The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: I is for ‘identity politics’

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

I is for “identity politics”

Like last week’s post, this one isn’t just a thing that cis people use against trans people – it’s a pretty common thing used by the privileged against members of any marginalized group whenever we try to speak about our experiences. We’re accused of engaging in ‘identity politics’, which is apparently a bad thing? It’s not always called ‘identity politics’ either, although the term has gained a lot of traction since marginalized groups of all stripes are being scapegoated as the reason Trump was elected in the US.

Cis people and those privileged along other axes are making accusations of ‘identity politics’ whenever they accuse someone of playing the ‘trans card’ (or the ‘race card’, the ‘woman card’, or whatever it happens to be on that day), as if pointing out that we are marginalized is the real problem here. Since this has been such a hot topic recently, I’m actually not going to write my own full take-down of this one – I’m just going to give y’all some suggested reading on the topic. Links are not specifically focused on identity politics as a trans issue, but they are relevant nonetheless:

Thank God for Identity Politics | Ijeoma Oluo, The Establishment

Don’t Stop Arguing, Complaining, and Fighting for ‘Identity Politics’ | Tasneem Raja, NPR

‘Don’t play identity politics!’ The primal scream of the straight white male | Hadley Freeman

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Questions from the search terms: “everyone has a marginalized identity”

This was an interesting search string that brought someone to my little corner of the internet: everyone has a marginalized identity

I don’t know if it was meant as a question or a statement, but it wormed its way into my brain nevertheless. Because the thing is, when you get right down to it, the *vast* majority of people do experience some sort of systemic marginalization in their lives (though I would argue that there are many cases in which the axes of marginalization in question are not particularly axes of the people’s active identities).

To look at it another way, let me ask: what people in this world have faced no forms of systemic marginalization? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll actually limit myself to people in the US and Canada.

That would be white, anglophone, cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual, monotheist (really, Christian specifically), thin, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, neurotypical men from at middle-class backgrounds or higher. I am sure I’m even forgetting some things here. But the point is, its far and away a small sliver of the population.

This is, of course, part of why intersectionality is an important aspect of social justice discourse. Because once you’ve missed one of the privilege boxes, every additional hit doesn’t just add on to that, it multiplies and interacts with it. So, for instance, if you’re a rich white straight dude, you can usually get away with being publicly atheist without facing too much scrutiny (depending of course on specifically where you are, but nevertheless), whereas if you’re a rich white gay dude, it’s probably safer to at least pretend to be into the kinder parts of the bible (y’know, one of the ‘good’ gays or whatever). You don’t want to question the hegemony too much, after all.

Not to mention that when you have intersecting marginalized identities, you’re more likely to find yourself not just excluded from mainstream stuff, but also from groups dedicated to individual aspects of your marginalization – LGBT people might not want atheists visible in their groups, and atheists sadly aren’t free from heterosexism).

And I actually think this is one of the places where relatively privileged people often get stuck in social justice discourse. Because most of us actually have experienced some sort of marginalization, but those who only experience this marginalization on one or two fronts, or on the ones that are less relevant to day-to-day living, often make the mistake of thinking they know what it’s like to be marginalized. Because they kind of do. And I think most of us (myself included) are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the impacts of different marginalized identities aren’t directly comparable, that the effects of marginal identities aren’t simply additive, and that the intersections between privileged and marginalized identities within any given individual have complex and hard-to-parse consequences.

None of us can seperate out the parts of our lives that result from our privilege and the parts that result from our marginalization, because everything flows out of all of these things.

I want to be able to say that remembering we have all suffered should help us all be a little more compassionate, but unfortunately in practice it is those who have suffered the most, or those who are currently trying to end their own most immediate suffering, who are put upon to be kind and quiet and gracious and compassionate toward those who are contributing to their suffering. We are always playing a game of “no, you be civil first!” and this is a game that the most marginalized people will always lose, because the most marginalized people will inevitably have fewer emotional resources available to do the work we are constantly demanding of them.

So yes, I guess almost everyone does have some sort of marginalized identity. But we all need to learn to see past our own marginalization and recognize the experiences of those different from us, their suffering, and the ways in which we may have been complicit in, or complacent about, their marginalization. And none of us is absolved of doing so.

“An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community”: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 8

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community

For those that don’t know, the GSM in ‘GSM community’ stands for ‘Gender and Sexual Minorities’. It’s an alternate name sometimes used for LGBTQ+ communities to avoid alphabet soup problems while still being broadly inclusive.

…And you may not have caught my little linguistic trick in that last paragraph, but it points to a potentially unpopular opinion I have about ‘the GSM community’: I don’t believe such a thing exists.

There are GSM communities. There are lots of them, with varying levels of inclusivity of varying kinds of people who experience marginalization because of their gender (or lack thereof) and/or sexual orientation (or lack thereof). Many of them are wonderful. But there is no GSM Community, I don’t believe there can be one, and I don’t believe there should be, really.

For one thing, talking about ‘the community’ tends to send the message that gender and sexual minorities are a monolith, and we obviously aren’t. For every trans person I see insisting that ‘transgendered’ isn’t a word, I see a another trans person actively describing themself as ‘transgendered’, for instance.

But the other problem with broadly inclusive communities is that pretty much without fail, the voices that rise to the top, the ones that get heard, are the voices of the most privileged within those communities. And so the changes that get made are the ones that benefit those who are already most privileged. And this very often actually makes things harder for those less privileged.

Even something as simple and obviously right as extending marriage rights to all couples regardless of gender make-up has the real-life side effect of helping middle and upper class white gay people consolidate their wealth more effectively, thus contributing to continued income inequality. For reals.

