Mistaken Identity?

27 Jul

Few things are as hotly contested as so-called “identity politics”, i.e., political activism for and (in the best case scenario) by a group of people who have chosen a group identity in response to being marginalized for a particular sexual preference, gender, appearance…, as a means of self-empowerment and as a means of enabling targeted criticism of said marginalization. Identity politics (cf. Kimberlé Crenshaw et al. 2013) are hotly contested because of some people’s tendency to essentialize said identity instead of clarifying that identity politics are a means to an end, namely to uncover, name, illustrate, criticize and eventually abolish a discriminatory power structure underlying any given marginalized identity – not only in certain, but in all social situations. The fact that some leftist activists have a massive problem with identity politics is revealing in so far as that issue is mostly brought up when PoC assert their right to be heard and to criticize racism in leftist structures and radiating from leftist people who had heretofore declared themselves guilt-free. Negating any form of identity (other than “human”, as it is so often the case) not only ignores continuing and society-permeating forms of systematic oppression, but make the mere naming, the calling-out of oppression impossible. There you have it: Identities are a reaction to exclusionary claims of universalism, not an invention for the sake of essentialism. This is old news.

14071972057_830584e082_zAnyone can claim any identity s_he wants. I mean that. You can identify yourself as Black (see Dolezal), even if your phenotype suggests otherwise. That’s your prerogative as an individual. Race is a social and cultural construct. What you do not get to do, however, is to claim the lived experiences of people who are subject to the power structures creating identities (countercultures), and because you claim you are Black (like Dolezal did), it does not necessarily mean you experience racism (which is, in contrast to race, not a social or cultural construct). Because you claim you are queer, you are not necessarily experiencing heterosexism. Let me explicate that:

People are pulling Dolezals all over the place, and that is identity politics gone wrong. That is identity politics not for the sake of exposing discrimination but identity politics for one’s own self-absolution, for obfuscating any kind of responsibility for social inequality. You can claim you are Black even if you have no experience of (anti-Black) racism. That, however, is an expression of privilege: You choose an identity, it is not imposed on you from birth or early childhood on as with PoC, and it only works your way around (I, for example, cannot simply choose to be white. It does not work this way, and no amount of Penatencreme will change that). Instead of doing the work as an ally – which can be exhausting, nerve-wracking, saddening -, you choose the easy way out: You stylize yourself as part of the oppressed group. End of story. You have the best of two worlds, then: Being part of a community that is often supportive and tightly-knit because of its negative experiences with hegemonic social structures, and also having the benefit of being invisible within these hegemonic social structures, even profiting from them. Remember: Before Rachel Dolezal became “Black”, she sued Howard University for discriminating against her because she was white.

No one should have the right to negate your chosen identity. People of the same identity, however, have the right to question whether you can actually relate to their lived experiences (that vary, of course, but the common denominator – e.g., racism, does not) or whether you are playing dress-up literally “coloring” yourself [Added: This is referring to Rachel Dolezal, who put on Blackface and a weave] and weave in and out of an identity according to the privileges it affords you at the time. Cis-women claiming they are “queer” but have only ever dated cis-men or are married to cis-men, for example, confuse me. Yes, it’s your identity. I get that. But leading a life of heterosexual privileges hardly relates to lives of lesbian or gay people; it hardly relates to experiences of heteronormativity, of heterosexist violence. Your identity does not correspond with the lived experiences of people whose sexuality, whose lives are policed, sanctioned, and legally restricted. So publicly and forcefully placing yourself within the bigger framework of LGBTQ folks, within a marginalized group, is insincere, if your sexuality is only ever practiced on cis-hetero terms.

You claim a marginalized identity without the actual experience as such. You thus obfuscate your own privilege within a heteronormative society that awards your sexuality_relationship relative safety (within the bounds of whiteness, cis-normativity, ableism). You resent the fact that you are not part of a counterculture so much that you stylize yourself as being part of an oppressed group, as the target, instead of doing the work. It is insincere, and it is identity politics gone wrong (and empty). I not only recall Dolezal here, but also a white feminist on Twitter last year, who, in response to reproaches of racism, claimed that she wasn’t “white,” but “green” (as in environmentally conscious), and thus incapable of having white privilege. Thus the hashtag #GreenPeopleBeLike was born.

