Dangerous things can happen when more nuanced and “different” identities are made invisible in order to gain acceptance or respect. So many equality movements have perpetuated this notion over the years; the notion that deep down, everyone is the same and individual differences don’t matter. Too many times I have seen an image of several identical skeletons in a row, each with a label like “gay”, “straight”, “white”, or “black”, or a patronizing question such as “can you tell who the gay one is?” Current equality movements purport the word Human as one that cannot possibly mean individual or different or inherently varied. And the thing is, is that this idea is an easy one to internalize. It’s easy to humanize the Other when told or made to realize that hey, they’re just like us. And that can be a powerful first step, but to end it there at deindividuation is, well, dehumanizing.
I was very struck by Liz Rosenfield’s “My Kind of Cruising” for this very reason. She discussed how anonymity in certain spaces can give way to exploring behavior that may not “fit” one’s sexual orientation, which I find to be a rather important factor of anonymity in general. However, Rosenfield took this discussion too far by suggesting that sexual orientation and gender identities should be “left at the door”, because bodies are simply bodies and that everyone should just physically mesh together. I do understand her sentiment, however it is an ideology of someone I would consider to be among the ranks of a “baby feminist”–someone just starting out who doesn’t quite know how things like intersectionality and reality work. I say this because if identities truly could be left at the door, oppressions such as homophobia, transphobia, racism, and ableism would not exist. And not only that, but to ignore identities also ignores the differences in experience faced by every single person, be those differences vast like socioeconomic status or gender, or ones not nearly as politicized such as birth order and height.
I suggest that statements like “I am not x, y, or z, I am human” actually perpetuate otherness, because it implies that we must ignore differences rather than accept and accommodate them. This, to me, is the difference between equality and justice; equality states that everyone is the same, while justice not only acknowledges but embraces differences. The former has the positions of the oppressors and the status quo in mind, while the latter serves to uplift the oppressed.