I Refuse to Say “I Identify As” — Here’s Why

I Refuse to Say “I Identify As” — Here’s Why

When a person “identifies as” something he isn’t, what he’s doing is telling reality he’s in charge instead. That’s not just foolish, it’s unspeakably arrogant. I’ve written before of transgender bullying. Then it was a man bullying women by claiming he was one. This bullying is different is different: It’s just as real, but more foolish by far. “Identifying as” the other sex means nothing less than telling reality itself, “Sit down. Shut up. I’ll do the deciding from now on.”

I refuse to say I “identify as.” Period. I won’t “identify as” anything. If I’ve said it in the past, I repent of it. If you ask me what I identify as, I’ll give you an answer shows what’s wrong with it, and the best way I know is by playing stupid on you. Like this:

“So Tom, tell, me. What do you identify as?”

“Usually I use my driver’s license for identification.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. What gender and sexuality do you identify as?”

“My name’s Tom Gilson. Didn’t you know that already?”

“Oh, come on, Tom. You know what I’m asking for. I’ll say it again: What gender and sexuality do you identify as?”

“Serious? You mean you can’t tell those things just by looking? I’m standing right in front of you. I have a light complexion, wide shoulders, an Adam’s apple, a beard, a low voice, and a distinct lack of curves. You can see that, right?”

“Yes, of course I can see that. I can also hear you saying you’re not going to answer my question.”

“Exactly. How perceptive of you!”

“It’s okay, though. I’ve got you figured anyway. You’ve told me your choice as clear as if you said it out loud: Cisgender male, straight.”

“Choice? Did you say ‘choice’? Where in the world did you get that from?”

It’s In the “Choosing”

Choice: That’s exactly where “identify as” goes wrong. Virtually every time people say “I identify as,” it’s short for, “I choose to identify as … .” And their choice is either to “be” something they aren’t, or else they’ve chosen to be what they already were, as if their choice explains how they got that way.

Hence my supposed “choice” to be “cisgender” and male. If you’re born male and identify as female, that’s by choice. If you’re born male and identify as male, that’s by choice, too. Everything’s by choice.

Sometimes — though rarely — it’s legitimate to choose. I could choose to identify myself either as an author, a writer, or both. The truth of it depends on whether my work consists more in books I write, or in columns such as this one. In this case I actually do have a choice about it. I really do write books and articles, there really is a fine distinction between “author” and “writer,” and my work lands me somewhere near that line. So it’s a coin toss. Or a choice.

So yes, we have choices. We can choose evangelical Christian belief, or conservative politics, or (shudder!) to be a Yankees fan. And if I’m saying “choice” is the problem with “identify as,” wouldn’t it be okay to “identify as evangelical”?

I think not. Not these days, especially. There are still problems with it, even where choice is real. I’d group those problems under identity politics, language, and reality.

Identity Politics

Identity politics is a toxic mode of civil discourse that squashes complex realities into tiny little categories and calls those categories ultimate. The effects are ruinous.

Take racial politics, for example. The problem with it isn’t that racial issues aren’t real. They are. But identity politics treats race as if that’s virtually all that’s real. Relationships, geography, education, family circumstances, physical and mental health, spiritual beliefs and maturity, and all the other complexities of life may get a head-nod, but no real attention. “Yes, yes, we know about that. Can we get back to the racial question now, please?”

“Identifying as” has a totalizing effect, as if race is all that really matters. The same goes for sexual preference and “gender identity,” both of which have been lifted to near-absolute importance.

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