Individually chosen identities do not automatically make you victim to societal discrimination. The experiences people have of discrimination due to external ascriptions are reformed and renamed into positive identities for the purposes self-empowerment and social activism. With identity politics, it’s not about essentialism. It’s about social relations. It’s about acknowledging the rich, varied, saddening, empowering, hurtful, infuriating, eye-opening life experiences of people other than male, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, and cis. Intersectional analyses take a multitude of identities into account to expose the unique spaces of societal marginalization occupied by various people. It’s not about an essentialized race, it’s about racism, not about an essentialized sex, it’s about (cis)sexism, not about an essentialized sexuality, it’s about heteronormativity, and so on. The terms Black or woman, e.g., are indicators of a social structure; they are abbreviations of a relation, not absolute terms. No one should impose an identity on anyone else. In our present day and age, identity politics are inevitable, and they are a useful tool. Everyone should have the right to chose his_her own identity. That identity, however, is not enough. It’s not static, it’s experience-based. And it’s always, always, about cracking the structures that necessitate it, in the end.

Addition: This text is about identity politics and people belonging to hegemonic societal structures appropriating and taking up space in the countercultures of marginalized people by strategically claiming it. Apparently, that wasn’t clear.

 

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13 Responses to “Mistaken Identity?”

  1. Natanji July 28, 2015 at 1:36 am #

    I think your post starts good by explaining identity politics, and then suddenly devolves into actually defining who is “really” part of a marginalized group and who isn’t, based on stereotypical ideas of how discrimination/marginalization works, and with quite some oppression olympics. ;)

    I think the first point I’d criticise is the paragraph where you claim: “People of the same identity, however, have the right to question whether you can actually relate to their lived experiences (that vary, of course, but the common denominator – e.g., racism, does not) or whether you are playing dress-up and weave in and out of an identity according to the privileges it affords you at the time.”

    First, this claims that *marginalized* identities come with *privileges*, but that I believe to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “privilege”. If you are marginalized via an identity, that doesn’t make it possible to be privileged via this same identity at the same time. That sounds like claiming affirmative action is a privilege of PoC, which it really isn’t! And by the way, seeing affirmative action as a privilege is a tactic used by “reverse racism!”-crying white folk, which I believe you *really* don’t want to use. ;)

    It’s also curious that you mention Dolezal of all people, who did claim an identity that wasn’t hers, but as shitty as what she did is: she claimed it *consistently*. She didn’t identify as black sometimes and then as white other times, she didn’t weave in and out. Neither does anyone else that I’ve seen accused of “playing dress-up” (a term which is extremely problematic to use, by the way, because that’s what trans folk are regularly accused of – please watch your language!), be it bi or trans people. I don’t really see anyone switching identities; the most I see is some people not being out to everyone they know, and that is *perfectly legitimate*.

    But my biggest issue comes with what you write later: “But leading a life of heterosexual privileges hardly relates to lives of lesbian or gay people; it hardly relates to experiences of heteronormativity, of heterosexist violence. Your identity does not correspond with the lived experiences of people whose sexuality, whose lives are policed, sanctioned, and legally restricted.”

    And this is bullshit because heteronormativity is precisely what essentially bullies a tremendous lot of people into not living their queer identities! When you see a cis woman only dating cis men, then you act as if she wasn’t really queer – while in actuality, that woman might be suffering from heterosexism so badly that she doesn’t even manage to step outside and live her life differently. What you are essentially saying is “in the face of oppression, I came out of the closet and said “this is who I am” and lived the queer life with all its repercussions – now anyone who wants to be queer ought to do the same!” But the heterosexist oppression means that a lot of people will *not* feel powerful enough to stand up to it, and blaming them means blaming the victims of heterosexist oppression.

    And yes, you are spot on that thus, these people evade a lot of the hatred directed at them that other marginalized people have to deal with! But their choice doesn’t come without a huge sacrifice; the sacrifice of *living* their identity, the sacrifice of so many queer folk who are still stuck in the closet.

    And then they might be doing baby steps, by coming out as queer for instance, and looking for support that you don’t find in the heteronormative circles around you. And you are declaring them not *actually* oppressed because their oppression is different from yours, because you only look at what they gained and not what they lost. In reality *their oppression is just experienced differently from yours*! Majority groups inside the queer scene are claiming that there are only certain, stereotypical ways in which the oppression manifests itself, and all those people who did not even manage to come out get silenced.

