Guest post: Identity is everything

Guest post by Josh Spokes

Thoughts on the conversations left-leaning 20-somethings are having lately about what’s being called “identity” and “identifying as”. This is an important conversation, but it’s vastly under-theorized. It’s not at all clear what “identity” and “identifying as” truly means. These are issues that those of us who are decades older struggled with and still struggle with – to the surprise of many younger people, who invented queer theory and social justice back in 2011.

Preemptive note: None of these thoughts imply, or mean to imply, that any class of people  is not “real.” Because of the recent controversy over how we discuss transgender issues, readers will likely take this essay to be primarily about transgender people specifically. It is not. Nor do I believe that transgender people are “less real” or more obligated to justify their existence than any other “identity” category, such as cis, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.


  1. Identity is everything. How you feel is what you are.
  2. Feeling that you “identify” as something makes you that something. But it is never explained what it means to be X, Y, or Z. Asking for an explanation is an act of discursive violence.
  3. Other people—say, gay men or lesbians—are obliged to accept you in every way, and to give you the same deference, affirmation, and social capital we would give to any other member of our group. No matter what. If you say you’re queer, even if you’ve lived your entire public life as a straight person, maybe even traded on that power, then you are a queer.
  4. It’s gross and oppressive to allow considerations of a person’s actual experiences to inform how we feel about them. For example, it’s unacceptable to note out loud that some of the shared characteristics of being a butch woman include things like experiencing discrimination and harassment. That might lead a newcomer to believe that members of the group don’t see the newcomer in exactly the same way as they see themselves and others with their shared experience. That is oppressive.
  5. If you feel oppressed, you are oppressed.
  6. If you say you feel oppressed that triggers a social obligation on those around you to accept that without further discussion.
  7. The only reason that older people bristle at these is because we’re venal and we’d rather see others suffer the abuse we’ve received. It’s very shallow of us, and is motivated only by base impulses to see our younger friends go through the hazing we went through.
  8. We have no legitimate epistemic, political, or cultural reasons to fail to completely accept, affirm, and applaud all comers. While newcomers operate from a position of curiosity and good faith, we older people are only self-centered. Our motivations are suspect, and they are entirely focused on preserving our personal status at the cost of others.


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