“Soup Cans”: Thoughts on Labels and Identity

by Elaine Stamp

I recently found out that I’m going to become an aunt.

I was sitting in the front room of the library, cobbling together paragraphs for a paper, when my brother sent me a photo of crocheted baby shoes. As I realized what they meant, I started weeping.

In the library.

And it wasn’t even finals.

baby shoes

Since then, I’ve been saying the word aloud to myself sometimes, maybe with the hope that by having my mouth shape the syllable, my brain will follow suit by wrapping itself around the concept. I keep closing my eyes and imagining what it’s going to feel like. I’ve never held a baby before. The idea of holding my brother’s child for the first time makes me nervous. What is cradling them going to be like? Will I be able to feel their heartbeat against the inside of my arm? Are they going to squirm, instinctively knowing my arms aren’t their mother’s?

I’ve always thought a lot about my identity, a process that’s been especially exaggerated in the last few years as I started figuring out my sexuality and my sense of self as Filipina. While many critique the use of labels as exclusionary or restricting, I’ve found power in using language to define who I am. In literature, we discuss the power of naming and claiming as a form of agency and power that one may exert over either themselves or others. Taking this idea and applying it to my identity seemed all the more natural, then, as labels became my own set of constellations in navigating who I am and feeling like I have control over where the hell I’m going in life.

In a practical sense, knowing the language to describe my identity helped me run a Google search and read blogpost after blogpost of others going through the same process of figuring themselves out. On another level, it was also empowering to know that not only did others like me exist, but there was language to describe us, whether we had created it on our own or had found it via a process of reclamation. There was language to name us, to affirm that we were connected, and that the experiences I had didn’t stem from the fact that I wasn’t enough somehow, that I was a freak, or that I was broken for not having this knowledge already.

Adding Aunt to my identity, then, gives me a jumpy feeling in my gut because I didn’t personally undergo that process of finding the label; it’s just being applied to me. Taking on this label feels like a major change, but in some ways it doesn’t. It doesn’t change how much I love my family and would drop everything to be there for them in whatever way I can. I still intend to be the Wise Aunt that’ll teach my brother’s child how to cook, or how to swear in French. And I still very much want to be there when they need someone who is in their corner but is also removed enough to offer perspective on what’s going on in their life.

I want to know what their voice will sound like, or what nervous habits they’re going to pick up and let go as they grow up. I’m excited to see if they’ll like classical music like I do, or if they’ll snore halfway through the praeludium of the fourth Bach cello suite. And I’m definitely looking forward to hearing their laugh for the first time. Perhaps the jumpy feeling in my stomach isn’t so much an uneasiness of loosening some of the iron grip on my identity as it is just plain excitement.

Either way, I recently found out that I’m going to become an aunt, and I can’t wait.

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