    Your post reminded me very strongly of that bad Xojane article on bisexuality from a few days ago (http://www.xojane.com/issues/if-you-only-date-men-you-dont-get-to-be-queer), which has been rebutted by a great many people, a really good reply is here: http://puzzlestuecke.tumblr.com/post/125000797539/biphobic-xojane-article-takedown – many of those points also apply to your post here, I think, so I highly recommend reading that rebuttal – it might be really educational.

    • accalmie July 28, 2015 at 2:24 am #

      I think your post starts good by explaining identity politics, and then suddenly devolves into actually defining who is “really” part of a marginalized group and who isn’t, based on stereotypical ideas of how discrimination/marginalization works, and with quite some oppression olympics. ;)

      To me, oppression olympics is to be part of a dominant culture but to then claim a marginalized identity for the hell of it, because you cannot fathom not being part of something. I don’t define who “really is part” of marginalized groups; I criticize people who declare themselves part of marginalized groups by appropriating identities whilst profiting from privileges denied to that exact marginalized group. I’m not sure if I could have stressed everyone’s right to his_her own identity more often than I have; that does not preclude criticizing appropriation for me, though. Rachel Dolezal is just the tip of the iceberg, actually – I’d rather discuss white people’s sudden feelings of discrimination by PoC rather than linking appropriation solely to dreadlocks.

      I think the first point I’d criticise is the paragraph where you claim: “People of the same identity, however, have the right to question whether you can actually relate to their lived experiences (that vary, of course, but the common denominator – e.g., racism, does not) or whether you are playing dress-up and weave in and out of an identity according to the privileges it affords you at the time.” First, this claims that *marginalized* identities come with *privileges*, but that I believe to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “privilege”. If you are marginalized via an identity, that doesn’t make it possible to be privileged via this same identity at the same time. That sounds like claiming affirmative action is a privilege of PoC, which it really isn’t! And by the way, seeing affirmative action as a privilege is a tactic used by “reverse racism!”-crying white folk, which I believe you *really* don’t want to use. ;)

      Rachel Dolezal profited from a marginalized identity by not having to engage with Critical Whiteness, by being elected chapter president of a local NAACP, by being appointed professor of African American Studies, by giving paid speeches about Black identity throughout the US. That is what I meant, clear and simple. That, quite clearly, afforded her privileges in terms of social, economic, and cultural capital. One could also say that inclusion in a counterculture, in a tightly woven network of Black activists, is a privilege rarely afforded to white people – for good reason. I would appreciate if you could stop talking to me as if I don’t know what racism actually entails and if I did not know what “reverse racism” claims actually are. This kind of whitesplaining is, frankly, an audacity on this blog, and I am (not) surprised that this is what’s left from what was, apparently, a quick glance at the text above re: racism.

      It’s also curious that you mention Dolezal of all people, who did claim an identity that wasn’t hers, but as shitty as what she did is: she claimed it *consistently*. She didn’t identify as black sometimes and then as white other times, she didn’t weave in and out. Neither does anyone else that I’ve seen accused of “playing dress-up” (a term which is extremely problematic to use, by the way, because that’s what trans folk are regularly accused of – please watch your language!), be it bi or trans people. I don’t really see anyone switching identities; the most I see is some people not being out to everyone they know, and that is *perfectly legitimate*.

      She did, actually. She was content to sue a historically Black university for allegedly discriminating against her because she was white. She later claimed she attended Howard because of her Black identity. I am nowhere and in no way comparing “transracial” Rachel (who appropriated that term herself, by the way) to (trans)gender identities, and your suggestions that I should watch my language is ridiculous here. This paragraph, this entire article, talks about people in positions of cultural dominance; not a single time did I talk about switching gender identities. I’d appreciate if you’d stop searching for analogies where none have been made on purpose.

      But my biggest issue comes with what you write later: “But leading a life of heterosexual privileges hardly relates to lives of lesbian or gay people; it hardly relates to experiences of heteronormativity, of heterosexist violence. Your identity does not correspond with the lived experiences of people whose sexuality, whose lives are policed, sanctioned, and legally restricted.” And this is bullshit because heteronormativity is precisely what essentially bullies a tremendous lot of people into not living their queer identities! When you see a cis woman only dating cis men, then you act as if she wasn’t really queer – while in actuality, that woman might be suffering from heterosexism so badly that she doesn’t even manage to step outside and live her life differently. What you are essentially saying is “in the face of oppression, I came out of the closet and said “this is who I am” and lived the queer life with all its repercussions – now anyone who wants to be queer ought to do the same!” But the heterosexist oppression means that a lot of people will *not* feel powerful enough to stand up to it, and blaming them means blaming the victims of heterosexist oppression.

