Let’s get an initial disclaimer out of the way. Contrary to the beliefs of many, my identity isn’t shaped in order to annoy the far-left. The fact that it usually does is pure coincidence.
Nonetheless; over the past few months, a pernicious and profoundly odd movement has begun to spread — and someone has to talk about it. I can only apologise for deciding it should be me.
A brief foray into identity politics: I’m female, queer, nominally disabled, and struggle with severe mental health problems. I strongly dislike listing those things. But in a lot of spaces right now, if one doesn’t preface one’s opinion with a list of ‘oppressions’, it’s straightforwardly ignored. There’s the rub. The number of sentences that start with “As a queer disabled woman…” and finish with peculiar, irrelevant nonsense is increasing. As a queer disabled woman, I think rent controls should be mandatory. As a queer disabled woman, I think the Tories are child-killers. As a queer disabled woman, I think 9/11 was an inside job. It sounds ridiculous (probably because it is). But people automatically give credence to your words, providing they’re in-line with their own beliefs, if you can preface them with details of how hard your life is.
Of course, call-outs do happen. But they all come from within the same paradigm. You get called out for using the wrong word, you apologise, everyone moves on. But you also get called out for having the wrong beliefs. Take this example, from Oxford’s 10k-strong feminist group. In the wake of the election results, the administrators posted this guideline:
Let’s be fair; they’re not technically saying that 99% of people who voted Conservative are “deserving of hate”. It’s just strongly implied. From earlier in the post: “A disabled anti-Tory member will face severe cuts that will mean they are under threat of pain and harm, and is [sic] upset about the election’s outcome.” I mean, good Lord. Nobody’s asking a Facebook group to be unbiased. It’s just that, as Oxford’s foremost feminist forum – try saying that quickly – and a self-proclaimed ‘safe space’, one might expect a little more tolerance towards those of different opinions who, as I’m sure they’d admit, face numerous oppressions of their own.
Below this confusion, there’s a good sentiment at work: let’s listen to those who might not usually be heard, let’s amplify the voices of the marginalised, let’s prioritise them over those who usually dominate discourse. I get it. I really do. Equally, however, there’s a limit. And when — as someone whose opinions don’t usually match those of others who share my ‘identity’ — I say something that differs from the normal (extremely left-wing) view, I get told one of the following:
- I’m wrong about my own identity (I’m not ‘really’ queer, etc…)
- I’m oppressing myself.
You might think (1) is made-up, that it doesn’t really happen, that nobody would be so ridiculous. Yet I have gay friends who’ve been told they’re “too straight” or “too heteronormative” for holding certain political views. I’m sorry, but since when did the party someone votes for determine their sexual preference?
I have female friends who, when referred to in online debate, are called only by their surnames and have female pronouns removed — I don’t know whether it’s deliberate, but the more vitriol is levelled at them, the more they’re stripped of their womanhood. What the fuck is that about? Is someone less of a woman because they’ve done something you don’t like? What planet are people operating on?
As for (2) — oh, yes, it happens. I’m ignorant of my own oppression. I’m oppressing my peers through my own ignorance. I’m oppressing people left right and centre (ok, mostly left), and deluding myself in the process. Say a prayer to Owen Jones, throw some Krugman my way, and maybe I’ll grow out of it.
This is serious: you have got to stop. It’s patronising rubbish. Do you actually believe you know my own interests better than I do? Do you really think that I, and all those in my position (and there are many), inhabit some kind of false consciousness? Are you are so brilliant, so enlightened, that you are the only one able to see the truth? These are rhetorical questions. We know full well that some people do think that. This is, in the end, just a plea that they keep it to themselves.
It’s also worth issuing a plea to those who agree with the sentiments expressed here: to tabloid-esque hacks in pursuit of a token ‘right-wing oppressed person’, this is not written for you. Before this becomes another “I’m Gay And I Oppose Equal Marriage”/”I’m Disabled And Grateful To David Cameron”/”As A Trans Person, I Want To Abolish The NHS” classic, please be aware that you are not the target audience. Those headlines don’t do your views many favours.
This is for those who feel ostracised in their own designated ‘safe spaces’. It’s for those who use those spaces to advance their own politics, to the detriment of others’ well-being. Because, you know, I’m sorry if you believe I’m a monster for thinking you’re wrong about quantitative easing. I’m sorry if you think I’m slaughtering the disabled because we disagree over how to handle the housing crisis. But I’m not sorry for standing by those beliefs. And I’m not sorry for doing so while professing my sexual/religious/gender/abled identity. Because I care about both worldviews passionately, and I believe that they’re compatible (and even complementary). You might not. Fortunately, I have enough confidence to hold fast to my identity anyway.
Not everyone does. And you’re taking their spaces away.