Identity.

Jan. 8th, 2013 02:32 pm
invisibleworld: A stack of books with a coffee cup on top. (coffee & books)
In our society, in this era that is currently preoccupied with an identity-focused ("social justice") model of making people equal, one of the big questions that the discussion hinges around is whether people are going to let something be a "valid identity". The paradigm goes like this: "If something is a valid identity, then we can accept people with it and try not to treat them as any lesser. If something isn't a valid identity, then we can criticise people with it and treat it like it's a flaw or a problem."

This is, well, a really silly way of framing it, to my mind. Because before "identity" was politicised, we could see a lot more clearly that the word "identity" just sort of meant "who you are and how you define yourself", and that anything that mattered to you deep down in your core was part of your identity. So to me, there isn't such a thing as a "non-valid identity". But I guess because our culture rigidly decided that we had to treat people by accepting anything that counted as a "valid identity", without thinking about things like "gee, does this hurt other people" but just pre-categorising it all, they have to police what gets put into the "valid identity" box so that they don't accidentally, I don't know, define as "beyond criticism" something about other people that they really want to criticise (zomg, what if we allow people to define ANYTHING as important to their sense of self, so we can't stick our nose into other people's business without being told that it's a mean thing to do?!?! noOOoo).

So a lot of policing of what's a "valid identity" gets done. And it does nothing but hurt people all the time, because when someone is claiming an identity, they're not saying "give me a free pass to behave any way I want"; they're saying "This is a statement about what things matter to me at my core." So it always hurts people when someone denies their identity. But on the other hand, the Identity Police are afraid that if they let just any identity into the "this is a real thing" club, that'll give everyone a free pass to do whatever they want without criticism. Just because this whole identity-focused model seems to not be willing to just evaluate people on whether their behaviour is hurting someone and leave people alone if they're not hurting others. That would require THINKING, and checking each individual action to see if it was harmful, and criticising it if it hurts people and leaving people the hell alone if it isn't. That involves too much work. Instead, this model wants to allow criticism for everything, regardless of who it is and isn't hurting, except for a set of pre-screened traits that can be allowed to be above reproach and that you would be an Oppressor (= evil bigot, becase that's the worst bad word people can think to call others) if you bother people about those particular traits. And those traits are all mixed in with a lot of attributes that people used to be hated for.

The pre-screening process (identity-focused cultural model) is not so great, because it basically wants to deny people an "identity" that might ever be used to bother another person. But some identities do bother other people for various reasons, and yet they are still felt keenly by people as identities, in the "this really matters to me and I want to be proud of it, regardless of what others think of it" sense of identity. Which really matters to a lot of people and is important to their well-being. Like, everyone goes through period(s) (sometimes neverending ones) of defining and locating who they are and how they differ from other people and what matters to them at their core as "part of themselves", and a lot of these things can get very mixed in emotionally with politicised Identities (to the point where, if you do have a politicised Identity, some people will act like that HAS TO BE the most important thing to you or else you're just faking having that attribute at all...)

So identity denial really hurts people, because when adopting an identity, people are trying to locate themselves and make sense of themselves based on their inner feelings. But at the same time, identity denial is a thing that happens a lot, usually by people who hate that particular trait or something associated with it, and are desperate to keep their right to criticise it by keeping it from becoming "An Identity" and therefore beyond reproach.

There are two big ways that I've seen identity denial happen: Denying that someone is a part of a group, or denying that the group itself exists.

The former usually happens when a group is well-known but hated. Nobody can deny that the group exists, but they want proof that you're a REAL member of that group. "You're not REALLY gay, you're just playing/experimenting with it, or you just think it's cool to say you are, but you're kidding yourself." That sort of thing. Disabled people get hit with it a lot, and most "mental health" conditions get this. Even rape victims get it. "If you were REALLY X, you would never say that X was like that. No way are we going to listen to your individual, unique experience of X. We don't want to believe that it could be different from our pre-set notion of what it's like, so when you challenge that by having a different experience, we defend our notions by just deciding that you're not a Real X."

The latter tends to happen when a group isn't something that's been well-established in our culture as really existing. When people have the opportunity to decide that something is too far-fetched, that it's all just made-up, the whole group just gets blasted or laughed at. Trans* people have been hit with this a lot (more in the past, before Science(tm) gave us brain scans to prove that there was a physical difference, as if THAT had anything to do with it), and asexual/aromantic people are a huge target for it now, as are otherkin. Because rather than admit a new thing into the Valid Identity Club where Nobody Can Criticise Anything Done For This Identity Reason, people want to reject letting anybody else Have An Identity. Even though what these people are actually doing is trying to explain something about themselves and how they tick that they have otherwise had trouble explaining to others, and when people turn around and say "what you're claiming of yourself is not A Real Thing", it hurts. In the middle of this already-troubling struggle to figure out how to explain their own idiosyncrasies, and accept them, and be proud of them, there are people telling them that their identity isn't real and making fun of them for it.

