Last week, I was mentioned in a newspaper article. Or, rather, I wasn’t mentioned.

The article talked about me and one of the worst experiences of my life, but described me only as “the wife of a fellow soldier”.

I had a really strong response to this. I had to go for a hard run before I could begin processing it. I slept on it and received support from some wonderfully people I have in my life who reached out to me when they saw the article.

My first impression (I’ll leave out the swears!) was: SAY MY NAME

Say my name.

My identity in this world is not as an appendage to a man who “owns me” (as HIS wife, as “of him”) through marriage or a man who “did something to me” through violence. Neither of these things defines who I am.

If anything, I am the fellow soldier. I was on infantry training with the person who committed the violence against me, we were in the same section and I thought of him as my brother in arms. Not my husband’s or any other soldier’s.

I am my own person with my own identity and accomplishments and relationships. It’s so crazy to me that I would even have to say this out loud. How is it that I live in a world where my own personal sovereignty is not taken for granted to be a fact, a given.

It’s a personal story, but I wanted to share it because this sort of thing happens all the time. And it really hurts. People are reduced to labels or simplification instead of being allowed to define themselves, express their own selves and their own uniqueness.

People denied a full identity, a full self, also happen to be more likely to experience violence, harassment, invisibility, disadvantage.

I’ve felt the pain of this, but I also acknowledge I’ve been guilty of it, of over-simplifying or minimizing the experience and identity of others. Last week’s example was a strong reminder to me of how painful it is and how much invisible damage this kind of thing has done to me for years. Of how important it is to see people in a way that is true for them and not just easy for me to categorize or deal with.

Misappropriating someone’s identity is an injury. It’s an odd word to use maybe, but Merriam-Webster describes misappropriation as dishonestly or unfairly take something belonging to another person for one’s own use. That’s what it feels like every time. It feels like something is stolen from me.

I’m not the object of a man or an organization, a system, a society. I’m not a human giver: I’m a human being. I deserve the same privilege to BE what I am, my own subject, and not the object of another subject.

We all get to have this. I want to be held accountable to respect the full personhood of others. I want to make sure I’m not perpetrating this injury on others the way Ottawa Citizen ambulance chaser David Pugliese recently did to me.

I just came across the following quote from Elizabeth Gilbert (she wrote Eat Pray Love among other wonderful works). It speaks to the difficulty that women and other marginalized groups face when we set out to define our own identity.

And it speaks to to the fact that it’s our birthright to do so anyway, whether or not the members of privileged groups recognize it.

My journey began with a series of questions…the biggest and oldest questions of any human life: Who am I? Who does my life belong to? What is my relationship to divinity? What have I come here to do?

Do I have the right to choose my own path? With whom do I want to share my path – if anyone? Do I have the right to experience pleasure and peace? If so, what would bring me pleasure and peace?

It is true that – for most of world history – women were not allowed to ask any of these powerful questions, but we can finally ask them today. Maybe that’s why “Eat Pray Love” had such a big impact.

Maybe that’s why I had such an alarming encounter one afternoon in a television studio with an angry young man who said to me, “You’re ruining all the women!” You’re making them all leave! My sisters, my girlfriends – they’re all leaving!”

I just smiled and backed away from him, with my hands up in a gesture of friendly surrender, but I must admit that I felt a shiver of pleasure to see how upset he was getting about all this – to see his panic over the prospect that so many women might be leaving.

And where were all these women going, exactly?

I don’t know where, but I assume they were going wherever [the fuck] they wanted to go.

Elizabeth Gilbert, but Annalise added the square brackets 😉

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