Solidarity of Interest

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the political world around me. I blame my mother for this, as I recall her making me write a letter about how I felt when the U.S. hostages in Iran were freed under Ronald Reagan in 1981. My mother taught me that we need to identify common interests in order to move a political agenda forward. That is, we must look outward and find ways to connect with others who support a common goal. Labor unions and health care reformers have successfully worked in solidarity with diverse people who share a common goal.

Enter Identity Politics, which teaches us that to organize by Identity. That is, we advance causes that benefit our Identities, whatever that means. For many lesbians, for better or for worse, we have a LGBT Identity.As a LGBT-Identified person, we must favor repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, hate crimes penalties based on sexual orientation and gender identity, marriage equality, and antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity. We organize as a community around this Identity. This Identity gives us Solidarity of Identity, with all persons in the Identity working towards a common goal that benefits (allegedly) the Identity. In reality, however, solidarity of identity does not exist; rather, laboring under a LGBT Identity can create cognitive dissonance, particularly for progressives (as most progressives are anti-military, so we don’t care about DADT, and anti-prison/industrial complex, so we don’t favor criminalizing more conduct) and feminists (or lesbians) as many feminists reject marriage as a patriarchical institution and find the concept of “gender identity” deeply conservative.

Identity, then, while a useful proxy to signal to others who share our Identity how we might think about specific issues that impact the Identity Community, is ultimately disappointing as an organizing tool. As Identity Politics quickly devolves into a game of “who’s the most oppressed identity” – a game members of an Identity Group can play all day long without advancing the discussion. For example, in the LGBT Community, lesbians have had to endure endless discussions about how we – as the Sub-Identity of Cisgender Lesbians – oppress Transgender Women simply by virtue of our Cisgender Identity – and we are expected to ignore the fact that many of these Transgender Women have lived much of their lives as males (or, if you prefer, the Identity of White Heterosexual Man – in Identity Politics, the White Heterosexual Man is *The Man* who causes *all the problems*). Such discussions devolve into infighting among Sub-Identities in the Identity Group or, as is far more likely to happen, the silencing of Sub-Identities who express criticism of the alleged “most oppressed” Identity. It’s tedious, at best.

As a (insert whatever Identity you want here) human, I refuse to do Identity Politics any longer. Identity politics is narcissistic and vain; inward looking and finger pointing. Identity politics creates hierarchies of oppression that don’t address underlying, systemic failures of society. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Identity Politics is a trick to keep us fighting each other while *The Man* profits. Some days I think The Man deserves to profit, as at least The Man sticks with an Interest agenda and advances it. You don’t see The Man endlessly babbling about Identity.

To end the endlessly irritating conversations about one’s Identity – and also in the hope of actually accomplishing something – I propose an alternative: Solidarity of Interest. Rather than framing political discussions in terms of who I am, who you are, or what our Identities may be, let’s try framing these issues in terms of the goal – the “what we want.”

Solidarity of Interest – it matters not how you Identify – it only matters as to what you can bring to the table to advance the goal. Solidarity of Interest requires us to put forth what skills we can bring to bear to advance a cause. Sometimes, this inventory of assets might include one’s Identity – but it is not the only thing that’s important to the conversation. Solidarity of Interest welcomes all people to the table who share common Interests – Solidarity of Interest doesn’t (necessarily or exclusively) care about your Identity. Your Identity only speaks for you and other *like you* who find meaning in the Identity. And, much like the personal stories that swarm the Identity Politics Orbit, your Identity does not necessarily advance a goal, unless the goal is to endlessly and unceasingly talk about the Identity. Solidarity of Interest demands more of us and from us – it calls upon us to acknowledge that there are goals more important that ourselves, even more important than our Identity. At the very least, it demands a certain level of altruism in the cause of advancing an Interest that will benefit all people with common Interests.


One thought on “Solidarity of Interest

  1. Last night i had the opportunity to meet a trans man and talk about his gender. I was informed by him that due to the fact women can wear mens clothes, and short hair etc its made harder for trans men to pass. I was informed about how butch looking lesbians are conforming (!!) to a stereotype and due to fitting into a stereotype get some kind of privilege. Also that men are more oppressed then women due to not being able to wear dresses as men. When i asked the person if they objected to women who dressed in a butch way, they replied no as they like it when someone breaks down the gender binary. Which conflicts what was said above.

    The person also told me that they found it difficult seeing themselves as a lesbian, mainly bc as a youth they watched porn (yes) and could not get there head around the idea of being with one of those fake women (there words). They also talked about being pre t and not liking being perceived as a lesbian.

    The persons politics were based on there own individual life experience and what they have observed in there own life and of course there gender identity. I tried to give them more of a feminist take on gender but found the person had a negative view of feminism so it was difficult. Also i was afraid of cracking there sense of identity.

    The gender identity its self prevented this person from looking at class oppression of females as the person did not want to be seen female and would rather focus on how the person perceived men to be oppressed.

    If i had of been still caught up in identity politics myself i would have spent the rest of the night objecting to the attack on my own identity. As the person had in effect told me that by being a lesbian who fits the stereotype (short hair and menswear) i am in effect oppressing trans men by stopping them passing and also conforming to the lesbian stereotype.

    The person had the same take on gender and on many things that i had myself before reading up more on radical feminism. The individualistic identity based thinking separates people and prevents political organizing among oppressed groups.

    Identity politics is toxic and it has likely been put there to prevent feminists (and other progressive movements) being able to get together without fragmentation of the movement.

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