Identity Politics Is How I Survive


photo by Hilary Olson.

This post is my entry in this year’s Queer Theology Synchroblog. The theme is “Identity”. Head on over to Queer Theology to read the rest of the entries.

“Identity politics is the reason the Democrats lost the election. If they had just concentrated on economic issues they would have won, but since they cared about [enter hated identity of choice here] they lost.” “Why do you have to talk so much about being gay? Shouldn’t your identity be found in Christ?” “We’re all the same at heart! When you keep talking about your identity you’re just putting separations between us! Focus on our similarities not our differences!”

I’ve heard all of these statements over and over (and over and over) again for years. They are said by all kinds of people ranging from the kind hearted person who really, truly means well to the out and out hater who doesn’t think I should be allowed to exist. I could sit here and debunk these statements word by word. I could explain how the identities of trans people, particularly trans people of color are economic issues because trans people are more likely to not be able to get jobs or access stable housing. I could explain how Christianity prioritizes the identities of white men and so when they claim Christianity as their identity that claim is actually synonymous with the identity they hold. I could explain that while yes, we do have a lot of similarities, it is our differences that impact how we move through the world.

I could do all of that but I’m not convinced it will make much of a difference because the arguments have been made. They continue to be made. Today I just want to talk about my identity and why it matters to me. I’m frankly tired of arguments and debunking myths. It’s exhausting. So today I am just asking you to listen and to see me.

I am a man. I am white. I am transgender. I am queer. I am a Christian. I am a boyfriend. I am a priest. I am a brother. I am a son. I am a friend. I am a writer. I am a leader. I am all of these things. None of them are contradictions. They all matter. And they all inform one another.

The fact that I am transgender informs how I interact as a man. The fact that I am a priest informs how I live out my Christianity. The fact that I am white gives me privilege as I move through the world. My identity as a Christian informs my queerness. The way I was raised and socialized impacts how I treat my girlfriend. It means that I am probably more sympathetic to her needs than I would be had I been raised a cisgender man.

I have had people tell me that my identities can’t co-exist. I cannot be a priest and a boyfriend (even though my tradition ordains people who are partnered and married). I have been told that I cannot be a Christian and queer. I have been told that I can’t be transgender and a man; that somehow my history negates my present.

When you tell me that some part of my identity can’t possibly exist because of another part of my identity what you are telling me is: I don’t see you. When you tell me that you love me but you can’t respect my pronouns or you don’t think I’m really a Christian what you are telling me is: I don’t see you. And if you can’t see me, then you can’t love me. Not in any real way.

I am tired of being unseen.

What for you is identity politics is for me my very existence. It’s who I am. It’s my life.

And it’s beautiful.

When I stand behind an altar and say Mass I hold the body of Christ in transgender hands. When I write words on paper I write them with the wisdom of all of the queer people who have come before me pulsing in my heart. When I hold my girlfriend I do it with queer hands that love her fiercely (and don’t make her any less straight).

I claim all of my identity. The various facets that inform and influence and intersect with one another. I claim my queerness and my love for Jesus and my calling as a priest. I claim my identity as a lover and as a transgender man. I claim my body with its scars and desires. I claim the way I touch and feel and walk and move. I claim my history and my future. I claim my present. I claim my wandering journey from where I was to where I am.

I will not allow anyone to tell me that my identity cannot exist. Or that my identity doesn’t matter. Or that I should shut up about my identity. Identity, in all of the nuances of the word, is life to me.

You will not silence me. I was silenced for too long and I will not be silent again.

 This year’s other submissions!

“THE RECURRING QUESTION or Very Random Thoughts on the Theme of Identity” by Neil Ellis

“Who Am I?” by Brandon L. Beck

“Would I be considered a Gay Apostle” (video) by TheKSource

“Identity Politics Is How I Survive” by Fr. Shannon Kearns