Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2017 (Senior Prize)
Am I special, or is my mother just saying that?
When I asked my good friend today “who am I?” I received the response that I had been sadly prepared for: my name. When I asked again, his second attempt at explaining was “a living entity”
So that’s it. I am a name, and I am living. There are apparently around 7.5 billion people on planet Earth today. Now just think, each one of them may be faced with the same rather vague and uninviting question. Identity is how we see ourselves and how others see us; it could be described as the thing that sets us apart, but it also holds us together. Each person you meet isn’t just a name, they are a mass of emotions, opinions, and meanings, and they have the power to see the world from an entirely different window than you. To me, their identity is the glass of that window, carefully crafted as they wander down the path of life. But what if it wasn’t?
2065 / a mother
The young nurse hands me a thick blue booklet. “Female Human Identity Form” the quietly menacing title declares. “Now remember, identity is one of our fixed options, and it is often the most influential aspect of the design. These choices cannot be reversed.” She smiles. I grip the glossy paper, wondering for the hundredth time:
Do I want this?
It’s 6 months before the due date, and so far, I have chosen my child’s facial features, body type, and academic strengths. She is going to be the perfect baby. The perfect adult too. Buried deep in my waste basket is a reconstruction of what the doctors expect her to look like when she is 17. I have never seen something so sickening yet so beautiful.
shade number 15603.
mouth shape 36b.
and she would achieve
A grades in most subjects,
excelling in mathematics…
Of course, I was nowhere near the first to be designing my offspring. The extremely covert practise of designing babies started around ten years ago and now all over the world there are perfect little ten year olds solving university level physics questions, and with no one even suspecting gene alteration. Feeling slightly nauseous, I begin to fill in the wealth of questions that will soon become my child’s individuality. Her likes. Dislikes. Political leaning. Religious beliefs. Gender. Types of work she might do. Her favourite colour. Animal. Food. Music. Hobbies she might take up. Sexuality. The type of person she’ll date. Does she like Halloween? What is she scared of? Who does she look up to? Any pet peeves? Any obsessions? What motivates her? Will she drink? Is marriage a priority? Why? What? Will?
2082 / a daughter
Honestly, I’m lost. I know the story; I know I’m one of the designer kids. They know it too. They will probably find me soon enough.
It was around four years ago, on the eve of 2078, that the conflicts broke out. The ‘designer project’ was outed and abolished just eleven years after it had been established, and with apparently no way of telling who may be a product of the experiment, life went on with relatively small consequences. But when the supposed “blueprints” for the president were leaked on Christmas day 2077, people lost it. The thing was, if those documents were real, then everything the oppressive man had done was preprogramed. Someone had determined the future with such certain accuracy, by simply altering the genes of a human embryo.
Soon after, tens of thousands more of the chilling blueprints were released. Humans everywhere were divided by the sudden realisation that some among us had our permanent looks, abilities, and identities – and therefore most of our lives – chosen by our parents. I’ve read mine, it’s nothing particularly controversial, but it was an experience I will never forget. Reading your life on one page, knowing that almost every decision you have made was probably “expected” is not a very comforting thought.
Knowing that I like blues because my mother thought I should.
I wonder if I’ve turned out ‘perfectly’.
It’s disgusting. The moral panic has reached legislation and suddenly all the designer kids are being rounded up and shipped off to live the rest of their predictable lives in square concrete cells. As if it’s our fault. There’s that word again; it’s suddenly them and us. But that is not who I am!
I can hear them coming. Their heavy footfall on the apartment stairs sounds like the tearing up of solidarity. The upheaval of a collective identity. The perverse destruction of choice. And I find, strangely, I don’t feel alone. I suppose that’s exactly what identity is; it causes destruction through differences and builds bridges through similarities. Or is that just what she wanted me to think?