As I’ve watched online leftist spaces and parts of my local LGBTQ community, I’ve noticed a concerning trend. Many LGBTQ people (especially the younger, post-millennial generations) seem to be progressively infatuated with their identities, and centering it as the most important part of their existence.
If I had to put this subtle shift into words, I would do so thus: While the historic LGBTQ movement was largely focused on inclusion in humanity and a need to be recognized as individuals, this new iteration seems to place LGBTQ identity above our status as first individuals and humans. This leads to a sort of vindictive tribalism, and an almost religious analyzing of all the microscopic ways we are slighted, real or imagined. This leads to a policing of language and opinions, which often veers into the unnecessarily cruel. It’s hard to give specific examples of what I’m talking about — it feels ambient and almost invisible. Perhaps it’s what ContraPoints was coming up against in her video Canceling:
Before I go on, let me make a few necessary caveats. I am frequently wrong on this blog, and this post might be no exception, which is why I see my blog and podcast as a conversation instead of a series of dictums. This is a place for me (and you) to share thoughts that might not yet be fully clear or fleshed out. It’s entirely possible that I’m settling into my queer dotage and failing to appreciate the hardships of being a young LGBTQ person. This might be my OK Boomer moment. It’s possible that my concerns are entirely misplaced, and that I am simply misunderstanding the kids these days. I might also be missing some of the differences between gay and trans experience. I trust that you will read me in good faith and with graciousness, and I will do the same for you. With that said, let me go one.
My battle as a queer person has been to get away from a world where everything is about my orientation. My fight for justice has been one of being included in all the rights and privileges of being human, so that the most interesting things about me are my intellect, my character, my goals and dreams, and not the fact that I like dick.
In fact, the darkest time of my life was when everything — and I do mean everything — was about being gay. I was trapped in a conservative Christian setting in which every waking moment was spent obsessing over my failure to be straight, and trying to navigate the nature of my deviancy. My mind was so consumed with this obsession that it hijacked my ability to function — I failed multiple classes in college, could barely maintain a single friendship, and I would go to sleep every night fantasizing over the details of my own self-annihilation.
I think one of the greatest triumphs of my life is that I’ve built a space where being gay is incidental. I love being gay, and I love the deviancy of being queer. I love gay sex, I love my LGBTQ community, and I love gay culture. But I also love not having to think about it, and it not being the center of my existence, identity, or character. I love being able to wake up in the morning, kiss my partner, make coffee, and live my life. I’ve created a life where I can go through the day focusing on loving others, being a good human, and obsessing over my current sci-fi or fantasy novel.
It is from this perspective of having been liberated from obsessive gay identity that the current trends of LGBTQ identity politics gives me so much concern. It’s like a mirror image of my own conservative background – an inversion of the obsession I had over my homosexuality.
It’s rosier and kinder, certainly, but I don’t trust it. Obsessing over my identity was the darkest time of my life, and I cannot imagine going back to a world where my gayness is the most important or interesting thing about me. This sunnier version of gay obsession trades self loathing for vindictive self-righteousness, and a hyper vigilant eye for any arbitrary slight. This leads, ultimately, to a state of paranoia and fragility. I can’t help but feel that myopic obsessive celebration of identity is just as dehumanizing as discrimination.
Let me reiterate, I love my gay identity. I love the camaraderie of being with other gay people who get it. If there was a pill that would “cure” me of being gay, I wouldn’t take it. To know me means knowing that I’m gay, and that I have been shaped by that experience. But that, to me, is worlds apart from the obsessive sloganeering, vicious attacking, and centering of identity above all else.
Maybe I’m old fashioned. I want a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, who they like to fuck or spend their life with, or whether they are trans. But I see parts of the left and the LGBTQ community doubling down on an obsession with their identity, and not on their inclusion in humanity. I don’t believe the promise that this leads to empowerment. I fear it leads to more dehumanization.
I have received some excellent feedback on this article which I feel would be negligent not to include. On twitter, Sadie Satanas commented:
I want a world where people aren’t concerned that I’m trans. unfortunately many lobbyists, politicians and religious zealots ARE concerned with the fact that I’m trans, and would limit my rights and deny my existence as a result. Trans people are often ‘obsessed’ with their gender because they’ve had to crawl through hell to claim it. That and the fact that so many other people are obsessed with our gender, hyper focusing on it is almost survival mechanism. I’m going through a gender transition. I have to jump through hoops to get medical help and prove I’m ‘trans enough’. I waited over 30 years to live as my true self. So it is very central to my identity. And if Im not vocal about it, people condemn me to non existence.
What I take from this is that the current system requires trans people to “obsess” over their identity just to survive and gain recognition in a way that cis gay people like myself might not relate to. Gay people have to come out, and often struggle against fundamentalist homes, and while that is no small feat we (especially white middle class gays like myself) have more margin to let our gay identities settle into the background. This might lead many cis gay people to dismiss some trans people as overly obsessive over their identity, but that would be a grave misstep.
Another excellent comment came from Greg Stevens below, in which he states,
I’ve spoken to young queers who fled their conservative home towns to live in the Castro in San Francisco, who tell me they have a bodily, visceral feeling of finally FINALLY feeling safe when they walk down the street in their own neighborhoods. This then often can amplify the discomfort or terror they feel when they are forced to inhabit non-queer spaces. Is it even possible to tell them they have a “choice” about how much attention they should be paying to the lens of their sexual identity in their lives? What exactly does it mean, for them, to say that other things are more important about their personalities and lived experiences? Their queerness literally touches every moment of their waking experience.
I suggest you read his comment in full.
This feedback has led me to believe that my post is far too broad to be useful, while also neglecting important details, and that I need to take my thoughts back to the drawing board to think more deeply about these issues.
Finally, a Word on Being Publically Wrong
This article had been brewing in me for several weeks, and I couldn’t shake its underlying thesis. I decided (with some trepidation) to go ahead and write it up and publish it. I didn’t know how I was misstepping, but I had a vague sense that I was. I’m grateful for the comments, and for the opportunity for further reflection.
My personal goal is to model such self-reflection, openness to criticism, and honesty about my thought processes. Thinking out loud in public means being frequently wrong, and that’s how we learn. I hope readers who share my original concerns learn from the nuances Greg and Sadie brought to the discussion.
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