In order for more marginalized voices to be heard, we need something more than ‘the GSM community’. We need a multiplicity of communities with a multiplicity of voices, representing as many different perspectives as possible. I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Dating while genderqueer: “Who cares if you’re genderqueer?”

A while back, I wrote a response to someone who had tried to reassure me about my dating prospects by saying “who cares if you’re genderqueer?”. The person’s point was that I shouldn’t sweat the folks who won’t date non-binary people, because I wouldn’t want to date those assholes even if I was cis. Which is true, but also misses the point.

My primary response, which is that my genderqueerness is actually important to me, and someone down-playing its role in my life and relationships isn’t really a good thing either, also missed the big picture, though.

I’ve since realized that my genderqueerness impacts my relationships in ways that go well beyond questions of allyship and affirmation. The thing is, even someone who totally gets me, and is into me and everything, might (unless they are genderqueer themself) ultimately decide that pursuing something serious with me is nor worth it. Because I am genderqueer.

Let me explain that.

What my genderqueerness does is makes the bar higher even when people are into me, because by dating me (and especially, y’know, parenting with me, since that is the thing I am really looking for), they will have to have more awkward conversations, potentially face bigotry, and their lives will be made harder in many of the ways, big and small, that being genderqueer makes my life harder.

Choosing to be with me isn’t just about choosing me, it’s also about deciding I am worth dealing with all of the other crap that comes with me, which I can’t wish away, but which they might decide they can’t handle.

And when I read this post on Neutrois Nonsense, it resonated with me deeply.

I worry a lot about my partner: that by choosing to love me, she has chosen difficulty. She has chosen awkward pronouns, chosen tricky explanations, chosen to allow my identity as a genderqueer person to shape hers as a queer woman, chosen a life that will come with footnotes and caveats.

It matters that I am genderqueer. My life is harder because I am genderqueer, and the lives of those around me are, in some ways, made harder by their association with me.

So, yeah. Can we just fast forward ourselves into a post-cis/hetero/patriarchal world already? That would help.


On “Over-reactions”

I think it’s fair to say than anyone who has ever tried to espouse and/or express any sort of social justice values has, at some point in their lives, been accused of over-reacting to something. It’s an extremely common silencing tactic, there’s no doubt about that. But I also realized something recently that adds just a touch of nuance to the way I think about accusations of “over-reaction”. I honestly think that there are instances where that kind of accusation can stem from a genuine misunderstanding.

I mean, there are certainly people out there (especially in internet-land) who will label any acknowledgement of racism or sexism (or any other -ism) as an over-reaction. Simply pointing out that something is problematic is considered going too far and being too sensitive as far as some folks are concerned. I like to call these people assholes, (for lack of a better term,) and don’t really feel the need to discuss them any further.

But I just don’t think that everyone who has ever accused someone of over-reaction deserves to be equated with those assholes. The realization I came to recently is that very often, when someone gets upset over some instance of marginalization, the people who lob accusations of over-reaction are simply misunderstanding what the person in question is, in fact, reacting to.

Because, honestly, I understand why responding with righteous rage to a (funny!) command that you make some dude a sandwich might appear to be an over-reaction. The problem, of course, is that the righteously enraged person is never responding to that one completely unfunny and tired joke, or single comment, or that isolated incident – they’re responding to a much larger pattern of marginalization, of which the joke or comment or incident in question is simply an illustrative example. And that example is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

And this is the point that I want to make very clear, and in order to do so, I am going to seriously strain this analogy, and I apologize in advance. The thing is that when we discuss a straw breaking a camel’s back, we understand that the straw that does the breaking is not the first one, nor the second. In fact, understand that the camel must have been carrying a great deal of weight prior to the addition of that last piece of straw, and we would never accuse the poor creature of being flawed or weak for having been unable to take that last little bit of weight. We simply understand that its strength is finite, and it reached its limit.

But marginalized people never seem to get this kind of consideration. We are expected to simply keep absorbing the monthly, weekly, daily, and hourly instances of marginalization and bigotry in silence for ever. Why?

Because talking about prejudice is uncomfortable? More specifically, I expect, it’s because exposing prejudice is uncomfortable for the privileged folks in the room, while silently allowing prejudice to continue really only discomfits (disenfranchises) marginalized people. And really, marginalized people are used to this kind of thing, so they should totally be able t take, while it’s clearly unfair to expect racists who are accustomed to going unchallenged to suddenly be able take criticism, am I right?

Or am I just over-reacting?

But I digress: the real problem is that these patterns of social marginalization to which apparently over-reacting people are so often reacting are invisible to anyone who 1) is not directly affected by them; and 2) doesn’t explicitly try to look out for them (or, essentially, anyone who is in an acknowledged position of privilege). So, instead of seeing this:

A person who has been blissfully ignorant of the pervasiveness of marginalizing messages in their culture (and is thus only aware of the incident in question) sees this:


And it is from this misunderstanding that many an accusation of over-reaction has stemmed.

Of course, it’s also important to note here that being marginalized in one aspect of one’s life (or alternatively, acknowledging one aspect of one’s privilege) does not always guarantee empathy with people who experience patterns of marginalization base don different characteristics; thus, LGB people accuse Trans* folks of over-reacting to their marginalization by LGB people, even while those same LGB folk are being accused of over-reacting to instances of heterosexism and anti-LGB bigotry.

And I’ve been just as guilty of this kind of thing as next person. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last few years is that if someone appears to be over-reacting to something, I probably lack the necessary context to properly assess their reaction. I probably don’t know actually understand what it is they’re actually reacting *to*. And remembering that one simple fact has helped me to learn so much, and become a better person. You should try it!

I promise it’ll feel good.