Identity Crisis

Warning! There is very little science in this piece (although I managed to get some reference in there). It is purely an opinion piece, a subject very close to my heart that I wanted to get out there and it’s my blog so I can. So there.

Society has, from time immemorial, and for good reason, been somewhat fixated on the issues of gender and sexuality. The modern era brought with it the science and philosophy that has allowed us to understand, explore and appreciate new kinds of identity such as transgender or transsexual, in ways we couldn’t before. But, although gender and sexuality obviously make up a large part of who are, there are other aspects of our identity, just as important, and which come with just the same mental and emotional challenges, which recent events have thrown a spotlight upon and should be handled with all the care and consideration as all those other valid identities.

Hello, my name is Michael Staniforth and I am a Trans-national.

The past few weeks have been an emotional time for me, as they have for many others. I will fully admit here that I have reacted poorly to the EU referendum result which has started the process of removing my country from the European Union. I have been guilty of the very hate that I claim to be so against. I have gotten angry, I have accused, blamed and belittled with vast, sweeping generalisations for which there are no excuses. But there are reasons, the foremost of which is that I am angry.

As a scientist, I (and I know many like me) have always considered the work I do to be implicitly ‘sans frontier’, and, as such, I have always seen myself the same way. I identify primarily as an international person, a human being before a European, a European before a Brit. But a single vote by an incredibly underwhelming majority is forcing me out of that identity. It is saying “You are British and only British because we have decided that you are and that’s Democracy!” And understandably, I am not happy about this. I have a new understanding for what it is to identify as someone who society is telling you, you are not, is forcing you not to be. I feel uncomfortable, unnatural, in the skin of a nation where I am unwanted, unhappy, which is not me. It is not a pleasant experience.

Immediately, it seems the solution to my problem is far simpler to that of, for instance, a transgender person. I don’t need any surgery or hormone treatment for which I have to go through a barrage of demeaning counselling to qualify. All I have to do is move. If only it were so simple.

Evidence is already mounting up that the view of British scientists is changing in the eyes of the international community. According to reports, scientists in this country are being thrown out of collaborations of which they were previously a part and PhD students and Post-Docs are now seriously disadvantaged when going for jobs on the continent due to fear for their status in the future. We are being cut off. We are no longer Europeans. We are no longer international. We are no longer ourselves.

And even if I do move, even if I do find a job on the continent, I will always been seen as a British National, no matter how I see myself, no matter how little that label represents me anymore, no matter how much I protest, people will say “But you are British!” as transgender people are told “But you are a man!” or “But you are a woman!” no matter how much they protest otherwise.

Beyond how others see me, it is monumentally difficult to turn my back on the country in which I grew up, on the culture which played such a huge part in my development as a person. But after this vote, I feel the culture I thought I had lived in is a lie. I truly feel as though part of me has been tore forcibly out of my ‘self’.

But maybe this is how leave voters felt. Maybe they feel that multiculturalism is a threat to their own identity. Maybe Christians feel gay marriage reveals their image of the British culture to be not what they thought it was, to be a lie that they are not a part of. This is likely the case, and just goes to show, there could be no winners in this referendum. Merely calling it has split the country and shown us all that we are not, have never been, what we think we are.

Of course, we all feel we are Right and the Other is Wrong. Having said that, here is where I feel the difference lies between Remain and Leave. Multiculturalism, by the very definition of the word, allows for the coexistence of all cultures, including the fundamentally British culture that the Leave campaigners may have felt was so under threat. The opposite, however, cannot be said. By turning our back on Europe, on internationalism and multiculturalism, we are denying cultures, we are removing identities. Rather than saying ‘A place for everyone,’ we are saying ‘Only Brits allowed!’

A whole generation has just been dictated to by their elders as to what it is to be British, and it is not what we are. I can only conclude I am not British and the only way I will feel safe, happy, and comfortable in my own skin again, will be to change the outward physicality to come in line with my inward experience of identity. To become Trans-national.

(I would like to take a moment to point out that the whole referendum debate was sparked by a much worse event that has shown an entirely different side to Trans-nationalism: that is, the refugee crisis. Rather than no longer belonging to their home, millions of people across the world are finding their homes no longer belong to them. Just as their lives and safety have to be of foremost concern to any decent human being right now, so do their mental and emotional wellbeing. We must recognise that these people have been forced from the nations were they feel they belong, with which they identify. Just as I have said above, their biggest wish is that they can change the outward reality to match their inward experience, and go back to a safe and welcoming home. We must consider this when dealing with them and their country, and work as one world to heal the nations that they love so much. And that is just not going to happen by shutting down our borders and turning our backs on the world.)

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