Entries in Identity (3)


Dozens of People Live as 'John Doe,' Not Knowing Who They Are

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the John Does walking among us, their lives are mysteries to society and to themselves.  These seemingly invisible citizens can't answer the simple questions, "What's your name?" or "Where are you from?"  They are blank slates.

They aren't eligible for health insurance, can't pay rent or get a driver's license.  They can't get a job or apply for unemployment benefits.

Many of them suffer from mental illnesses that render them unable to remember who they are.  Scans of their fingerprints lead to no matches, indicating that they do not have criminal records.  Their faces do not appear in databases for missing people.

In February, a man was brought to a Fort Worth, Texas, hospital with a cranial bleed.  He did not know his name or remember any details from his life.  He was admitted under the name "Bobby Jones," but only answered to "Smiley."  They have guesstimated his age to be about 76.  He can speak, but rarely answers questions.  He is paranoid and no longer able to walk.

"I just keep thinking he was somebody's little baby once and you think about how much you love your children and what happened to his parents?  Where have they gone?" wondered Kathleen Evans, the inpatient case manager for Fort Worth's JPS Health Network where Smiley was a patient.

The caretakers know that Smiley has been on the streets and in shelters in the Fort Worth area for about 20 years.  He has no police record, proven by the lack of a fingerprint match.  The hospital has been paying $24,000 every three months for his care, but Evans sees no other choice.

"We couldn't put him out on the streets," she said firmly.  "I can't lay him out on the sidewalk.  He's a human being and you have to send him to a safe place and the street would not be safe for him."

Smiley is now in a nursing home.  Evans and the hospital tried every known avenue to search for his identity.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), working under the U.S. Department of Justice, has several databases, but does not currently have one that includes the living unidentified.  But after being presented with a number of cases of living unidentified, they are developing a new database that they hope to launch by the end of this year.

"The traditional system is in dealing with unidentified deceased, but we know there are unidentified living," NamUs spokesman Todd Matthews told ABC News.  "We have to include the missing.  They're missing from somewhere."

Matthews does not have an exact count on the number of cases, but NamUs is aware of "dozens" of men and women living without identities.  He believes there are many more cases out there that have not been reported because hospitals and authorities don't know what to do with them.

"I think people have seen this as a homeless person and they've just fallen ill, but that's not always the case," Matthews said.  "I think we're really going to have people to focus on this and see how many are out there."

"It's a real problem," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Should Law Require Brides to Take Grooms' Names?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Julia Levine Rogers thinks of herself as a "strong modern woman," who at 27 has worked in health clinics in Africa and started her own travel business for students. But when she married Tom Rogers last August in Stowe, Vt., she took his name, even though her own mother had refused to change hers in 1977.

"Choosing to take Tom's name was not a decision I came to lightly," said Rogers.  "I thought a lot about the implications of changing my name, especially since my mother chose to keep her maiden name.  I wondered for a while if I was wrongly giving up my identity for an archaic tradition."

According to a variety of surveys, more young women are agreeable to taking a new identity at the altar, though their reasons have nothing to do with subservience.

"In its purist form, marriage is about starting a family, and I wanted to start that family with the same name," she said.  "Eventually it came down to practicality and what felt right."

Like Rogers, an overwhelming majority of brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for a woman who refused to take her husband's name in 1855.

Another survey, published last spring in the journal Gender and Society, finds that at least half of those queried said they would agree that a name change should be a requirement for marriage.

"It absolutely shocked us," said co-author Brian Powell, who is a professor of sociology at Indiana University.

Powell surveyed 815 Americans of all genders, educational and economic backgrounds, asking them if they "agreed" or "did not agree" with certain statements on views of family.  More than 70 percent of women said they agreed that a woman should change her name at marriage.  And half said "yes" when asked whether making the name change a state law was a good idea.

In some ways women like Rogers have "reverted back" after their mothers' generation were pioneers who retained their own names.

"Baby boomers are more likely to define themselves as feminists than young adults, even if their children share more liberal views," said researcher Powell.

An examination of The New York Times wedding announcements from 1971 to 2005 revealed that about 18 percent of brides kept their own names.  Only 1 percent did in the 1980s, according to the 2009 study published in Social Behavior and Personality.

The ultimate decision is really tied to how women perceive their identity, researchers said.

"One woman said I did change my name when I married my husband and I was sorry, because I lost my original identity as a person," said Powell.  "But many focus on the collective identity of a family or their identity as the spouse of a husband."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Baby Raised Genderless Is Bad Experiment, Say Experts

David De Lossy/Digital Vision(TORONTO) -- No one knows the sex of Storm Stocker, a four-month-old baby from Toronto. Only his parents, his midwives, and his two older brothers have ever peeked beneath the diaper.

That's because his -- or is it her -- parents, Kathy Witterick, 38, and David Stocker, 39, want to raise their child genderless.

When Storm came into the world in a birthing pool on New Year's Day, they sent out this email: "We decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime."

Even Storm's brothers, 2-year-old Kio and 5-year-old Jazz, along with one family friend have been sworn to secrecy.

"What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children," Stocker told the Toronto Star. "It's obnoxious."

The newspaper was barraged with critical responses and even Storm's grandparents, though supportive, said they resented explaining their gender-free baby to friends and coworkers.

While child development experts applaud the family's efforts to raise their child free of the constraints of gender stereotypes, they say the parents have embarked on a psychological experiment that could be "potentially disastrous."

"To raise a child not as a boy or a girl is creating, in some sense, a freak," said Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. "It sets them up for not knowing who they are."

"To have a sense of self and personal identity is a critical part of normal healthy development," he said. "This blocks that and sets the child up for bullying, scapegoating, and marginalization."

"We all have sexual identity," said Beresin. "The mission to have masculine and feminine traits more equalized and more flexible and not judgmental is awesome in a utopian community. But we take pride in our sexual identity."

The family gleaned the idea for unique child-rearing from the 1978 children's book, X: A Fabulous Child's Story, by Lois Gould. The author uses symbolism and allegory to explore gender "creativity."

"Identity formation is really critical for every human being and part of that is gender," Beresin said. "There are many cultural and social forces at play."

Witterick and Stocker have been besieged with phone calls since the media grabbed on to their personal story.

"Thanks for your interest," said Storm's mother on a recorded message when ABC News called for comment. "We are really swamped with calls right now and our first priority is the needs of our family."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio