under white supremacy, a white body is a “person”, a non-white body is a “[modifier] person”
this is not meaningless semantics
I admit I sometimes find myself flailing a bit when I read all these questions on tumblr which read, “Can I be a…?” Can I be a woman who is also ____? Can I be this gender or that gender? Or the corresponding answers: Yes, you can be that thing, or combination of things, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
This verb “to be” is a very dense and complicated one. Do they mean, can I survive living publicly in this position? Do they mean, can I survive the psychological state that is this position? Do they mean, does DNA or society create a human who feels that they are this way, against anybody’s will? Do they mean, is it respectful and non-oppressive to take up this position?
If we’re not careful I think these, “Can I be?” “Yes, you can be” question-and-answer questions begin to seem a bit like botany. “Can it be, that there is a plant with the appearance of a thistle, but that spreads by sending runners over the soil?” “Can it be, that there is a fruiting pepper which thrives in cold climates?”
And if so, what kind of “-ist”, if not a botanist, is the person giving the answers? The basic article of faith, it seems, is that if a kind of taxonomic list or spectrum has been circulated, you can “be” on it. But because these “orders of being” are authenticated by the fact that people “are” them, they can themselves be derived from collections of those who “be”.
Ultimately it seems to come down to, “Yes, you can be this thing, because you can imagine this thing”. Which is itself a version of, “Yes, you are this thing, because you feel yourself to be this thing”. It’s really an authentication-by-assertion, it just takes a quick jaunt via collectivity (a collectivity of asserting Selves) in order to round up a little authority on the way.
I don’t really mind this mass democratisation of, I guess, a sort of existential epistemological authority. It seems a lot better than some of the previous authorising bodies we’ve had to wrangle with! But I think it also exposes the limits of politics of being in the static sense. All this being of novel identities is happening. People are believing it of themselves. And they’re surviving that, more or less.
My concern is that this process is effectively putting up a lot of scaffolding around Selfhood in a very particular minority-world tradition of the defined Self. We’re talking a lot more about being (in the static sense) a thing, and not enough about doing a thing. You know, for me, what matters a lot politically for me is what happens when I do trans womanhood. I can “be” it all I like but the real political questions and issues come up in the doing - even in self-reflexive doing (doing with myself).
If the original question was, “Can I do a particular thing?” “Well, when you try to do that, here are some of the things society might do back”, I think our discourses would immediately become a lot more political. And whether or not identity questions (“Am I an X?”) can be rephrased as doing questions (“Can I do Y?”) might be a good litmus test of the political reality around identities. Because not all ways-of-being (active) are politically identical.
|me:||*forgets what im talking about and points out dog*|