Identity is a relation

Jane Clare Jones explains to us about deconstruction and social construction and identity and trans doctrine.

The notion of identity, and what we mean by identity, is key to this whole story. And the infinite irony of the way mangled-post-structuralism is currently washing around in the background of this debate is that if I had to sum up the core of deconstruction in one line, I’d say ‘it’s the critique of identity.’ That is, deconstruction properly interpreted is actually a really useful tool for explaining what’s so wrong with trans rights claims that ‘I AM WHAT I SAY I AM,’ and ‘I am the determinant of my identity,’ and, equally, the idea that identity is ‘a simple case of individual rights.’ Because the core deconstructive insight, as I’ve laid out before, is not that nothing means anything, or that things are just what we randomly decide they are, or that everything is simply ‘discursively constituted.’ The key deconstructive insight is that the being of things – that is, their ‘identity’ – is not just something which exists only and exclusively inside those things. It is, rather, something that exists between one thing and other things. That is, the key deconstructive insight is that identity is, in fact, a relation.

Which of course is why there is any conflict at all. For the activist types it’s not just about being a woman, it’s about getting on Twitter and telling everyone else you’re a woman. With menaces.

That identity necessarily involves relation all becomes painfully, politically obvious in how this whole thing is playing out in practice. Someone can claim that trans people have an absolute right to determine their identity, but were that actually a simple ontological truth, then we wouldn’t be in an endless, fraught spiral about pronouns and misgendering and the world’s recalcitrant refusal to offer up the correct ‘validation.’ Being what you are is not merely a matter of a feeling, or of a ‘feeling of some fundamental essence.’ It’s a matter of being recognised by other human beings as the thing that you think you are.[2] It’s a matter of social relations. And this is why we’re in this whole fucking nightmare mess. Because we have a political movement claiming, on the one hand, that this is just a matter of identity, and it doesn’t affect anyone else, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just a nasty evil bigot, while, at the same time, because identity is all about social relations, they’re throwing a ton of their political weight into trying to control people’s speech, and behaviours, to enforce the validation of those identities.

I think one reason this gets on my nerves more than it does some people’s nerves is that I was such a little egomaniac as a kid. All kids are to some extent, because of theory of mind, but I think I was toward the worse end of the spectrum, maybe because I was such an awkward dork in school. I’ve been leaning hard in the other direction ever since I realized how bad and stupid egomania is, so a political movement that revolves entirely around Muh Identuhtee and what the entire world has to do to “validate” it makes my skin crawl, and seems to be to be the antithesis of progressive. This post of Jane’s puts it in less emotive terms along with clarifying it beautifully.

3 Responses to “Identity is a relation”