By young adulthood most people can make a list of the elements of their identity in order of importance, although the solidification of that persona can last a lifetime. First on the list would be the most solid, most important elements of that individual’s identity. For most people these important elements include gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and religion. Many of these identities are formed around who the person was when they were born (black, male etc.) Nearer the end of the list would be the elements of identity that are more malleable and open to change.
But what happens when a formative element of how you see youreself is different than that of the vast majority of people around you? For example, what if you identify as gay or transsexual in a majority straight or cisgendered area? What about identifying as Black in an all white neighborhood? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being “different” but that doesn’t make the experience easy.
Identity gives a sense of belonging in a community of people. It gives us a feeling of “I am one of them.” But when an individual sees him or herself differently than those around them, it can have the opposite effect. Many adolescents and young adults who develop a “minority identity” feel isolated and out of place. The perceived lack of community can cause these individuals to struggle with self-love and acceptance. This can make the normally murky transition to adulthood even more challenging.
Fear, stigma, and rejection often color these individuals experiences of identity development. Often when they are still very young, there is a moment when an individual is confronted with society’s rejection of an element of their core identity. For example, in cases of racial or ethnic minorities, this might mean the individual experiences open prejudice or racism for the first time. The result of this initial encounter can be anger, hurt, questioning of self, and even shame. The individual then attempts to reconcile these feelings, sometimes through rejection of the majority identity group, and sometimes through attempted immersion into it.
In the case of sexual and gender identity, LGBTQ adolescents often struggle with the potential of familial rejection. It is heartbreaking to think that personal identity might estrange a young adult from their family forever. Strong social pressures may cause these individuals to reject their identities (at least for awhile) in order to “fit in” and maintain relationships with their families and friends.
The struggle in developing a minority identity can sometimes lead to potentially serious mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. For those supporting a friend or family member who has a minority identity, the most important thing is acceptance. Accepting and supporting the person for who they are gives them security to go out and face the world and seek the help they may need.
For those dealing with this type of identity development, there is hope and help. As lonely as being “different” might feel, there is a community out there for everyone. You will find “your people.” You deserve to be accepted. Spend time finding out who you really are. Read, write, talk, and experience the world in order to find others that you connect with.
Finding Your Tribe
A minority persona does not mean you cannot find community with those different from you. We can all connect on our most basic of similarities–our humanity. This is especially important to remember for individuals whose identity might cause friction within their family. The underlying framework of family is love. That means that there is always hope when navigating differences in identity.
Difference is a good thing, although it might not always feel that way. Being different in and of itself can create a sense of belonging. You can find connection with all kinds of people simply by finding common ground with and appealing toward their experience of being different. This makes you an incredibly approachable person and a great friend. Everyone has at least some experience with not fitting in.