The downside to identity politics.
Did you hear about the latest trend? Apparently it’s considered high fashion to establish your own collective identity. Indeed, I’m not talking about all the little things that make us unique, but all the supposedly pertinent identities that separate us into groups. Most prominently around gender, sex and sexuality. To use an example, I would be considered a cisgender gay man. But what does that tell you?
The answer is ‘not much’ if you really think about it. Especially if you don’t want to sleep with me. And yet, thanks to this new wave of activism around the globe, we seem to think that branding our identity on the forefront of every social media account we own is progressive. We embed our pronouns to profiles and make references to our sexuality, essentially putting these identities on a pedestal. We strive to be different.
But aren’t we more than just some of our parts? Aren’t we more than just the people we sleep with?
It’s almost as if we’re reverting back to the pink triangle-style of activism, where those in the early gay rights movement wore a pink triangle on their lapels to publicly come out. This was effective activism back then, to raise awareness of homosexuality and normalise it. Once society realised that gay men and lesbian women were more than just same-sex attracted, equality began to grow. We weren’t just gay anymore, we were fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, friends, colleagues, professors, politicians… And we weren’t just lesbians, we were mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties and all the other things that make us human. The same can also be said for bisexuals, pansexuals, trans people, intersex, and all the other queer labels. And isn’t that what we should be aiming for?
In western society, we don’t need to publicly come out to gain equality anymore. We already have it. Not only is it decriminalised, but a majority of our fellow citizens don’t care that we’re same-sex attracted, and many countries even allow us to marry. Sure, there are pockets of homophobia, even in progressive countries, but fighting against homophobia is different to fighting for our rights. And I don’t think branding yourself as different is going to solve homophobia. In fact, I suspect this perpetuates it.
Homophobia is a form of bullying, and while there are many ways to remedy bullying, I guarantee you that striving to be different isn’t one of them. In fact, being different is precisely why many of us get bullied in the first place – especially in the schoolyard. You have a weird name, you are introverted, you follow the wrong God, you wear absurd clothes, you are the teacher’s pet. In essence, you are different.
So you’d think that the remedy for bullying is making everyone act normal. But, then, what is normal? Normal is just a social construct that differs from person to person. So making everyone act normal would be impossible since everyone’s idea of normal is different. And therein lies the answer. If we really want to end homophobia or any sort of bullying for that matter, we need to look past our differences and discover our commonalities. The things that make us seem normal. To be human, if you will.
That’s why the pink triangle-style of activism was so effective. Once they realised gay people are more than just gay people – that gays are relative to them as family members, healthcare professionals, or just living on the same street – they form a relatability with them. Suddenly, gay people are not so different after all.
This is precisely why I don’t just label myself as gay in everyday settings. Because I am more than just the people I sleep with. I’m also a writer, a gamer, a cook, a reader. My favourite colour is blue and I’m a huge fan of South Park. Even with this smidgen of information, you can discover more about me than just from my sexuality alone.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the best way to combat bullying is by being relatable to them. More often than not, the best advice is to just walk away. That’s because most bullying comes from psychological issues within the bullies themselves. It’s not just about you. And honestly, why would you want to relate to someone who treats you like shit? However, we can create a better future if we show people that we are more than just our differences. Especially with regard to sex, gender and sexuality.
So please, let’s stop boxing ourselves into specific queer identities for the sake of being different. Yes, they are part of your identity, and you should be able to wear them with pride – but there’s more to you than the people you sleep with and the gender you espouse.
We should take a leaf out of classic queer activism and strive for commonality; the things that connect us in various communities, and ultimately what makes us human.
Yes, I’m gay. Totally, unequivocally gay. But I am more than just a gay.