And because of intersectionality, a lot of people experience more than one of this kind of identity denial and get really tired of it. And stupid things happen, like people telling an autistic Asian-American queer girl that she just "wants to be Otherkin so she can claim to be oppressed". (Yes, this example really happened.) Because clearly she had no other chance to join in being oppressed. And because being oppressed is SO much fun.

When a label is being questioned, usually it starts as something that's faintly ridiculous that nobody ever heard of. "Pineapplesexual? Give me a break, what next?" And if a lot of people start picking it up and saying "omg, this describes me perfectly-- this is the thing I was looking for, the bit that I couldn't quite put my finger on that helps me verbalise what I am inside", then it becomes, err, "popular". Which doesn't mean it's a trend, or a bandwagon. It means that a lot of people have suddenly discovered it and either realised that it's exactly what they've been looking for for a long time and now they can finally explore it, or they start questioning it because they're not sure and they've only just heard of it now. The sudden boom in popularity isn't a "fad". It's that all these people were walking around with it unexpressed, and they suddenly have a new and useful idea, so they're all newly exploring it within themselves at the same time. But this brings the Identity Police out. And suddenly, it goes from being unheard-of to being vehemently denied. The ridicule turns really mean. People get harassed because someone doesn't like their identity.

And during this whole time, usually some people continue to fight openly for their label. Because what they always wanted was to be able to express to people, "This is who I am," and that label would be the perfect tool for it, if they weren't getting hated for it. So they want to keep pushing for acceptability of that label, and the only way to do it is to go THROUGH the phase of being hated for it. Because the way people act about identity nowadays makes it kind of inevitable that they're going to get hated for it. That for a while, everyone is going to deny their identity being real. And that even after people accept their identity being real, a lot of people are going to hate them for being part of that identity. But... this is a pattern. This is what so many identity labels have gone through. It happened to even homosexuality, way back before most of us were around to see it happen first-hand. It wasn't an established Identity that you could have Pride in, back then-- except for a small group of people who wanted it to be. Back then, it was just something that people were going to deny and laugh at. And today, some people STILL seem to think they can "reform gayness" or that gayness is a "deviation from what God intended" etc. Some people STILL think that they can deny "gay" as an identity. It's not all that different from people saying, "Otherkin are not a real thing." Or "This condition is a horrible mental illness and we should lock 'em all up."

First the trend is to deny that it really exists, then to scapegoat and hate it, and finally at the end it can become acceptable. And nobody wants to go through this, but people take on labels anyway because they're hoping to get to the last case-- to have people accept it. Because they weren't satisfied just saying "Since people are going to hate me for having this identity, I'm going to shut up and stop claiming it as my identity." Rather, they want to be like "This is actually a good way to explain myself and I want to work towards the world where it's acceptable to say it and have everyone know what the hell I'm on about."

So because all of this is going on in the background... I think that if anyone out there is claiming a label for themselves, it's not a good idea to be skeptical of the existence of the label. Regardless of how many other people do or don't accept the label, and regardless of how much prejudice is attached to the label... the fact is, someone chose, DESPITE the obvious drawbacks, to associate that label with themselves. That means that someone felt that that label was useful to them, that either it helped them make sense of their behaviour, or expressed something deep about themselves. And the first thing to do, if you ever doubt a label, is go look for people who identify themselves as that label and see what they are saying. See if there are people who seem to have given the label some thought and decided that it fits them, or matters to them, or helps them explain something either to themselves or others. Because those are valid reasons for the label to exist. And because denying the label is working against what they feel would be beneficial for them: to slowly make a world where the label not only exists, but is okay. Denying the label puts it all the way back to square one where it isn't merely hateable, it's ridiculous at the outset.

The reason there's a problem in this society in the first place is that people are hating certain categories/labels, NOT because anyone wanted a label to explain themselves.

I hate the social justice paradigm (as well as the way the discourse happens) and I think the whole thing is a flawed mess, but I do think that even if you look under the paradigm, what you have is a bunch of people who found words that describe themselves. And that that itself is not an error in thinking. Nor is it going to help them "fight for their rights" to try to take away those words. If someone is using a word regardless of the prejudices or risks involved, it's not helping their case to take it away, as if you are a wise adult taking dangerous objects away from a baby who might unwittingly hurt themselves. The better way to help is to try to remove prejudices (obviously, starting with yourself) about the "inherent" negativity of the label, and start trying to learn from those people about how to view and use the label in a positive/neutral way.
invisibleworld: A stack of books with a coffee cup on top. (chill)
Recently, I saw someone post unapologetic close-up pictures of spiders, without warning that spider pictures were forthcoming. When they were asked to tag their pictures "spider" so that people with phobias could avoid looking at them, they refused on the grounds of "exposure therapy". Basically, they said that because one can overcome one's phobia by undergoing exposure to the feared object, it would "help people overcome their fears" to suddenly confront pictures of spiders, and promote Happy Spider Love And Acceptance across the web (no pun intended).

