Identity homes

We all have what I call our ‘identity homes’, where we feel the most sense of authenticity, identifying and belonging as if at ‘home’. These partly consist of the textured layers of ethnic and sociocultural identifications, languages and places we have inhabited, family traditions, and other defining features of our social and sensory landscape past and present. ‘Identity homes’ also consist of our most intimate, primary experiences of feeling seen, valued and understood for who we are, and what our potential is; the experience of being accurately and securely held in the mind of a parent, spouse, or other important person.

What is the meaning of ‘Home’?

This is a topic that comes up in all contexts – working with clients, in our cultural complexity group, or in relation to my research on non-mainstream parenthood or sexual identity. Sarah Payton, a documentary filmmaker on  this subject (No Place Like Home, and the recent installation What it Seems to Be), shared the following quote with me from the French philosopher Vincent Descombes:

“Where is the character at home? The question bears less on a geographical territory than a rhetorical territory (rhetorical in the classical sense, as defined by the rhetorical acts: plea, accusation, eulogy, censure. recommendation, warning and so on). The character is at home when he is at ease in the rhetoric of the people with whom he shares life. The sign of being a home is the ability to make oneself understood without too much difficulty, and to follow the reasoning of others without any need for long explanations. The rhetorical country of a character ends where his interlocutors no longer understand the reasons he gives for his deeds and actions, the criticisms he makes or the enthusiasms he displays. A disturbance of rhetorical communication marks the crossing of a frontier, which should of course be envisaged as a border zone, a marchland, rather than a clearly defined line.”

I think this gets to the bottom of the experience, or at least a significant portion of it. We feel at home when we feel understood by others, which I would define broadly to include the ‘others’ in the mind as well as the ones who may literally be present at the moment of experiencing.

And at the same time there is the issue of projection in ‘otherness’. Also a form of complexity. If I realize how unconsciously I see and define you as ‘other’, and in so doing come to recognize the otherness that is within me, new things can happen.