How Do You Identify?

The above question is one that is heard a lot among queer circles, but one that I’ve always found quite strange and hard to really understand, let alone answer. If you ask me to describe myself and my experiences I’ll happily do so, but something about the word “identify” doesn’t really strike me as something I want to be doing.

This could simply be a question of grammar. If someone/thing is identified as something, then it sounds to me that an outside observer has recognised that they belong to a particular category. It has something of the scientific act of cataloguing about it, like identifying an insect as being a beetle of the Geotrupidae family. I know that people often talk about identifying as this or that, but for me, even if self-definition is allowed and even if the categories are broad, it still has these connotations of categories that all things must fit into. The implications are that it is something really final and fixed. There’s also something that I find it quite hard to explain; the feeling that these categories are “real” in some way, that they are inherent in nature rather than being something that has been created to make life easier for people trying to explain themselves and understand other people’s experiences.

The other way the word “identify” is used is to identify with. This sits much better with me, it’s recognising that there’s a group of people or a system of thought that I share affiliation and common thoughts/feelings with. It’s less final, less defined, and leaves much less room for a feeling of being “trapped” in an identity. For example, “I identify with queer paganism” as opposed to “I identify as a queer pagan”.

People may say that this is too “weak”, that they don’t want to simply say that they identify with a group of people or an ideology, but that it forms a core part of who they are and so saying they identify as whatever fits how they feel about it better. But I would say to that, why not simply say that you are that? For me to say “I identify as a transgender man” and “I am a transgender man” are two very different statements. From my perspective, the first seems to be about ideas and categories and how we define things while the second is a statement about my lived experience. I also think there’s a difference between what’s expected from these two statements. When someone says “I identify as a transgender man”, they sound like they may feel like they need to change their behaviour or alter themselves in some way in order to fit into the identity that they have chosen for themselves, where as the person who states “I am a transgender man” has no need to do this; they are themselves an embodiment of a “transgender man”, therefore whatever they do and however they behave this identity cannot be denied them.

I have been thinking about this more recently as I have been delving deeper into my work with Baphomet, as I experience more that the divisions and definitions we put on the world are simply intellectual constructs which may or may not be helpful. The more I understand these things, the less comfortable I feel with identifying as anything. I will happily give you cultural signposts to give you an idea of who I am and what my life is like, and I will happily tell you truths about my lived experience, but I will not permanently align myself with a culturally defined intellectual system which has been used for thousands of years to divide people and tell people how they should behave.

By Kris Littlesun

One comment on “How Do You Identify?

  1. Reblogged this on opalescentmidnight and commented:
    A well-written article on identity and semantics. While I knew that labels could be constricting, I thought that this problem could be mostly side-stepped by either eschewing them all together (not always possible) or simply by putting the “identity building” power in the hands of the person being identified.

    However, I never considered that even the latter option, asking one of their identity, seemingly an undoubtedly empowering move, could still have the baggage of being limiting in scope. Additionally, when I heard the formulations “How do you identify” and “What do you identify with?” i figured that there was no deeper meaning or reason for the variation in question, other than semantics/variety. However, identifying as or with something are not logically equivalent and what “identifying with something” can help people see human identities as they should: **categories which are not fixed and objective, but rather relative, social constructs which do not and can not fully encompass nor perfectly delineate a person’s life experiences. :)**

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