You Don't Know Me: Identity and the Ascendant
Constructing new faces in a post-social reality
Identity has always been a fascination of mine. The way we construct personas, the way we perform meaning for ourselves and others, the way we shift or change these indicators depending on where we are or who we're with...I was particularly fascinated by visual identity, the ways we signify these personas externally and the meaning we create through style. In college, I studied subcultures and icons, analyzing how they used style to set themselves apart and send shockwaves through culture.
But most lives aren't so dramatic. We form identities around friend groups, hobbies. We react against the constructs in which we were raised, determined to identify independently of those who came before us.
When we're young we tend to identify with our ascendant, the energy with which we meet the world outside. This early ascendant is a mask, a shield to protect the still-malleable core. There's a certain degree of mimesis as we borrow traits from others, collecting potential identities from the world around us. We soak in information from family, cultural expectations, celebrities, peers. Often, we're told who we are based on the ways we reflect these things--"bossy," "tomboy," "old soul," "little diva" all begin to shape our understanding of ourselves from the outside in.
As we cultivate these associations we sort ourselves into categories and connect with others "like" us, absorbing bits and pieces of these friendships into ourselves as we grow. But identity is a process, meant to adapt and evolve as we enter new phases and stages of life. We return again and again to the point of our ascendant, refining this worldly identity just a little bit better each time.
Thanks for reading That Astrologer! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Free from the confines of high school politics, my own identity was formed around a simple question: what do I want to look like, and what kind of person does that make me? Everything from my hair colour to my perfume was carefully selected to communicate a quality, to signify a characteristic I intended to adopt. For years I had bright blue hair and wore wild lipstick, cloaked myself in holographic plastic and slick waxed denim. I made myself a Space Age Lovesong, a flesh-and-blood vision of the lyrics I longed to live.
But this person never existed in the real world. She flitted from conversation to conversation, absorbing information and memories through others, keeping records of lives she never lived. Emotional intimacy never really factored into these friendships--on the rare occasion I needed or asked for emotional support it only made things weird. I was left feeling like I'd broken the fourth wall of a performance that was only ever meant for observation.
I don't really know when I let that persona go. I don't really know when I let any of my identities go, to be honest. Looking back on my life feels like a character study, with one flowing into and out of the other. At some point I traded in my metallic PVC for more earthly materials, let my hair grow out in shades of auburn brown, and considerably downsized my makeup collection. The feeling of heavy sculpting creams against my skin disgusted me. Without the caustic sting of bleach, my hair curled on its own. Five years after leaving my New York City performance space I saw a very different reflection--one I'd hid for most of my life. When I caught myself in storefront glass, rather than the neon-coloured sci-fi muse I'd so carefully assembled, I saw versions of my ancestors reflected back, my family history laid bare in one life.
Without these layers of visual construction I began to wonder whether anyone had ever truly known me. I wondered whether I had ever truly known myself. It was a full rotation of the wheel and I found myself back at the start.
When the world went into lockdown it added another layer of complication to the equation. Social distancing and shut downs made it impossible to gather with friends and while Zoom and Facetime seemed to offer a solution it quickly became clear that technology was no replacement for socialization. Video streams glitched, audio struggled to handle the nuances of human conversation patterns. And with work conducted over the same platforms it felt like a chore to organize any sort of virtual hangout.
Removed from our social habitats, people seemed to go one of two ways: stasis or evolution. Some waited the time out, indulging in the latest binge-worthy series and digital releases. Others leaned into new hobbies and studies, exploring avenues they previously lacked the time and energy for. And each group assumed everyone else had done the same. When the world reopened, many felt as if they'd been thrust into an alternate timeline where everyone was just different enough to impact interactions and make best friends question their entire realities.
After three years of rapid changes, workplace shutdowns, and social media polarization, we've all found ourselves back at the start wondering what's on the horizon. The world outside is still unstable, reflecting new realities with each rotation of the news ticker. We can no longer glean information about ourselves from our surroundings. We need to go within.
Of course its easier said than done. For many it involves relinquishing relationships dating back decades. For others it means revisiting traumas so deeply internalized they may no longer distinguish themselves from the events. Some may be surprised to find that they live in identity constructs only half formed, begun and assumed without means of fulfilment, dependent on circumstances which changed long ago. In order to reach a new beginning, we must first complete the previous cycle--something we're painfully adverse to. Because it means not just confronting the past and acknowledging endings, but also what never came to be. It requires us to mourn for lost opportunities and possibilities which never came to fruition. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about limitations and achievements. In order to discover who we truly are and fully embody this evolution of self we need to admit who we are not.
This runs counter to a lot of popular teachings. We're told as children that we can be anything. We're told as adults that we simply need to will our desires into being, that our dream life is only a positive thought away. But this freedom can be daunting. Identity is a flower that blooms with--and against--confinement. We require structures of support and comparison to hone ourselves against. Our social instincts tell us this can only be done in harmony with others, in family structures and groups of friends. But this support can come from within. It simply requires absolute transparency, strength, and a willingness to start anew.
Thank you for being a subscriber and welcoming my thoughts into your inbox! If you appreciate my work, please consider becoming a member through email for additional exclusive content and forwarding this article to others who may enjoy it. You can also gift memberships here through Substack! I rely entirely on recommendations and reader support to continue making content. Tips are not expected, but Ko-Fi donations are deeply appreciated. You can hear more candid thoughts on my podcast, Love and a Little Magic as well as Instagram and Youtube.