The never ending discourse that minorities are subjected to about their identity is absolutely exhausting.
When I was in my mid teens, the amount of discourse around gayness was tailing off after many, many years of our time in the societal panic spotlight. I’ve mentioned before that we almost seemed to experience something of a renaissance in white gay culture, a time where nobody cared or thought about us and it felt very liberating to just be able to get on with life without any of the inane rambling.
Now, we seem to be back in the spotlight along with other minorities and the endless pathologisation is exhausting, and I would love for those outside of our experience to imagine how mind numbing it is to be subjected to this over and over.
There’s this thing that happens when you exist as a minority where you feel the need to speak out about something, and are instantly shushed. We all know what I’m about to say- from “why does everything need to be about race” to “you don’t have to talk about being gay constantly” or the monosyllabic ranting around gender, for every time you open your mouth to speak somewhere an ignorant person is desperate to tell you to close it. This is, though, especially ironic when the person or people telling you to quieten down have profiles or existences dedicated to the ongoing denigration of people just like you- from racists who would be out of work without the existence of people of colour to people like Maya Forstater who seems to do nothing but go from anti LGBT+ event to anti LGBT+ event. We can’t turn off whatever it is that makes you dislike us, and bigots can- could- should deal with their bigotry, but I have so often seen people of that creed reject founded evidence of their wrongness in favour of believing incorrect beliefs. In fact, if we’re mentioning Forstater let’s talk about the idea that Gender Critical beliefs are a protected characteristic because even if you present gender critical people with empirical evidence they are incorrect they will still hold the belief in the face of it being wrong. There is an ever growing tranche of evidence linking far right activism including anti vaccination and white supremacist rallies to gender critical activism and we can see why: Look at how the anti vaccine movement has stopped talking about autism in the face of billions and billions of COVID Vaccinations yielding not one additional case of autism- it’s the same conspiracy-esque nonsense as trans people secretly being funded by George Soros to “trans” peoples kids.
How is one meant to argue the case with people to whom fact means nothing. Judith Butler has often spoken out about those who will try to “silence” dissenting minorities, as if stopping adults from talking about their gender or sexuality would stop children from experiencing their own awakenings; trans people existed before 1990, as did gay people and quietening those voices does nothing to stop that. Let us not forget Butler’s Guardian article in early 2022, which featured a prediction of far right allyship with Gender Critical movements. Though this section of the article was removed, the truth of its words rang out and were ratified only last month when Butler’s prediction came true.
For most of us, identity is incidental. If we lived in a normal world, my being gay wouldn’t have been a big deal so I probably wouldn’t think about it much. But we don’t live in a normal world. We live in a world where stranger A’s being transgender offends stranger B so much that stranger B literally lobbies against stranger A being able to exist in society: we live in a world where a gay person existing on TV is so offensive to some non gay people that they will boycott shows just to avoid looking at someone who isn’t even doing anything adult- just existing as a gay person.
Now, the irony here is that it’s quite often the people complaining about these things who talk about how people like me are soft, sensitive snowflakes because we don’t like having our identity questioned and pathologised- but I hardly think it’s the people who don’t like spurious accusations of mental illness and perversion levelled act them that are the weak ones, over people who physically cannot tolerate seeing affection expressed between two consenting adults. But it’s an irony that is so often passed over, because acknowledgement of this presents a threat to the heteronormative status quo: if you question why straight men are so sensitive they can’t even see two men kiss, they will likely lose their temper, or immediately spit out nonsense in retaliation.
My personal favourite overused archetype at the moment is the “I’m not *insert flavour of bigotry here* BUT”.
“I’m not homophobic BUT I don’t support gay people’s right to get married”.
So you don’t think it’s homophobic to allow me to have equal rights to you? “You do, you could marry a woman”. Yes I could- do you condone me marrying a woman knowing I have no intention to follow what the normative model of that is…? Also under equal marriage, you have the right to marry another man- ah, you don’t want to because that doesn’t interest you. Interesting…
The most fascinating part of the “I’m not X bigotry BUT” types is almost a tacit acknowledgement that it’s wrong to be bigoted so they try to distance themselves from it whilst also rationalising a viewpoint that proves they are.
I’d posit that it’s possible to hold one, maybe even two ‘mildly’ bigoted opinions about a minority without being wholly a bigot, but it’s best to just unpick those opinions because having bigoted opinions does not help you in any way.
But the way in which bigoted people will try to remove themselves from the idea of being a bigot whilst perpetuating its existence is almost comical.
This seems to happen a lot with anti trans people. “I’m not transphobic” is said so often to me that I could genuinely use it as white noise, second only to “but what did she SAY that’s transphobic”. It’s a bad faith argument. When you’re told by multiple members of a minority that something is bigoted, why fight that? It isn’t affecting your free speech, you can still say it, but you will also be judged for it. If you’re being told that what you say is offensive you have options:
-Accept that what you have said is bigoted, apologise, acknowledging this is wrong and try to do your own work to unpick the thought patterns that led to this thought’s formation
-Accept that what you have said is bigoted but refuse to do the work, believing that it is your right to hold this view even if it is considered “wrong” societally
-Deny that what you have said is bigoted and explain it further, possibly alleviating the problem or making it worse dependant on your defence
-Deny that what you have said is bigoted and refuse to engage on the topic further
It is this key confusion I wish I could unpick. People seem to want to live in a world where they can both say the bigoted opinion AND escape culpability for having it.
