I have a very queer view of the world.
That means I look at every person as an individual with their own unique history, outlook and challenges.
The limits of identity politics, of assigning people a group identity based on some assessment of the level of privilege or oppression attributed to their grouping have long been obvious to me.
Those who see the world as a set of shared oppressions, who want to create a political system based on group identity and group shame, love identity politics because it externalizes responsibility for people’s actions. You are who you are because of your race, class, sex or other groupings.
To them, a zealous application of identity politics flips what they see as social privilege on its head, privileging the most oppressed over all others. It is our group identity which gives us standing to speak, not our individual choices which are polluted by our essential lived experience.
For women’s studies professors, this notion that shared oppression is the mark of purity has been offered to generations of students. It is called consciousness raising and it offers an environment where political correctness is the highest value, where we learn to live in shame, surrendering our voice to the most oppressed among us. This is why Black Lives Matter, but other lives do not get the same value, because they don’t carry the same burden of oppression.
The concept of intersectionality has recently come up in this belief system. Intersectionality says that every human lives at he intersection of a range of different forces, isn’t simply one thing or another.
When you hear that, it is attractive to think that this is identity politics back door attempt to move towards a queer mindset, starting to see individuals as unique, starting to value the person.
You would, though, be wrong. To identity politics people, the intersectionality of someone does not make them an individual, rather it makes them a member of multiple identity groups. They are not just the group they claim, they are also members of the groups we assign them to.
Intersectionality, then, becomes a cover for what identity politics claims to loathe above all else: ranking oppressions. It breaks the law that you are not allowed to question or challenge the asserted oppression of other groups who are less socially privileged than you because that is just you asserting your oppressive privilege.
The executive director of the Georgia ACLU just quit, saying that she could not support trans rights initiatives because she believes in intersectionality. To her, trans bathroom access is just giving white men access to spaces that are privileged to the oppressed, to women, children and people of colour. She feels fear, which she projects onto her vulnerable children when she sees these kind of people enter her spaces.
To justify her position, she calls back intersectionality, asserting that those with more oppressed group identities must have the right to be protected from those who grew up with social privilege. These transwomen may identify as oppressed, but because they are really white men in her taxonomy, the fear she feels is their fault, coming from their privileged background, so they must not be protected over people like her and her children.
I wrote a bit of parody about ranking oppression back in the 1990s in my announcement of the Trans-Victim list. It goes to the heart of the problem of ceding the power to the most victimized, most oppressed in the room, asking others to accept group shame and guilt to stay silent and unchallenging as a sign of respect and fealty to the power of identity politics.
For people who live in the real world and not the academic or social justice world where identity politics rules, this all seems rather silly. Isn’t the basis of American values that each shall rise or fall on their own choices and contributions and not on some assignment of group identity?
America has a long and vicious history of institutionalized racism and other separations, where people were oppressed and limited because of their group identity. Women were denied the vote, Asians were marginalized and interned and so on.
We do need to raise consciousness about these mindsets, helping people move past their old patterns and assumptions.
The question is, though, what moves beyond it? Is it more groupings, this time allowing the weakest to lead, or is it moving past group identity altogether?
At a recent trans conference, they declared the bathrooms gender free. As liberated as this sounds, was it really a solution. One straight woman, there to talk about her experience of being an advocate for transpeople in health care was in a stall when a workman walked in to use the facility.
She knew he was just doing his business as simply as he could, but because he wasn’t one of the queers, just a straight guy who needed the can, she was uncomfortable with him being there. Could she trust him to be respectful?
She saw her tension as instructive, wanting to process the feeling, but it was there anyway. Does just doing some idealistic thing really useful?
At a lobbying day, they turned the nearest men’s room into an all-gender facility. One woman born female felt empowered by using it, but when I looked at it, I felt marginalized and sad at being asked to use it. Why did political correctness have to define where my choices?
I am against anyone who uses their presumed privilege to assert the power to violate the golden rule and treat anyone else in a way that they would find hateful.
I understand why, at some point, we have to each confront our own internalized assumptions and have to engage, with open mind and open heart, the experiences of others with being disadvantaged by systemic problems.
We each have to work to put aside our habits to open to diversity, to learn to treat everyone fairly and openly.
Deciding that identity politics, using groupings to decide who had privilege and needs to surrender it and who didn’t and needs to be given it, though, doesn’t seem to be the solution.
As someone who is often seen as “really” a mature, middle class white man in these identity politics spaces I have seen activists assert choices that they would find as hateful if done by someone they saw as having privilege. Their received enlightenment allows them to school others, dismissing challenge as just reactionary, unconsidered thinking.
Anyone who doesn’t understand and agree with what is being said by the most oppressed people just is stuck in their own prejudices, needing to be shamed into obsequious political correctness. There is no possibility that thought has moved beyond identity politics, rather it must be that they never understood it in the first place.
Replacing one sense of entitlement with another does not feel like a transcendent move, though it does allow activists to demand obedience, building their own power blocs.
I believe in intersectionality, but only because the acknowledgement that people are much more than the identity groups they can be assigned to leads us to queer, to valuing each based on their contribution and not on their compliance to canonical beliefs.
To me, moving to a place of respect and grace while asking others to do the same is the heart of moving to a better, more human place.
When identity politics followers use the idea of intersectionality to rank oppression, to devalue the real concerns of those they see as more privileged, asking them to surrender their needs to those assigned as more entitled, it makes me crazy. It violates the Golden Rule.
There are always going to be places in a free society where the needs of some challenge the comfort and belief of others, but those who claim to stand for freedom and equality before the law need to put aside their own dogma to find useful, liberating solutions.
The future is queer, at least to me, a place where we each have the responsibility of being an individual who treats others as individuals.