Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Riffing off MsElouise's Identity post

I've been mulling over this since I read it as a submission for the DUFC. Identity, and labels for it, is something I've always found intriguing. MsElouise provided a different way of thinking about it for me. She concluded that claiming a label can help you feel that you belong and give you a voice, but it can also be a trap. One reason it can be a trap is that some people may hold quite different ideas about the identity you claim than you hold yourself. When "some people" is a large chunk, or even a majority, of society, the identity ends up a constant source of mis-identification and outright prejudice. This can be a damn good reason to reject a label, although it sucks to have to acquiesce to prejudice and ignorance and for some identities (race, gender & sexual identity for eg) is the basis of activism.

In thinking about the reasons why people might reject an identity, or at least the label for it, I think she's nailed one of the reasons. However, I think there's another one that relates to fear of rejection and impostor syndrome. In part, I don't say "I am a feminist" (while having entirely feminist ideology) because I worry about being trapped in what other people think a feminist is. This is the aspect I've focussed on in the past. I've never been happy with all the connotations of any label, so I've rejected all of them. But another part is that I fear being rejected by feminists as not a good enough feminist. I wouldn't call myself bisexual because "real" bisexual people would laugh at my married-to-a-man arse. If I don't claim the identity, other people who share it can't reject me.

Any given label I reject may have elements of both reasons, or be based entirely on one of them. I think there are probably more reasons too. My disinterest in my surname probably has more to do with historical accident and perversity than anything else.

Also worth noting is that some labels I don't have the right to reject - the ones that are given to me by society and luck and provide me with a head start over people who don't share them. White, middle class, educated, cis, perceived as hetero. Those labels I need to remain aware of until such time as other labels are afforded the same advantages and opportunities. Only then will it truly be meaningful for people to have a choice as to whether they want to embrace those socially loaded identities and labels or not.


  1. Bisexual sistas unite!

    I'm sure you know this, but real bisexuals get married to opposite sex partners, and to same sex partners, or don't get married but cohabit with opposite sex partners or same sex partners, or just enter relationships with other people.

    I'm a married to a man bisexual, whose husband is a married to a woman bisexual, whose boyfriend (the husband's boyfriend not my other husband), is a married to a woman bisexual and a partner to a man bisexual, and whose girlfriend (my girlfriend - this all gets confusing) is a married to a man bisexual and in a relationship with a woman bisexual...

    Really, in the end, how you identify is how you identify. No one can tell you that you are not a proper bisexual if you choose to identify that way. No one can tell you that you must identify as bisexual either. Your call the whole way.

    I've been married for 16 years, and am the Vice President of a bisexual activist group (Bi Alliance Victoria), I wouldn't let anyone tell me that I'm not a proper bisexual - though I do sometimes get told that I don't exist - which is always an odd experience.

    1. I do know all of those things. No, actually, I didn't know all of your connections (it is indeed confusing! :) ), but knew you are married to a man bisexual, and that there are further connections.

      I guess this is what it's about. How I identify is already coloured and clouded by all my own fears and the behaviours of people less lovely and inclusive than you. It's not a reasoned thought process, it's an instinctive shying away from possible rejection. This is part of the reason I keep trying to unpack the whole thing. So many factors contribute to my label aversion, and I still can't work out if it's a good thing or a bad thing. :)

      It always amazes me when people pull the non-existence card, but it happens so often, in so many ways. From statements about how people do and don't think right through to erasures of whole identities. Bizarre.