A narrow minded opinion is not just a handcuff, it’s a ball and chain: if you want to have the opinion, you must be shackled to it’s consequences: any attempt to hold a bigoted opinion without ownership of it’s negative connotations is proof you are aware that the opinion is incorrect and is not defensible.
The relentless discourse around identity is part, I am almost sure, of human nature. It is human to examine, deconstruct and question identity- from the first moment one human saw another human. walking around in clothes, or choose to farm instead of hunt all the way to now, variation has been part of human existence and many of us spend immense amounts of time unpicking the human experience through the lenses of others: the idea that identity is a binary is laughably reductive in the face of all of human history. From body types, skin colour, gender to the more ephemeral concept of music taste, artistic level, hobbies and interests and so on, humanity is vast and varied: to deny this and to shrink identity to “right” or “wrong” based on its marriage to your own identity is bizarre. The problem is, culture is linked to the popular. White, blonde, fairly affluent right wing people seem to be the largest demographic (this is false, there are more varied and liberal people in western societies) based on social media and media presented to us by states and national interests. The reason that the more varied side fails often to stake its’ representation properly is that, within that vast and varied group there is still a reductive argument about identity that persists, alongside the idea that there is or are a way or ways in which to exist which is “correct”: this is false.
Every person has a mode of existence that suits them. Unfortunately, some people’s mode of existence intersects negatively with others. People who kill, people who hurt others, bigots etc- these people negatively impact on other people’s mode of existence. This is not acceptable, and whilst neither a wholly “live and let live” mindset is fully helpful, it is more conducive to a prosperous society than enforced rules of living that do not fit a certain proportion of people.
There is no “correct way” to exist, because each person is so fundamentally different from the last, though often having overlaps that to apply a unifying theory to existence is wholly pointless.
Looking at gender: many societies have followed similar but not wholly same methods of gender expression for many years. That doesn’t mean those methods are correct as much as that, at the time, they were considered appropriate: from Geishas in Japan as an expression of femininity to Boudica, stripped bare for statues- these are expressions of gender just as surely as petticoats, little black dresses and more. Society changes in huge, varied ways which lead to a retrospective interest in their originations: Think of it in terms of medicine. The reason that so many anti vaxxers exist is that many see medicine as it exists now as the “peak” of modernity: medicine can’t get any better, so any “new” medicine, like vaccines etc are not acceptable or safe: this is based on the idea that medicine doesn’t grow and change. Vaccines have been performed en masse since the late 1800s and whilst they, like every single medical procedure from dentistry to appendectomies have resulted in deaths, the numbers are small. Every time you have a medical procedure you should be aware of the potential for harm: vaccines are no exception.
I have no doubt that in 200 years, if humans don’t wipe themselves out, the way in which we treat cancers etc now will be viewed as just as brutal and unsafe as we view war wound amputations from the 1800s. This is the same for understandings of and ways to go about expressing gender, including the medical side- but one can also look at anything and see societal understanding adapt and grow through time. It genuinely functions the same: Archaic expressions of gender are seen as quaint, and our reductive understanding of gender and its expression now will, again, be seen as primitive if humanity continues to flourish.
But in examining these modes of existence we zoom so far out as to miss the micro-strands of daily existence and humanity woven between these existences, so to zoom back in and to get back to the original point, being under that constant level of scrutiny is wholly exhausting.
One reason I feel this could be the case is that those who live under “social norms” or who feel the need (like transphobic trans people) to reaffirm social norms even in the face of their own existence, feel their existence is threatened when someone exists outside of their reconciliation of their own identity.
In particular, gay men who rail against any man who does not conform to their idea of masculine seem often to be filled with a certain type of discomfort that, because a feminine man exists he will also be tarred with femininity. This leads into a broader discussion of what exactly is wrong with femininity or conversely why a “masculine” woman is problematic, but it’s original concept is that to be a man who does not conform to what another man’s expectation is cannot be a man. Norms are simply the base understanding we originate from, but do not have to be the finality of our understanding of how people can be, exist and function. I have been told innumerable times in my life that I’m not a “real man” because of my sexuality, but if homosexual acts remove me from my sex then sex is surely not innate and immutable- and yet many homophobic gender critical people can hold these two opposing beliefs in their heads at the same time.
I do have to wonder on a personal level if there is a connection between why a lot of gay men are more effeminate- is it biological, societal: who knows. But the question is, why does it matter. Behaviour is just behaviour, and why do normative people feel threatened by those who do not conform? Perhaps there’s a biological imperative on why certain sexes act certain ways, and a further conflation of why homosexual people act differently than this- but in a society that isn’t based on survival due to very base acts, actions and modes of existence it doesn’t matter.
I used to believe that humans would naturally become more understanding, kinder, better as we grew. But I grew up in the early 90s and we didn’t have the internet or smart phones. Now we do, we can reach out and speak to people of every walk of life- and that seems to have come with endless discourse from normative people on why anything outside of their experience makes them uncomfortable. One has to wonder whether this massive amount of discussion is simply a Richter shake of society as we strain to accommodate those who were quiet before: but the main issue we face is that society will not continue to improve until we stop recycling the same faces, the same voices: White cis women endlessly recycling the same 5000 words about their discomfort with trans women, middle aged men speaking out about foreign people in their countries, old people talking about the problems with the young… Until we change the well worn narrative it is only these recidivist attitudes that will continue to seem “normal” and whilst I personally do not want to appeal to “normal” because I am not by my nature, I would very much like for “normal” people to stop discussing people who are not they as a pastime.
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.