

  1. What always intrigues me is the way we are so often ASSIGNED identities by others – as writers, often on the basis not of being ‘a writer’, but via whatever the last subject we wrote on happened to be. I find myself, inevitably, labelled ‘an historian’ on the back of the subject matters of some (but not all) of my books and some (but not all) of my academic qualifications. I actually state in my website ‘about me’ page that I don’t regard myself a historian, something that piqued sufficient interest when I did a radio interview a while back that this became the first question – why not? The polite answer (which is true) is simple: I hate labels, they don’t define me as a person – or my skill-set – still less act as a badge of identity. The impolite answer (also true) is that I don’t want to be lumped in with a local sub-culture of historians with a track record of bagging each other’s reputes, in public, for no better reason it seems than their own insecurities. Of course, this creates an ‘identity vacuum’ as far as the public are concerned. For myself, I identify myself as being endlessly curious – as wanting to have the tools to be able to be more curious, and to understand anything that I get curious about. That path has, to date, led me through the sciences (mostly physics), music, history and writing among other areas. It has no end point.

    1. Love this and thanks for such a long reply!

      It is SO true (and so so so annoying) that many people hastily slap labels on us based on their biases and perceptions. In my 20s I was labeled as “difficult, when I was…but people had no idea WHY I was (coping endlessly with a challenging new job and a mentally ill parent in another country at the same time.)

      One of the most powerful lessons of my life was the 8 day silent Buddhist retreat Jose and I did in the summer of 2011 — surrounded by 75 people, teens to seniors. Because we could not converse with anyone until the final evening, we (of course) made up/assumed stories about who everyone was (perception/bias) and it was SO interesting to see how very wrong we were.

  2. Like you, I am fascinated by identity. Who we are now and in our past lives. Like you I feel defined by many different aspects — being born Canadian, having lived for awhile in the US, and now for 25 years in France….) But I dislike labels that pigeonhole people — like feminist or atheist or singer or foodie. Without plugging my own writing business, I chose to build my freelance brand around the concept of ‘cognito’ with a focus on identity as the basis for communication. I believe you have to know who you are in order to tell your story.

    1. I endlessly wonder how American I am, vs. how Canadian — when (having lived in France as well) I often think I’m actually much more French. 🙂

      Ooooh, I hate being pigeonholed! It’s easy for people to do, but I think we’re all like diamonds — multi-faceted, but (for lots of reasons) we tend to only show a few of them most often, or in public.

      I know that many people think I am unfriendly or aggressive (and I can be) but I’m (also?) a deeply loving person and very loyal once I let someone into my circle. I’m wary, more than anything — and only true friends know why.

  3. I am a man. I have a name by which I am known. It is written in water. I have thoughts, ideas, achievements and aspirations, triumphs and failures, all part of my story. This too is written in water.
    If this seems fatalistic I assure you it’s not. It’s very liberating. I live my short life as a person of good will because it satisfies me. If it doesn’t satisfy anyone else, well, their thoughts are written in water too.

  4. This was totally not the response I expected. I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but it’s from Keats’ tombstone,dredged up from my high school English Lit class. Thanks Mr. Keats. (And Ms. Kurfirst.) Also, lest I forget, thank you for yet another thought-provoking post.

    1. 🙂

      But still…so glad you shared it (and embarrassed that Ms. English major had no clue.)

      Thanks, always, for reading and commenting. There is no “me” without y’all in the blogging world.

  5. i think that people sometimes have a ‘different or modified identity’ when in different circles. it’s so interesting to see when you know someone very well. as for me, i identify as a single woman, mother, teacher, creative, one who is curious about the world and the people within it. not sure that would fit on an i.d. badge.

  6. I’m not big on labels either. But people being people like to have the comfort of familiarity – to know where someone is from, family, work, etc. I recently had someone ask me where I’m from and I said Canada. “Yes, but from where in Canada?” Me: “All over.” “But where were you born?” Me: “It doesn’t matter because I didn’t grow up there, and I grew up all over.” This person found this difficult to get, and I think was quite discomfited by her inability to stick me in a hole. It’s as if once people can peg you, they can feel that they know you. How to generate and perpetuate stereotypes … Good post. 🙂

    1. So true….I was born in Vancouver but only lived there for 2 years. then 3 in London, then 25 in Toronto…so I am definitely Canadian BUT have now lived 25 years in the U.S. (!) so my identities are blurred. Plus living in France and Mexico. People who have moved a lot and lived outside their country of origin are usually those I become closest to, for that reason.

    2. Lynette,when I ask where someone is from, I do like to know the details. I’ve lived in so many places, that I can often feel the start of a bond based on geography. Having lived in Vancouver, if I knew you had spent time there, I’d love to know it. “Canada,” by itself, doesn’t give me much information. I’ve learned not to probe too much, because a lot of people do consider it a sign of labeling (or, also, intrusive)–but in my case it’s more that the details provide me the possibility of a connection.

      1. I can see that!

        A funny moment….we were in a pub in a very small non-touristy Irish town (Dungloe, Co. Donegal) with only 4 people in the audience for a fiddler and an accordion player who asked us “where are you from?” We replied: The U.S….then asked again, NY. then asked again (!?) ..oh a place you wouldn’t know…and she (accordion player) not only knew it but had played in her band (!) Cherish the Ladies at the Tarrytown Music Hall. SMALL world sometimes. 🙂

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