27 February 2010


One thing that I love about the queer community is the appreciation of self-identity. This extends beyond sexuality and gender identities, but into all aspects of life. I've noticed myself and others speaking about almost anything in terms of an identity: anything from social class, to political orientation, to emotional conditions, to simple descriptor words like "a flirt" or "stoner" have beecome things you do or don't identify as. However, the community is also especially accepting of the fact that not all people's identities fit a label. Identities like "queer", for example, are flexible and have no solid definition, allowing people to identify however they wish.

In discussions about different identities, I've often had people say something along the lines of "why do we need to label?" or "labels are for jars!".  I've found this to be very frustrating, mostly because it hinders discussion, but also because, in my opinion, someone's self-identity is an integral part of who a person is, and an important aspect of how we understand ourselves. Although not every person may need a label to understand who they are and not all people have a label that fits them, I don't feel that way at all. Instead, I am constantly searching for the identity that suits me the best, and this is constantly on my mind. If labels are for jars, I must be full of pickles.

In the greater context of philosophy of language and metaphysics, however, such a perspective seems to go against everything I believe it. The view that I most often subscribe to sees the world as one whole. However, when we choose to define something in this whole (usually through language), we pull it out of whole. Once we define "chair", we no longer have one, but two: "chair", and everything other than "chair".  My personal favorite philosophy, Daoism, describes this very perspective:
All in the world recognize the beautiful as beautiful.
Herein lies ugliness.
All recognize the good as good.
Herein lies evil.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficulty and ease bring about each other.
Long and short delimit each other.
High and low rest on each other.
Sound and voice harmonize each other.
Front and back follow each other.

Therefore, the sage abides in the condition of wu-wei.
And carries out the wordless teaching.
Here, the myriad things are made, yet not separated.

-- Daodejing Ch 2
The Tao produces one, one produces two.
The two produce the three and the three produce all things.

-- Daodejing Ch 42
By abandoning definitions and dichotomies, you can become one with the Dao.  Thus, I think Lao Tzu would discourage us from creating and claiming labels. However, I find this somehow counter-intuitive. I would rather we have a plethora of labels to choose from and be able to create our own as we see fit than subscribe to a limiting binary. Though it would be nice to eliminate labels entirely, I don't see that happening any time soon: whenever we meet someone, they're going to want to know if we're gay or straight (well, actually whenever we meet someone, they'll assume we're straight, but if they question it, they'll want to know); I'd much rather be able to tell them I'm "queer" then identify as "neither of those" as I attempt to break down the structure of labels. Somehow, it seems that if we keep adding labels and making them acceptable, eventually, we will break down this structure, and it will be much more pleasant and effective than trying to forcefully destroy it the other way around.

Another element of self-identity that has been on my mind is the idea of "self": if we decide to do so, can we identify as whatever we wish? I've seen a few discussions recently about appropriation and misuse of identities such as queer, genderqueer, and even ally. This seems right on par with another Eastern philosophical tradition: Confucianism. Daoism, as I discussed, rejects labels and names, and it was in many ways intentionally built to contrast with Confucianism, which instead puts a very strong emphasis on names. One major element of the Confucian tradition is the rectification of names: one must act like whoever they are to actually be that person. For example, a "king" is a kind ruler who rules for his subjects. A selfish ruler who cares more about profit than rightness and humaneness is not a "king", but a "tyrant". Now, I'm not trying to say that there's a certain way someone must act to really be genderqueer, but I do think that Confucius would agree with anarchafemme on Questioning Transphobia. I think that article does a really good job with discussing the problems associated with the appropriation of any identity, and actually being something is an integral part of identifying as such.

1 comment:

  1. That's a very deep, and mind boggling, post...

    You're gonna go far. Very, VERY, far. :-)