Inclusion, Identity, and Choice (by Betty Martin)

betty choice empowerment like a pro social justice women Feb 26, 2023

A question has come up recently about Like a Pro not being 'inclusive', in reference to people who don't want to take a Covid test. The question is - How can you say you are inclusive? Here is part of my reply:

--- My goal is not to include everyone. There are several things one must do before being allowed into Like a Pro. You have to fill out an application and have an interview. Not everyone gets approved in the interview. You have to pay. You have to show up not sick. You have to show up sober. If you arrive at the door wearing a gun or smelling of alcohol, you're not coming in. You have to take a Covid test at the door. If you harass anyone, you will be asked to leave. My goal is not to include everyone. My goal is exclude people based on things that would make them unsuitable or unsafe, and not based on their identity or sexual orientation. Part of what I am trying to learn, and help the facilitators learn, is how to notice ways we might be excluding people without realizing we are, just because we don't understand how people are marginalized. -----

This question was related to the idea of vax status as an identity. I want to say something about the word 'identity'. Like most words it has more than one meaning, and like most words, if we are arguing about it, it's quite likely that we are using different meanings.

We can 'identify with' just about anything. I can identify as an older white cis woman and certainly that particular combination is going to have a big effect on how I have been treated and how I experience the world now. I can also identify as a pretty good cook, a teacher, a backpacker (in my younger days), and a whore. (I remember when someone told me - Oh you have become whore-identified, as if it was a step I was eventually going to take and I did). We can take on these things about ourselves as an identity. That's one meaning of the word. This is what often happens with politics and vax status. It can become part of your identity. So when you are excluded from some event because of it, it feels terrible - because you have taken it as an identity.

What if we accepted the fact that those things were choices we made? I chose to backpack, I chose to learn to cook, I chose to do sex work, I chose to be vaccinated. Because they are, in fact, choices. Some choices are harder than others and all choices have consequences. And the consequences of some choices are pleasant and the consequences of other choices are unpleasant. But sometimes we make choices even if we know the consequences will be unpleasant because they are important to us for other reasons. Still, they are choices. With one definition of identity, yes, we can identify with our choices. In another definition of identity, they don't mean much, they're just choices and we can change them.

My mom used to say, when I was a kid 'I love you but I don't love what you do'. She was trying to be clear that my actions were a problem, not my person. (Of course I hated hearing that even though I knew it was true.)

Something else about identity. By definition, it feels like the core of who we are. When it's challenged, it's terrifying, destabilizing, confonting. As they say in Texas, "Them's fightin' words!". And when something is done to you because of your identity, it's far worse than if it happened for other reasons. I've heard it said that identity is essentially what we go to war over and it looks true to me. Who knows how or why we have evolved to be so protective of our identity, but whatever it is, it's powerful. Don't go messing with people's identity.

About your vax status - I don't give a flying flip. That's a choice you get to make about your body. I don't give a flying flip about how you cut your hair, what you wear, who you love, or what you eat. (Of course there is another factor with vaccinations and that is the effect it has on those around you, but that is beyond the scope of this rant.)

Back to that first paragraph, what interests me is learning more about the kinds of marginalizations that others are subjected to that we might not realize they are until we educate ourselves. These are largely based on the first definition of identity, the one that is not about choice. I am well aware of the effects of sexism in my life and the life of all women, and men for that matter. I am less aware of the effects of racism and transgender discrimination and others. What interests me is learning more about those so I can, well, stop doing it. And in order for that to happen I first have to learn to see it. That's what I'm working on and that's what we at the School of Consent are wanting to support our facilitators in.