      Thanks for that addition, your are of course right in terms of heterosexism oppressing people who are forced into invisibility. It’s not really what I’m talking about, though, I’m talking about particular people explicitly claiming to be queer and their appropriation of the term. And what I will maintain is that people who are read as gay, lesbian, or bi, are living a different reality, and this is also where situational privilege comes into play: additional to the same pressure of heteronormativity, they are confronted with heterosexist violence in various forms. I am also in no way insinuating that people should come out – that is something you might have read in the XO Jane article which some folks keep projecting onto this one here. This is not about victim blaming, it is about acknowledging two facts: Namely that, similar to Rachel Dolezal and others only in the sense of appropriating identities, that some people, even explicitly cis-het-people, claim “queer” identities in order to join an oppressed group rather than do the work (as mentioned in the article), and that the hostility toward expressions of frustration in regard to their different living situation by lesbians, for example, is ignored here. On a more general note, however: This is not even what this text is explicitly about. I am talking about fallacies in identitiy polics, as I see them, on a more general level; I am using examples for that purpose. I would love to actually engage in a debate about this.

      And yes, you are spot on that thus, these people evade a lot of the hatred directed at them that other marginalized people have to deal with! But their choice doesn’t come without a huge sacrifice; the sacrifice of *living* their identity, the sacrifice of so many queer folk who are still stuck in the closet.

      Thanks for that, that’s an important point that I have omitted. I stand by what I have written about the appropriation of “queer” as a hipster cis-het-self-identification and the different lived realities of LGBT people facing open heterosexism, still, and about the bigger point of identity politics. I don’t see that refuted here, frankly.

      And then they might be doing baby steps, by coming out as queer for instance, and looking for support that you don’t find in the heteronormative circles around you. And you are declaring them not *actually* oppressed because their oppression is different from yours, because you only look at what they gained and not what they lost. In reality *their oppression is just experienced differently from yours*! Majority groups inside the queer scene are claiming that there are only certain, stereotypical ways in which the oppression manifests itself, and all those people who did not even manage to come out get silenced.

      Again, but now apples and oranges. See comments above.

      Your post reminded me very strongly of that bad Xojane article on bisexuality from a few days ago (http://www.xojane.com/issues/if-you-only-date-men-you-dont-get-to-be-queer), which has been rebutted by a great many people, a really good reply is here: http://puzzlestuecke.tumblr.com/post/125000797539/biphobic-xojane-article-takedown – many of those points also apply to your post here, I think, so I highly recommend reading that rebuttal – it might be really educational.

      I’d appreciate if you’d stop reading debates into this article that aren’t actually there instead of engaging with what is actually said and then condescendingly trying to “educate” me. That seems to be a common theme in Twitter discussions about this, as suddenly, I am asked about liars, TERFs, and women as an alleged homogeneous category. I am talking about the appropriation of identities, and identity politics without an actual foundation in social structures, without the criticism that should be accompanying it in regard to social inequality. I am criticizing taking up labels and bullet points strategically to make oneself part of an oppressed group without actual experiences of marginalization, because of one’s continued and cherished location in hegemonical structures from which one goes on to systematically profit. This is what this article is about. This tendency, as I see it, in identity politics (which, as I mentioned throughout the text, have an important history, practice, and purpose) is problematic. If it’s not about you, it’s not about you. But it, oftentimes, isn’t even A or B, which is why I have chosen two (interconnected and intersectional) social structures where this behavior seems to occur. I’d love to discuss the actual topic further, then. Thanks.

      • Natanji July 28, 2015 at 5:21 am #

        > “I’m not sure if I could have stressed everyone’s right to his_her own identity more often than I have; that does not preclude criticizing appropriation for me, though.”

