Identity is Trumps

February 26, 2009

In the comments to a recent post, I came across an assertion that I’ve faced a couple of times in recent weeks.  The assertion is that homosexuality is part of one’s identity.  “It’s who I am” is a favored assertion in our culture today for all sorts of things, not just homosexuality.  As far back as January 1997, Father Richard John Neuhaus observed the development of this argument and its effect on churches (I think the logic extends beyond church life):

In some churches, the new orthodoxy is most aggressively manifest in feminist and homosexual (or, as it is said, “lesbigay”) agitations. These, however, are but the more conspicuous eruptions that follow upon a determined denial of the normative truths espoused by an older orthodoxy. Proponents of the new orthodoxy will protest, with some justice, that they, too, are committed to normative truths. These truths, however, are not embodied in propositions, precedent, ecclesial authority, or, goodness knows, revelation. They are experiential truths expressing the truth of who we truly are—”we” being defined by sex, race, class, tribe, or identifying desire (“orientation”).

Identity is Trumps

With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!” People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.

Nobody denies that there are, for instance, women, blacks, American Indians, and homosexuals beyond number who do not subscribe to the identities assigned their respective groups. This, however, does not faze those in charge of packing and distributing identity kits. They explain that identity dissidents, people who do not accept the identities assigned them, are doubly victimized—victims of their oppressors and victims of a false consciousness that blinds them to the reality of their being oppressed. Alternatively, identity dissidents are declared to be traitors who have been suborned into collaboration with the deniers of who they are. The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!) is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.

This helps explain why questions such as quota—ized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.

Thus, we see that pronouncing “It’s who I am” effectively ends a debate, whether or not that assertion is true.  The underlying message is “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?”  In other words, no logic or objective argument will work, because no one will deny his own identity.  By moving one’s sexual desires into the category of identity, one effectively shields those desires from any moral questioning, and removes the issue from the realm of objective discussion.  In an objective discussion you can say something like “don’t take it personally”; but where one’s identity is at play, it’s always personal. 

But I must ask those who fall into the “sexuality is my identity” camp: if someone is a pedophile, is that “who he is”?  Can he play the same game?  And if not, why not? 

I would encourage all of us, homosexual or heterosexual (or otherwise), to avoid linking behaviors and desires to identity.  First, I can’t think of a valid scientific, logical, or moral reason for deeming one’s behaviors and desires to be part of one’s identity.  Your identity is that which makes you “you”.  Behaviors and desires don’t make you “you” because you are still “you” even if your behaviors and desires change. 

Second, linking identity to behaviors and desires is dangerous.  We all have evil desires of various sorts, and adopting these desires as part of our identity, never to be denied, eventually addicts us to that evil.  Is someone with a genetic disposition toward alcoholism inherently an alcoholic?  Is that person denying “who he is” by completely abstaining from alcohol?  Of course not.  Even when alcoholism is facilitated by someone’s DNA, it’s not “who they are”. 

Likewise, no one “is” a pedophile in the quintessential identity sense, even if that person has to endure (and control) disordered desires for his whole life.  (And in case I need to say it: I am not equating homosexuality with pedophilia, though both are types of sexual desires.)  It would be even more tragic for that person to allow pedophilia to define him.  That he must control his desires in the name of morality for his whole life does not make him oppressed or less of a human, and society does not need to validate his sexual desires for him to be whole.

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9 Responses to “Identity is Trumps”


  1. […] Anywhooo, check it out… Identity is Trumps With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, My Identity. Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. Read more at – Identity is Trumps « The Naturallawyer […]


  2. What an interesting and thought provoking blog! This was a great post!

    I got a link to your blog from Vee at http://livingjourney.wordpress.com

  3. thenaturallawyer Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Hope you enjoy it enough to keep visiting.

  4. Phil Says:

    Mmm no, I’m not buying it.

    A person’s ability to self identify is far more important than being chartiable during a debate by avoiding arguments that are “too good”.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying this is who I am. The shut down in the debate comes when people don’t have the balls to flat out say they disagree with people who identify themselves as a certain “type”. Or more importantly, disagree with a person’s ability to express themselves in that regard.

    But that’s not the fault of the homosexual, that’s the fault of Americans who oppose homosexuality but feel guilty when they realize the true implication of their words.

  5. Phil Says:

    But I must ask those who fall into the “sexuality is my identity” camp: if someone is a pedophile, is that “who he is”? Can he play the same game? And if not, why not?

    This is a fair question so lets engage in this thought experiment

    Jon says: I’m a pedophile. It is who I am. Its an innate part of my psyche and personality. who are you to tell me how to live my life.

    Phil: Jon, Pedophilia is wrong and you should not be allowed to live that kind of lifestyle.

    This is why:

    Pedophilia violates a significant aspect of our social agreement which says that children lack the life experience, intelligence, and human growth to make a well informed decision.

    This is doubly true with sexual interactions, considering that children haven’t even experienced puberty yet. They don’t have the capacity to even entertain the idea of sex let alone a sexual relationship.