I'd like to talk a little bit about the effectiveness of this tactic. Or rather, its ineffectiveness-- because it actually does the opposite. Therapy, Internet, and Choice )
invisibleworld: A woman with a long, thick, beautiful braid is looking over some papers and being pretty. (reading over papers)
You really can't rant repeatedly about how the people running an abusive system are "bad" and "evil" one day, and in response to people pointing out stuff like Milgram's shock experiment insist that because we all have free will, "any decent person" would refuse to support such a system--

--and then, the next day, say that you don't believe in the concept of "good" and "bad" people.

Not unless you have had a huge epiphany in between the two.

Certainly not if you're still trying to defend all the stuff you said the day before.

I know some people just think it sounds like a good idea not to believe in the concept of "good" and "bad" people. I think it sounds like a good idea, too. But I also think that people don't always realise what it means not to believe in it. How that actually has to be applied to how you reason in other situations. How you have to take it a lot further than you were ever taught and further than you might be comfortable with, in order to actually live by it. And sometimes, it seems like people don't even take the first obvious step in that direction.
invisibleworld: A woman with a long, thick, beautiful braid is looking over some papers and being pretty. (reading over papers)
Overheard on Tumblr: someone asking someone else how asexuals set boundaries about what counts as "cheating" if they don't have sex. Of course, the usual answers came up: "asexuals sometimes have sex", "you can cuddle and kiss and things you don't normally do with friends", and "it's cheating if you think it's cheating". But those seem like small patches around the gaping hole of an unanswered question, and I think the needed patch is actually very simple.

Where did we get the idea of "cheating" in the first place?

When you have a relationship with someone, often you start feeling very special about certain things you do together. (Cue smooth jazz music here.) It's just the way romance works. This is our song. That is our restaurant. Places, gestures, phrases, even weather begins to remind you of the intimate time you had with that person and how much it meant to you. So you start to associate it with them. But if you see them doing it with someone else, you might suddenly feel, "Hey... wait... but that was ours." Wasn't it? And I think that's the feeling of "being cheated on"-- like something that was supposed to be very special and mean something between just you two, suddenly isn't just yours and yours alone. But they may or may not associate that same thing with you as much as you associate it with them-- perhaps what stood out to them was something different; after all, they were on their side of the table looking at you. Which is why, if you don't want them to do it with someone else, it's important to point it out and make sure they know about it. Perhaps they didn't realise how important it was to you. Sometimes, misunderstandings arise. If people are reasonable, though, they usually manage to apologise and sort out that nobody meant to hurt anybody's feelings, and decide whether they will or won't consider that hurtful to do with someone else in the future. That's defining "cheating".

But everyone's reluctant to have talks about unpleasant things like cheating, especially before it's happened, especially when their relationship is going well and it seems absurd to bring up a problem that they haven't had. And I think, because of that, we've evolved this socially defined notion of what constitutes "cheating". We don't have to have these hard discussions if we all just work on the collective assumption that "cheating = sexual things". Or, if you've read a lot of advice columnists, "emotional cheating = connection with someone else". These things, though, are arbitrary and may or may not correspond to anybody's actual feelings on the matter. Some people, if they weren't making assumptions about what they ought to feel indignant about, would be more upset that you made your grandmother's secret waffle recipe for someone else than that you had sex with them. Because, to them, that recipe was supposed to be something you did for them and only them, and perhaps to them sex isn't that emotional of a matter. Unfortunately, because the assumptions do get made, people get hurt based on social assumptions anyway. The hurt may be manufactured artificially-- "You did the thing that social norms prescribe that you would never do with a person who isn't me, unless you didn't love me anymore, or loved someone else more, or didn't care, or wanted to hurt me, or some horrible reason like that"-- but the pain is still real.

Why manufacture this artificially caused, yet still deeply felt, pain? I think there's no reason to go looking for hurt if you don't feel it. Let's go back to the question of why we have the idea of "cheating". We have it because sometimes we feel hurt. Okay, well, if something is going to make us feel hurt, then doing that thing is cheating. And if nothing is going to make us feel hurt, then nothing is cheating.

So, when you take apart the meaning of "cheating" and why we should care about it in the first place, it turns out that nobody really has to set up an official "cheating" boundary at all. It's okay to have a relationship where nothing counts as "cheating", as long as nobody is going to feel insidiously hurt when you buy jewelry for someone else. If something feels like it should be private only you and your partner, then by all means, decide (in a clear conversation with them!) that doing it with someone else is "cheating". But if nothing already jumps out at you as feeling that way, why would you go looking for things to feel hurt and miserable about? Having to sit down and decide what constitutes "cheating" in your relationship, unless there is already something that qualifies to you, is like deliberately taking a chainsaw to your arm: not a lot of point to it, unless you want to bleed.

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invisibleworld: A woman with a long, thick, beautiful braid is looking over some papers and being pretty. (Default)
My name tells you nothing

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