        Okay, I am now really confused by this. If you claim the identity of a marginalized group, then how could you even do this without this “appropriation” you speak of? “I am black, but actually a non-oppressed black person, since my skin color is white?” It seems to me like claiming a marginalized identity isn’t separable from saying “I’m marginalized”, thus to me this “right to someone’s own identity” seems pretty empty to me – what does that even entail? Just that you get to pick it (well duh), but that nobody needs to take you seriously for it?

        > “This paragraph, this entire article, talks about people in positions of cultural dominance; not a single time did I talk about switching gender identities. I’d appreciate if you’d stop searching for analogies where none have been made on purpose.”

        I understand that those haven’t been made *on purpose*. But cis people are in positions of cultural dominance, you mention “cis” yourself and it shouldn’t be surprising that people are thinking about trans issues and gender identities as well if you use such wording. I am not accusing you of being transphobic, instead I was assuming good intentions and that you perhaps didn’t know how hurtful reading this “dress up” sentence can be for a trans person such as myself. If you *were* aware, then it would go to question why you still used the formulation.

        RE Twitter I believe sentences such as “You stylize yourself as part of the oppressed group” or “Cis-women claiming they are “queer” but have only ever dated cis-men or are married to cis-men, for example, confuse me. Yes, it’s your identity. I get that. But…” have been heard many many times by people even oppressed *within* queer contexts, like bisexuals. I understand now that this is not what you *wanted* to talk about, but you *did* use these examples, it’s not something that “isn’t actually there”. Of course you also hit a hornet’s nest that was already buzzing with this identity topic regarding bisexuals due to the XO Jane article, but I believe that if many people criticise this article for this, then it’s weird to say that they’re all just reading it wrong.

        > “What I will maintain, however, is that people who are read as gay, lesbian, or bi, are living a different reality: additional to the same pressure of heteronormativity, they are confronted with heterosexist violence in various forms.”

        People who are read as gay, lesbian or bi are living a different reality than those who are not, yes; but different doesn’t mean “more pressure” or “more marginalization”. It only means that heterosexism manifests in different, but *incomparable* ways. A person that is read as gay doesn’t have to worry about isolation, or having their identity denied inside the queer scene, like a person who isn’t read as gay, for instance. When a bi person is told by a lesbian that her bisexuality is probably just a phase, or talked down to because she only dated cis men so far, that is a violent monosexist act (a form of heterosexism, I’d say).

        The way I understand you, you build a hierarchy of which experiences are the most marginalized, and you have a certain image of what this “different reality” looks like. I think this idea is misguided because there are so many ways for heterosexism to work through everything and anything.

        In the end I believe that a lot of confusion and hurt about your post comes from the fact that not many people have actually witnessed cis het people identifying as queer/appropriating queer identities. Being queer doesn’t seem “hip” outside of a few clubs in capital cities like Berlin. On the contrary though, many queer people have been wrongly read as not-queer by the community, and I guess some of these are speaking up right now.

        Oh crap, I should definitely be going to bed now. I’m still contemplating on the whole issue of identity politics that you mention, especially concerning race instead of gender and other queer topics. RIght now, I believe throwing these two topics together makes it quite difficult to understand for me.

        Last thing, I apologize for choosing such a condecending tone in some parts of my previous comment; it wasn’t intentional, but that doesn’t make it better. I hope this one’s better.

        • accalmie July 28, 2015 at 7:48 am #

          Last round:

          Okay, I am now really confused by this. If you claim the identity of a marginalized group, then how could you even do this without this “appropriation” you speak of? “I am black, but actually a non-oppressed black person, since my skin color is white?” It seems to me like claiming a marginalized identity isn’t separable from saying “I’m marginalized”, thus to me this “right to someone’s own identity” seems pretty empty to me – what does that even entail? Just that you get to pick it (well duh), but that nobody needs to take you seriously for it?

          How you take this from what I’ve written is beyond me. I’ve explained it again and again.

          “This paragraph, this entire article, talks about people in positions of cultural dominance; not a single time did I talk about switching gender identities. I’d appreciate if you’d stop searching for analogies where none have been made on purpose.” I understand that those haven’t been made *on purpose*. But cis people are in positions of cultural dominance, you mention “cis” yourself and it shouldn’t be surprising that people are thinking about trans issues and gender identities as well if you use such wording. I am not accusing you of being transphobic, instead I was assuming good intentions and that you perhaps didn’t know how hurtful reading this “dress up” sentence can be for a trans person such as myself. If you *were* aware, then it would go to question why you still used the formulation.