    A child’s inability to comprehend concentual sex effectively makes all sex between an adult and a child rape.

    Therefore pedophilia is rape.

    While I support the rights of an individual to pursue their idea of freedom, your right to express ends when it negatively affects the rights of others.

    Despite Jon’s claim of “this is who I am”, it was quite easy for me to layout an argument against pedophilia. But, it required me to be up front by clearly stating that people who identify in that particular manner should have their rights to express themselves limited.

    This is the standard weighing the Supreme Court does in first amendment cases. While I have the right to free speech, there are still time, place, manner restrictions on my “free speech”. This is why I can’t yell FIRE in a crowded theater or libel you in a newspaper.

  6. thenaturallawyer Says:

    Phil:

    Thanks for commenting. I do appreciate being challenged in my beliefs; hopefully dialogue will provide mutual edification.

    Now to your thoughts…

    There’s nothing wrong with saying this is who I am.

    But what if that statement is incorrect? Do you think that is possible, or can anyone define himself however he wants (without the possibility of being incorrect)? I am comfortable telling someone that there is something wrong with how he identifies himself if he does so incorrectly. Whether he does so incorrectly is probably where our real disagreement lies…

    The shut down in the debate comes when people don’t have the balls to flat out say they disagree with people who identify themselves as a certain “type”.

    Well, I obviously have the gumption to “flat out disagree” since I wrote a whole post on it in reaction to someone else’s comments, and I’d say it in live conversation if it came up and I felt it otherwise appropriate.

    My sense is that plenty of other people have just as much courage to flat out disagree, but do not do so out of love and respect for others. But that’s really neither here nor there, as both your and my speculations about the motives of others are just that: speculations.

    Or more importantly, disagree with a person’s ability to express themselves in that regard.

    Here is where I think you go too far, if I understand you correctly. Nothing in my post suggested that someone should not be able to express their belief that their sexuality is their identity. In point of fact, I would fight for their ability to do so. I am an ardent supporter of the First Amendment (for my non-American friends, that’s the American Constitutional guarantee of, among other things, freedom of speech). Just because someone is incorrect doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to express incorrect beliefs.

    “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” -Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) US Supreme Court Justice
    Whitney v. California, 1927

    But that’s not the fault of the homosexual, that’s the fault of Americans who oppose homosexuality but feel guilty when they realize the true implication of their words.

    I’m not sure when this became a debate about how someone feels when stating that another person’s identity isn’t based on their sexuality. Nor am I sure how you presume to know that Americans who oppose homosexuality feel guilty about “the true implication of their words”. Frankly, I find this to be nothing more than baseless speculation.

    You are right, though, it’s not a homosexual’s fault if an American believes that homosexuality is wrong but feels guilty when expressing that belief. Neither is it the fault of those who believe that homosexuality is wrong when a homosexual hears their message and feels bad and takes it personally, protestations about “identity” notwithstanding.

    Your distinction between pedophilia and homosexuality, for purposes of our “identity” discussion, can be boiled down to the following argument (correct me if I’ve misunderstood it):
    1. Pedophilia is wrong and you should not be allowed to live that kind of lifestyle.
    2. Pedophilia violates a significant aspect of our social agreement…

    As to number 1: I suppose I could make the same argument about homosexuality being immoral. But putting that aside, on what basis do you claim that pedophilia is immoral? (Is it just the social compact, or is there an inherent morality in your view?)
    Further, you have now set the standards on “identity” based on morality of desires. Desires that are moral can be a basis for your identity, while desires that are immoral cannot. But are morally-permissible desires part of your identity merely because you say so? That seems to make the word “identity” meaningless to me.
    If your desires change, you don’t have to go get a new driver’s license or school i.d. because you are a “different person”. You are you whether or not your desires change. This is my problem with the “sexuality is my identity” argument.

    As to number 2: Surely you don’t think that a person’s identity is contingent upon a “social agreement.” If society agrees that homosexuals cannot self-identify as such, that has no bearing on whether a homosexual’s desires are part of his identity. Otherwise, I could just cite Prop 8 and be done with the debate.

    “While I support the rights of an individual to pursue their idea of freedom, your right to express ends when it negatively affects the rights of others.”

    Now this is quite Orwellian. Like I said above, I have a robust view of free speech, and have no desire to shut anyone up on this issue. Your desire to stop anyone, including pedophiles, from stating what they think is their identity is, in my political opinion, just plain scary.

    Despite Jon’s claim of “this is who I am”, it was quite easy for me to layout an argument against pedophilia.

    Well, that’s not difficult at all (I obviously agree). My point was I wanted to see a way of distinguishing between a pedophile arguing “my desires are who I am” and a homosexual arguing “my desires are who I am.” I’m not convinced by the distinction you offer because I also believe homosexual acts are immoral. Therefore, if you argue that immoral desires cannot form the basis of an identity, you’ve not helped yourself in my view.

    This is the standard weighing the Supreme Court does in first amendment cases. While I have the right to free speech, there are still time, place, manner restrictions on my “free speech”. This is why I can’t yell FIRE in a crowded theater or libel you in a newspaper.

