This article was originally offered to Huffington Post
Living as a transgender woman, I deal with vitriol and love from people from all walks of life. Being transgender is no easy feat. I’ve had my voice shut down and ignored purely because I am transgender, and I refuse to let this discourage me. However, I’ve also had my voice spotlighted purely because I am trans, as if to fill some diversity quota. I’ve always been annoyed by this because of how belittling and dis-empowering it is.
Recently, I came across a thread of tweets from the Deputy Opinion Editor at Huffington Post, Chloe Angyal. In her tweets, she listed her diversity quotas worked out statistically and congratulated herself of achieving many of them.
Our goals for this month were: less than 50% white authors (check!), Asian representation that matches or exceeds the US population (check!), more trans and non-binary authors (check, but I want to do better).
— Chloe Angyal (@ChloeAngyal) March 14, 2018
Throughout the thread, Angyal talks about wanting to raise representation for Latinx, insisting that it is not impossible and if they can do it, so can others — presumably other outlets.
Do not misunderstand me. I know none of this identity engineering is done with malicious intent. I am sure Angyal is acting with the best of intentions, like most people who support intersectional theory. However, this sets a horrifying precedent.
Of course, part of me is tempted to support a system which would have my voice carry more weight than a white cisgender individual. I want to succeed. But on a deeper level, it feels belittling. It makes me doubt myself because it seems to assume that my work is not important in itself and that I need help and preferential treatment to address a topic that a white cisgender person is also talking about, simply because I’m transgender.
The problem with intersectionality is that it avers a system that looks at identity and compares who is more at a disadvantage. You’re a woman? You’re at a disadvantage. You’re a woman of color? You must be given even more precedence than a white woman. Are you an asexual, atheistic genderfluid, non-binary trans woman of color? You’ve won the lottery of probably the most oppressed and thusly get the most attention because you clearly need it.
Not everyone who is considered a marginalized person agrees with this mentality or appreciates it being applied to them as they try to make their way in life.
Brandon, who declined to give his last name, is a mixed-race Englishman and says he’s “completely against it.” He too found it undermining. Over a Skype conversation, he said:
“I believe it’s a fundamental problem when we consider giving opportunities to people based on a person’s race, gender or gender identity, over that of someone who is potentially more qualified. Knowing I could possibly have been employed for the color of my skin would make me feel undeserving. It’s not the basis for which I would be comfortable building a career on, because all of my success would then be partly responsible for a genetic ‘advantage’ which is actually irrelevant to how well I may do a job.”
My own views on the topic are in stark contradiction to the idea that we need to make more of identity to overcome prejudice and discrimination. I believe that a society free of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or any other phobia and ‘ism can only be accomplished if we stop seeing people in terms of their immutable characteristics. This doesn’t mean they cease to exist. Obviously, we cannot change or help noticing that people have different skin colors, for example, but we can regard this as irrelevant to almost everything. Just as we don’t discriminate against people based on eye or hair color, we also don’t try to hire more people with blue eyes or red hair because they are minorities.
Why should we create categories like “people of color,” “transgender,” “homosexual” and so on and give them great social significance? This won’t stop hatred. It will help enable it by empowering the use of divisions and categories. It is a return to segregating people based qualities they did not choose. While some may find it empowering, who is to decide who should be uplifted and supported more? Are we going to use a mathematical system to see who racks up the most oppression points? How is that helping? I don’t want to be told I’m oppressed and that some cisgender white girl needs to speak on my behalf or help amplify my voice because I fit an arbitrary category.
I would rather see a society with no focus on labels and categories. If you are a man who likes men, then you do you. It is a completely neutral matter and neither should we care that you “identify” as homosexual. Identification with a category is not needed.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate, believes that if there’s no name for a problem, you can’t solve it. That’s simply false. I can solve homophobia without saying “homophobia,” “homosexuality” or “gay” by simply not judging other people’s sex lives. I don’t need to categorise the LGBT. If someone dislikes an aspect of who you are and refuses to change, they’re simply a bigot. Your choices are to ignore them or to articulate why you think they are wrong and why it is fine to like someone of the same sex or gender.
To try and fill a quota based on aspects of identity is to appeal to ideological zealots and encourage bad ideas. Publish people’s writing based on its content and clarity and style. To pick people based on some immutable characteristic is to discriminate against people with different immutable characteristics. This kind of discriminatory practice is toxic and antithetical to a civil and rational society no matter how good your intentions are. It is also demeaning to people like me, who can prove our worthiness for a job based on our skills and hard work, not our gender identity, race or sexuality.
I want to live in a world where the color of my skin or my gender identity or sexuality is not a consideration when deciding whether to accept my submission or offer me a job. That’s a morally repugnant ideology, no better than the discriminatory views that intersectionalists and feminists rightly oppose. I want to be known as someone who makes a strong argument and knows how to report in a balanced and unbiased way. I want to know that any writing opportunities and job offers have been based on a recognition of this. When you make my voice heard because you want to fulfil a quota of trans individuals, then you’re treating me as if I’m not the most qualified and you just want to appease those who support an ideological agenda that I utterly reject.
My name is Autumn Berend, and yes, I am a transgender woman, but that doesn’t determine my worth. I’m a writer, journalist, political science major, a classical liberal, free thinker and devout believer in intellectualism and individuality of the person. I should be evaluated based on what I have to say and how I say it. Consider me because of that. Consider me because I am a thinking human with a good brain. I deserve the same opportunity to prove myself as everyone else.