          That whole paragraph is about Rachel Dolezal (and the entire text repeatedly mentions cissexism as a dominant social structure, and I mean that). It is, in my opinion, a willful and white-centric misreading, if people don’t recognize that dress-up relates to Dolezal’s Blackface, concious style of clothing/jewelry/etc., and wearing a weave. She literally put on a costume and a mask to play Black (which she could take off if she wanted to; it was a bit of a Wallraffian move). The sentence following “dress-up” is a even an explicit wordplay on that, further explicating the problem. The remark with “on purpose” refers to *not making allusions to gender identities on purpose*, as in: I have not made them for political reasons, as in: That would be a wrong analogy that I am not implying. There is a thought process behind this.

          RE Twitter I believe sentences such as “You stylize yourself as part of the oppressed group” or “Cis-women claiming they are “queer” but have only ever dated cis-men or are married to cis-men, for example, confuse me. Yes, it’s your identity. I get that. But…” have been heard many many times by people even oppressed *within* queer contexts, like bisexuals. I understand now that this is not what you *wanted* to talk about, but you *did* use these examples, it’s not something that “isn’t actually there”. Of course you also hit a hornet’s nest that was already buzzing with this identity topic regarding bisexuals due to the XO Jane article, but I believe that if many people criticise this article for this, then it’s weird to say that they’re all just reading it wrong.

          Again, this is just derailing. Instead of what I am talking about, you are talking about how my text fits into other debates. You are absolutely right, I brought up “cis” myself, namely as a hegemonic structure. I am really trying to wrap my head around your anti-cissexist critique, because I of course respect your opinion (and experience :)) and am trying to reflect on it and, on the other hand, I cannot follow your example of Dolezal’s “dress-up” as Black, because it in no way relates to gender presentation, but to Dolezals Blackface. [Edit: I’ve now substituted the term, and I hope it becomes clearer what I am talking about given that, as I understand it, the term is cissexist and the problem, not the actual observation?] I am using very specific examples to discuss as to what I see as a general issue with identity politics and essentialism in this text, and I am trying to connect it to social power structures such as racism, cissexism, and heteronormativity. The whole text criticizes identity politics abandoning its foundation on power relations critiques. I’d appreciate if we could actually engage with that. We’ve also already discussed the other aspects you mention here again and I think we were actually (at least partially) in agreement?

          The way I understand you, you build a hierarchy of which experiences are the most marginalized, and you have a certain image of what this “different reality” looks like. I think this idea is misguided because there are so many ways for heterosexism to work through everything and anything.

          Fascinating. Seriously. I have no idea how you could possibly conclude that from anything I have written here, namely, that being part and a profiteer of a hegemonic structure while strategically claiming to be its victim is problematic, as is an essentialized notion of identity that omits any reference to power relations. And again (as well as connected to this), we could perhaps think about situational privilege as well and less in Black and White (ha!) terms. Substituting a social relation for a static identity is exactly what I am trying to criticize in this regard.

          In the end I believe that a lot of confusion and hurt about your post comes from the fact that not many people have actually witnessed cis het people identifying as queer/appropriating queer identities. Being queer doesn’t seem “hip” outside of a few clubs in capital cities like Berlin. On the contrary though, many queer people have been wrongly read as not-queer by the community, and I guess some of these are speaking up right now. Oh crap, I should definitely be going to bed now. I’m still contemplating on the whole issue of identity politics that you mention, especially concerning race instead of gender and other queer topics. RIght now, I believe throwing these two topics together makes it quite difficult to understand for me. Last thing, I apologize for choosing such a condecending tone in some parts of my previous comment; it wasn’t intentional, but that doesn’t make it better. I hope this one’s better.

          1. You are working with assumptions here, 2. Thanks, but I’d much rather that you actually engaged with the issue of whitesplaining and telling me what I should know about racism. You have omitted any mention of racism in your second comment until now, though, and that is actually no surprise, as we’re in the process of discussing cherry-picked half sentences (not (only) here, but in quite a few Twitter responses I have had), not the actual topic of the text. Again, I’d appreciate if we could do that instead of projecting another person’s article on it and oversimplifying what I am actually saying to make it fit into a different debate. Thanks and /derailing.

