Initially referenced as the middle stage of ritual by anthropologist Victor Turner (1969), liminality is experienced during a relatively brief period when ritual participants stand at a threshold between the old way of being and the new. During this liminal period, participants are stripped of their social status and experience a sense of ambiguity or disorientation.
In writing my master’s thesis on finding wholeness as a biracial woman (Enders, 2011), I discovered that participants’ experience during the liminal phase resonated with the daily experience of those who are multiethnic, genderqueer, bisexual, and/or intersex. In a world that prefers binary identity, those whose identity lives in this in-between space feel pressure to claim one end of the polarity and reject the other. Rather than being a transitional space, the liminal is, for these individuals, a permanent home (Enders, 2011).
In a world that prefers binary identity, those whose identity lives in this in-between space feel pressure to claim one end of the polarity and reject the other. Rather than being a transitional space, the liminal is, for these individuals, a permanent home.
This liminal space of identity can be “unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition…lacking clear boundaries”—the person is in a “constant state of displacement” (Anzaldúa, 2002, p. 1). Yet by holding dualities simultaneously, the person creates a bridge wherein the borders between “our” and “theirs” can be crossed. These “border crossers” (Watkins & Shulman, 2010, p. 171) allow for new dialogues by allowing more diversity of perspectives.
Yet by holding dualities simultaneously, the person creates a bridge wherein the borders between “our” and “theirs” can be crossed.
By resting the locus of identity at the threshold of opposites and not in the identities themselves—what I am referring to as liminal identity—allows multiethnic individuals not only more stability in their sense of self, but also a platform for transformation.
In Los Intersticios: Recasting Moving Selves, Evelyn Alsultany (2002, p. 109) wrote, “Identity must be reconceptualized so that we can speak our own identities as we live and interpret them in multiple contexts. But how can we create a space for the articulation of multiethnic identities as unitary and whole rather than fragmented and dislocated?”
Inspired by San Francisco Bay Area psychotherapist Ruth Cobb Hill’s (2010) idea of liminal identity, this website is one answer to Alsultany’s question, not only for multiethnic individuals, but also for other liminals.
(Adapted from my article in the Viewpoint @ TPI — Sept/Oct 2015)
Alsultany, E. (2002). Los Intersticios: Recasting Moving Selves. In G. E. Anazaldúa, & A. Keating (Eds.), This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformaion (pp. 106-110). New York, NY: Routledge.
Anzaldúa, G. E. (2002). (Un)natural bridges, (Un)safe places. In G. E. Anzaldúa, & A. Keating (Eds.), This bridge we call home: Radical visions for transformation (pp. 1-5). New York: Routledge.
Enders, Angella (2011). Finding wholeness: Understanding liminality through my experience as a biracial woman (Master’s thesis). Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria, CA.
Hill, R. C. (2010). Liminal identity to wholeness. Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, 4, 16-30.
Turner, V. (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Chicago, IL: Aldine.
Watkins, M., & Shulman, H. (2010). Toward psychologies of liberation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.