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Sunday, 19 February 2012

On Intersectionality and the Impossibility of Separating Identity

By: Liberate Zealot

Intersectionality in the identity of people is
"an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination […] But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm (KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw, 1989. P149).
I'm extremely lucky to be as privileged as I am.  I have white, class, able bodied, and cis-gendered privilege.  And these privileges (along with the privilege of caring, active, and informed parents) have made the areas I'm not privileged (the intersection of roads of discrimination that I inhabit) much easier to bear.  The accidents happen less frequently, have less serious consequences, or are repaired quicker than if I didn't have all these other privileges.  However, the accidents do happen, and the roads of discrimination exist and intersect in ways impossible to untangle.



I am a woman; I experience sexism both personally and institutionally, in methods minor, insidious, and extreme.

I am queer, bisexual to be exact; I personally experience (and bear witness to) homophobia, bi-phobia, and heterocentrism.

I am mentally disabled, specifically I have ADD and Learning Disabilities.  These are common, and while society doesn't hate me or discriminate against me for these disabilities in the way they do other disabilities or my sexuality, I still function different than the norm.  And the awareness of this has impacted my identity and course my life has taken.

I am a feminist because I am angry.  Angry about being street harassed, angry that people in government are trying to take away my reproductive rights, angry about sexual double standards, angry about unequal pay.  Angry that I am seen and treated as less because I am a woman.  And this ball of anger, which is a physical sensation, didn't begin when I learned about sexism.

It's existed, along with the sick fear, since I was five and realized my mind worked differently from others and that my life would be harder for it.  It's grown when my teachers decided I was lazy and that's why I couldn't read or finish tests on time.  It's grown when my grandpa said he thought all gay people are pedophiles or my cousin said he was against women in the military or holding leadership positions.  It grew a lot when my brother decided to become a priest, and is there constantly for every interaction we now have.

I can't pick apart that ball of anger, sickness, and fear or separate it based on where the oppression that caused it came from.  I can't only focus on the sexism, and ignore the other discriminations that have created that ball and my identity.  I can't divide my queerness from my womanhood, or remove the chemical and neurological make up of my mind (and the consequences of it) from any other aspect of my being.

And just as I cannot divide my identity, or shut off the roads of discrimination that have both created and harmed me, society does not truly divide me (or anyone else) either.  I do not but aside my gender when entering queer spaces, and no one ignores it in those places.  My experiences in group are different than bi or gay men or lesbians.  Just as I don't separate my woman or bi self from my queerness, no one else really does either.  They see me as a woman, and treat me differently as a bi person then they treat gay people.

But as I cannot separate the various oppression I face from my identity, I also cannot ignore my privileges and their impact.  I am white, and this has eased my life is untold ways.  My whiteness cannot be removed from my sexuality, gender, or mind/disability.  The same is true about my privileges of growing up middle class, and being able bodied, and cis-gender.  These privileges have given me a sense of safety, confidence, and opportunities that have improved my life, and changed the impact of my roads of discrimination.

I stand at the intersection of these roads of privilege and oppression.   Aided and hurt in various ways.  Ways that are impossible to isolate from each other or accurately plot the root cause of.  Did my shyness and difficulties in school come from discrimination for being a girl or disabled, or both?  Did my later confidence stem from white privilege or class privilege, or both?  But which one did more?  I can't be sure, and neither can anyone else.  All I can do, all anyone can do, is stand true to my place in this intersection, and respect the place of others too.

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