  2. felis July 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    You say, you use the alleged appropriation of queerness by cis-het-women as an example for identity politics gone wrong. I feel that this example is chosen poorly, moreover that it is hurtful for parts of the queer community. I agree that living in a relationship which is perceived as heterosexual comes with privileges. No doubt. Not having to fear violence when displaying affection for ones partner, not having to fight to be legally acknowledged, not being forced to come out whenever one wants to attend e.g. a function with ones partner… The list goes on.
    But not _living_ parts of ones identity does not mean, that one does not feel the systematic discrimination. I live in a relationship, that would be perceived as heterosexual, nonetheless I _am_ attracted to people of all genders. I do not lead “a life of heterosexual privileges”, because I am not heterosexual. I feel the sting every time this attraction is called “unnatural”. I get angry every time someone assumes that heterosexual attraction is the default. I resent the objectification of sexuality between women for the pleasure of the male gaze, because it affects me, too. I, too, fight for the same legal rights in marriage, because I might want to marry a woman someday. And this list goes on as well.
    Your example completely erases my experience of heterosexist discrimination, instead you accuse me of claiming a queer identity only to be “hip” or “lazy”. Just because I am lucky enough to be spared some aspects of heterosexist discrimination, does not mean I experience none. And in addition, I am frequently excluded from the queer counterculture, by similar arguments as your own.

    • accalmie July 28, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

      I am not talking about denying your identity (and have repeated that over and over again), I am talking about what you yourself concede: You are awarded heteronormative privileges in your daily (love) life. So am I. The examples you choose actually illustrate that. Moreover, the same issues you mention in terms of heteronormativity_heterosexism also affect people who aren’t read as het and thus face daily discrimination and violence in addition to these factors. This is about a social positioning. Your identity is your choice and your right, your prerogative. This text is not about different kinds of identities’ intrinsic “worth,” it’s about identities’ root in social oppression and different experiences of oppression that are being ignored. You exemplify this by saying that you do not live “a life of heterosexual privileges” (by the way: this is something I’d now qualify further, because heterosexism is interdependent with all other sorts of factors of social oppression) because you are not heterosexual, but I am talking about situational privileges, differentiation, and social structures.

      I am not talking about the legitimization of your identity, I am talking about the fact that obfuscating privilege through identity declarations are problematic. People identifying as “queer,” for example, have very different in-group experiences (that, in turn, are interdependent with factors like ableism, cissexism, fat shaming…). Your structural positioning is different, the power relations your are embedded in are different, your experiences are different. These factors (and a targeted criticism of them) are obfuscated by essentializing an identity and detaching it from a structural critique, and that is exactly what is happening here, albeit it you yourself acknowledge it (to then only qualify it). This is exactly what the article is about, and just one of the factors it mentions: I am talking about the problems with intrinsic identity politics that lack the power relations component. I am criticizing a – in my view – increasingly prevalent form of identity politics that strategically substitutes labels for social realities. That is the bigger point I am trying to make using different examples (which, to clarify that once more, do not equate race and sexuality or gender, but illustrate the difficulties arising from essentialization in identity politics more generally).

      It’s highly interesting to me, however, that the ones re: racism are completely brushed over, as I find the example of a “green” instead of a “white” identity to be so illustrative of what I am arguing. Finally, I’d also suggest reading Nadine’s article over at Mädchenmannschaft on some of the questions/points you raise.

      • accalmie July 28, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

        By the way: This is an interesting, recent article that also problematizes and further exemplifies questions of a specific type of identity politics: “I identify as an American Indian woman. And I have white privilege.”

      • felis July 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

        I understand your point. Actually already did before. And I did not “brush over” your examples re: racism, I simply did not mention them, because I really don’t think it is my place to either validate or critique them.
        I do take issue with the way you transfer these concepts to a different area of systematic discrimination. You say you are not denying my identity but in fact you are doing exactly that. My identity and my “social positioning” are two sides of the same coin. My identity (in this context) stems from my sexual and romantic preferences, my social positioning is the result of exactly those. But it goes both ways: My identity is also formed by my social positioning, by my experiences of discrimination. And in trying to separate them, allowing me one while denying the other you erase my reality of discrimination and therefore part of my identity.

