When we think of identity, we tend to paint with broad strokes that group people into messily homogenized, collective identities. It’s how we allow ourselves to think of the “gay community” or the “black community” as being distinct groups.
One theory of group identity states that in some sense, identity is formed based on collective trauma and situations of extreme or persistent stress not shared by those outside of the group. What that means is that we tend to make a community from those who know what it’s like to have been through what we’ve been through. One problem with the identities that we use to define marginalized communities is that they lack depth — they’re one-dimensional. Believing that the marginalization that each LGBTQ person faces is the same as that faced by every other person in that community devalues the complexities of being black and gay or differently abled and trans.
Are you starting to see how important it is to represent those perspectives that are at the intersection of multiple identities? Good. Let’s talk about intersectionality.
Intersectionality in the queer community is, in some sense, about addressing some of the problematic ways people of color and other marginalized peoples within the LGBTQ community have been treated by the movement overall.
While the idea of intersectionality is about addressing the shortcomings of our community’s past, it is equally about creating a stage for people with intersectional identities to be empowered enough to speak on that wealth of experiences.
Huffington Post quoted Junot Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize awardee and MacArthur Fellow, as saying that the genius that writers who are women of color wield is “cultivated out of their raced, gendered, sexualized subjectivities.” With any profession, but certainly with writing, there exist creative communities that are growing and thriving without attention from the mainstream but are utterly deserving of it and more.
These intersectional perspectives don’t shut out the perspectives of mainstream, able-bodied, white, male members of the LGBTQ community, but rather enhance them by placing them in the context of other beautiful accounts of the human condition. Keeping the LGBTQ community as exclusive as possible does not hurt the creative vitality of marginalized groups within that identity, but it is profoundly damaging to the community as a whole.
In April, Ashley Burnside wrote for The Mighty on being disabled and a lesbian. Her story highlighted the general social exclusion that sometimes comes from being part of a small community within an already small community and how that reinforces many of the feelings of isolation that many people with intersectional identities often feel.
She wrote, “While my family always supported me, they did not understand how I felt or the experiences I had. This made it very lonely and isolating to possess both identities. It took me years to find friends who share these identities – and I still don’t know anyone who is both queer and who has CP. When I realized I was gay, it felt like one more identity I did not share with my family.”
Her story is one of many that details the difficulty of making community within the group identity construct when the community is small to start off with. You may still not be buying that, so think about this. Three percent of the population is “LGBTQ.” If disability rates are comparable in our community, that means that of 325 million Americans, there are just fewer than 2.1 million who are both LGBTQ and differently abled, compared to more than 11 million that are LGBTQ overall.
Intersectionality in our community is about accurately and respectfully chronicling our past, creating a stronger and more inclusive future, and supporting everyone in our community in their pursuit of finding greater understanding and acceptance.