Politics and the Anti-Identity
Content Warning: Slurs
I see a lot of pushback against “identity politics” lately. People stay out of it because it should be up to individuals, not groups, to advocate for themselves. Or they say, “I can’t support X group because Y person did some bad thing.” Or another excuse. There are dozens of reasons. The vast majority of pushback against it I see comes from primarily the socially conservative and, oddly, Libertarians. I find the latter interesting, as they should be a champion for it, but that’s a point for another time.
The primary motivation for the anti-identity movement, as I will call it from now on, is, ostensibly, protecting the First Amendment and fighting what they call “PC Culture”. For the most part, this “anti PC Culture” isn’t actually about political correctness. It is about being able to call Hispanic people “spics”, gay people faggots, trans people trannies, etc. It is, in effect, an effort to protect a very fragile culture built on the ability to tell jokes that make fun of and hurt other groups.
I’m not saying the occasional joke about someone’s sexuality can’t be funny, if you know the person. My friends and I often joke about my own sexuality and my attraction to men, and what it means for some of my former roommates. But those are jokes that are understood to not be offensive to me, and by mutual respect, would stop if I were actually offended. The group concerned about “PC Culture” has no such respect for others, nor consideration for others. This group wants the ability to deride anything that they see as different or somehow inferior to themselves, without having to worry about the consequence of Free Speech, and that is, consequences for your action. Most of this group wants to be able to openly, without fear of consequence from people who believe differently from them. If you speak against them, you are “overly sensitive” and offended too easily. The hypocrisy of this becomes readily apparent if you mention same-sex marriage, flag burning as free speech, or making LGBTQ literature readily available.
Now, I focus heavily on LGBTQ because while I have HIspanic heritage, I am perceived as white because of my skin color. I cannot speak to personal experiences of being discriminated against based on my skin color, even though I’ve seen it happen firsthand. And I also focus on that because it is the new bogeyman. It is no longer as cool or acceptable to demonize skin color or faith (unless you’re Islamic and actually from the Middle East, then its cool to portray you as an enemy). It is acceptable, however, to criticize and make fun of and make jokes about LGBTQ folks. And this is what most of the anti-PC crowd love to do. They want their First Amendment rights protected, but not those of the harassed party.
This also becomes their political platform for restricting insurance coverage, healthcare availability, and legal protections. They are merely “protecting” the First Amendment rights of others. The problem here is that a big enough portion of the country shares these viewpoints that it effectively now restricts the rights, lives, and safety of the people they are “protecting” others from. Restrooms become restricted to protect the “privacy of individuals” (nevermind the privacy of the targeted individuals). They, in effect, want to enforce the same consequences they themselves are afraid of from private individuals, but using the government as their weapon. They forget that Freedom of Speech is only protection from government intervention, not backlash against ideas that society no longer finds acceptable.
These two effects combine to effectively form an anti-identity movement. I call it this because it is a movement that pushes back against the identity of many Americans, not using Freedom of Speech, but using government policy. It is an effort to quash what many, particularly the socially conservatives (which does not just include Republicans), see as “invalid” identities. This runs directly contrary to the supposed reason our country was founded, the idea of self determination (to borrow a geopolitical term).
Supposedly, we were founded to let people be free to pursue their own individual liberty and happiness, not just a specific group, or as someone put it on Facebook, “the majority, so who cares about the minority?”. Yes, someone literally said that to me. At any rate, the effect that a lot of those I refer to here hope for is that those of us in the LGBTQ communities just go away and stop being visible. They hope that our identities are just quashed into their heteronormative world, or in some cases, not even hetero-, because there are plenty of gay and lesbian individuals in the anti-identity movement (TERFs, for example). Certain people don’t fit into their view and, government allowed, they’ll use it as the tool to force them to fit that mold. The reason I never said Republican (even if they are the primary antagonists) is because there are those on the “left” that are also anti-identity.
The “norm” is that people like my girlfriend and my boyfriend are to be shut up and kept quiet. Two of my close friends should just accept that they can’t be who they are openly, and give up. This is the norm, and has been, for over two centuries of Eurocentric culture (Americentric, now?). This is what we are to be returned to, by those in the anti-identity movement. Quiet, shut up, unseen, unheard. I’ve heard some counterpoints that we just want our own brand of “anti identity”, pushing down the identities of “straight white people” or “cis people” or (my favorite) “attack helicopters”, however, the methods are the key difference here. It could be argued, yes, that we want to see hateful and discriminatory identities phased out, but we wish to do so largely through education, public and peer pressure, and tools within the confines of freedom of speech. You cannot legislate hate out of a person, but you can legislate a person’s identity into nonexistence and hiding.
One such example is the pushback against Mark Ruffalo’s movie about a trans character, where the character would be played by a cisgender actor. This is not a new issue- actors in blackface and yellowface were frequently used in older movies and shows, and even some more recent ones. I have heard it argued that the pushback is a violation of his Freedom of Speech, and an effort to crush artistic expression. This is not the case- this argument falls under my earlier statement regarding Freedom of Speech. It is freedom from government retaliation, not peer pushback. Furthermore, the community was not necessarily telling him don’t make the movie/crush the movie, it was an effort to get him to recast the role with any of a number of trans talents. They were not having legislation passed to restrict these roles, they were voicing their displeasure.
This is not the same at all as trying to pass a law that says doctors can refuse ER treatment to a patient (while this is not yet a law, it HAS happened) due to them being trans. This is not the same as a law saying a trans girl or boy in school MUST use the birth-gender restroom. This is simply using their rights to push back against someone else using their rights, and neither is being violated. Nobody is firebombing Ruffalo’s house, nobody is trying to violently attack his actors or actresses (that I know of). Nobody is being stabbed for the sole crime of being a transgender woman of color walking through Charlotte, NC. Not all anti-identity people are openly violent, but such incidents are still within the purview of their philosophy and end goals, to scare people into conforming to their predefined boxes.
The anti-identity movement is here, and has been here. Perhaps it is time to start calling it what it is, and stop calling it “politics”. Or, since many of the anti-identity crowd love twisting word meanings (especially ‘trigger’, ‘politically correct’, etc) into other things, twist a favored term of many of them into a positive movement, call them the UnAmerican Movement. Either way, it is time to start calling it what it is and stop referring to it as simply “politics” and “political disagreements”.
Originally Published on 2017–01–13 via Facebook