        • accalmie July 28, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

          Really? If you do, then I am curious as to why you are again essentializing your identity and detaching it from social positionings despite your contrary claims in your comment? It is curious, because you yourself earlier acknowledged certain privileges that come with not being read non-cis-heterosexual. Precisely because identities and social positionings are connected, I am talking about situational privilege. That also entails that you do not always have the same privilege or are subject to the same discrimination. Particular circumstances change; that is why I am criticizing a static notion of identity instead of understanding it as a social relation. I am baffled that you claim that I am trying to separate identity from structural positioning when, in fact, all I have done and continue to do is to criticize the separation of the two in making identity politics merely about individual labels. I am not denying your identity, I am saying a label is not necessarily corresponding to a set of particular experiences, that experiences vary, that and it is necessary to differentiate here and take intersectional analyses and situational privilege, for the hundredth time, into account. You did that yourself, then qualified it, now you are negating it. That confuses me. I can only stress having a look at the other articles I’ve linked in the comments, again.

          The fact that you ignore the mentions of racism and examples of problematic identity politics in terms of race in this debate precisely shows an essentialization of labels, by the way. I’d actually be curious to hear about your critique of these examples and as to why they are denying people their identity, which is what you are arguing about this entire text more generally in the end, right (given that you reject the notion of situational privilege)? The silence of every person on here and on Twitter whom I have talked to (except for some whitesplaining) is quite telling in this regard – telling of a selective, white-centered perception of identity politics (and unawareness of or disinterest in intersecting identities…) and cherry-picking examples.

          I am criticizing structures and how they manifest. I am, frankly, done talking about the context-ignoring individualization and done with the selective self-centredness of a discussion that is incapable of fathoming a differentiated discourse of claiming an identity and still dealing with and leaving critically evaluated room for varying lived experiences at the same time, all while refusing to do the slightest bit of transfer, having zero awareness of, let alone care for, the people criticizing, ignoring intersectional aspects of power relations analyses, and replacing it with a thinly veiled sounding board for a critique of an XO Jane article projected onto this debate.

  3. K July 28, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

    Thank you accalmie, this is spot on. The lack of understanding of these fundamentals exhibited in the comments is frightening. What do any of these remarks have to do with what you are writing in the first place???

    • accalmie July 29, 2015 at 10:23 am #

      I’m sorry – we’re not talking about power relations underlying identities anymore, we’re now at the point where your label alone gives you access to an identity of oppression, no matter that (and how much) you profit from that group’s oppression. White people, i.e. people not subjected to but profiting from racist structures, aren’t white, they’re “green” or “European” or even Black (because of their love for “Black culture” – as we know: Everybody wanna be Black, but nobody wanna be black – in the end), so they could not possibly profit from white privilege, because they are not white. And (continuously) living in cis-heterosexual relationships makes you just as oppressed as others, sometimes even worse off. If you question people’s continued situational privilege and social positioning in hegemonic structures despite their personal right to an individually chosen identity and possible eventual change of said privilege and positioning at some point in the future, however, you are denying their identity, FYI. There is no room for nuance, because everything is about you personally, Bob, and there also was this other article. We both seem to have missed the memo, though.

  4. Afro Rebel July 29, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    This whole debate is incredibly White-centered and people are absolving themselve of their responsibilities and if that is not “oppression olympics” I do not know what is. But this is all for some greater good I suppose. Thank you for your analysis and showing that labels do not always mean equal experience and for debating people who could not care less about people who are not White, just for Whitesplaining them and for themselve.

    • accalmie July 30, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

      Thank you, Afro Rebel. Indeed. I love how every person I have talked to about this either whitesplains or skips over that part because, you know, they “don’t know” much “about race” (and “race = not being white”, so again people are not only illustrating the white-centredness of the debate but of what is argued in the text, namely the problem of defining “race” not as a social relation, but as an essentialized identity) and don’t wanna get into that but focus on their home base, thus selectively omitting what this text is actually about (…which is, by the way, summarized for one’s convenience in the last paragraph – not once did we actually get the chance to discuss it). Sure. And we seem to have lost the basic knowledge that oppression is about systematic discrimination woven into social structures, including the denial of access and resources, endangerment of one’s physical_mental_spiritual life/well-being, and (thus) affecting one’s daily life. The incapability (or rather unwillingness, as I understand it) to critically reflect on one’s own positioning within those frameworks – and those are the cases I am talking about – that might run counter to one’s own identity claim, is mind-boggling. I’m done.

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