    With all due respect, this is crass legal analysis. Time, place, and manner restrictions must be content neutral. There is no way you can use time, place, and manner restrictions to prohibit expression of the belief that sexuality is or is not part of one’s own or another person’s identity.

    Furthermore, as noted above, the remedy for incorrect speech is more speech, not less. Your willingness to abridge the right to free speech is alarming, in my view.

  7. Phil Says:

    I know this is going to make me sound like a complete dick but your response makes absolutely no sense. Don’t get me wrong, your arguments aren’t bad, they just lack cohesiveness. The only reason I bring this up is because every response you;ve made is a tangent away from the crux of our debate: does the inclusion of sexuality effectively end discourse?

    Anyways, this argument boils down quite nicely to this argument you made:

    I suppose I could make the same argument about homosexuality being immoral. But putting that aside, on what basis do you claim that pedophilia is immoral? (Is it just the social compact, or is there an inherent morality in your view?)

    This is my point in a nutshell. Even though a pedophile uses their sexuality identity in a discussion there is still plenty of fertile ground for discourse.

    I could say pedophilia is immoral. Pedophilia is rape. Pedophilia is unhealthy, etc. You in return can argue the morality of pedophilia, disagree about its health risks, and argue that children can agree to consensual sex.

    You proved that when you began to challenge my underlying assumption about morality and the standards used to determine moral permissibility.

  8. thenaturallawyer Says:

    Phil:

    In any debate, I am trying to understand another person’s position before responding. When I mis-state your argument or position, I would appreciate it if you clarify so we can have a mature discussion. I have no interest in attacking a straw man…

    …every response you;ve made is a tangent away from the crux of our debate: does the inclusion of sexuality effectively end discourse?

    That wasn’t exactly the main point of my post, which is what I thought you were responding to. What you see as “tangent” is what I see as the main point. My main thesis is that sexuality is not actually part of one’s identity, no matter how much someone insists that this is so. A secondary point to this, although I stated it first in quoting Father Neuhaus, is a suggestion of the reason for, and effect of, asserting the identity claim. I won’t call it the “identity argument” because the conclusion rarely comes supported by premises, hence my statement “identity claim”.

    At any rate, responding to what you see as the crux of the debate, even though I thought we were debating my main thesis (not to say we have to; just explaining the source of the misunderstanding)…

    This is my point in a nutshell. Even though a pedophile uses their sexuality identity in a discussion there is still plenty of fertile ground for discourse.

    Oh, I completely agree with you. I don’t think that the identity claim acts as a muzzle on anyone (or at least, no one should allow it to muzzle them). I think Father Neuhaus’ point is, and I know my point is, that the identity claim is often an attempt to end a debate. Like you said, if a pedophile tries this, we can respond, “well that’s not actually your identity no matter how much you insist it is” (which is essentially what I said in the last paragraph of my initial post). Likewise with the homosexual, or anyone else claiming an identity based on some desire. (That’s not to say we should say this in all instances; love and wisdom, as well as truth, should always regulate our words.)

    Thus, to the extent your argument is simply that the identity claim should not completely end a debate, I agree. That’s why Father Neuhaus said, “By such reasoning, so to speak [i.e. the identity claim], the spineless are easily intimidated.” In other words, someone who shrinks back at the identity claim and refuses to further debate is “spineless.” So we are in agreement.

    I guess this means the main thrust of my argument, that sexual desires are not actually part of someone’s identity, stands unrebutted so far (not that that in itself gives me any more confidence in the proposition).

  9. Chairm Says:

    Additional thoughts:

    Another key aspect of the identity claim is that, contrary to the assertions of group identity politics, the indivdiual person constructs the individualized identity rather than discovers it. That is, the group identity is first, the individualized identity follows the form. Yet, the groupthink induces the delusion that the identity originates internally rather than externally. It suberts reality.

    The internal feelings of sexual attraction or desire may be, or may not be, inborn. The outward expression of those feelings — in behavior including words written or spoken — is subject to restraints both inner and social. Which constraints are healthy and just (two things that are not necessarily in accorfd) is discerned through philosophic and moral examination. That, too, is both inner and social, but never just one or the other.

    The identity claim errs by overstressing the inner and then pushes the subjective feelings into the form of a group identity. That group identity is the outward expression of these feelings. And, as such, is pressed upon society with reduced inhibitions and even a denial of the merit of inner and social restraints. The disciplinen of self-restraint is understressed and voluntary social restraint is virtually abandoned, because the group is both the enabler of the outward expression of subjective feelings and the inhibitor of restraint, both inner and social but especially social.

    Identity politics has its place, a small place, in a free and open society, however, group identity in politics is the expansion of the power of the group rather than the liberty of the individual. It enslaves rather than frees the individual. And, when Government’s big hairy hand is moved to press for the supremacy of idenity politics (of whatever kind), the police power intrudes on public discourse to lean against self-restraint and social-restraint within the ascending group; and this necessarily means favoritism that imposes constraints on the rest of society. Those constraints are not measured by well-being and justice, but rather by the utility of suppressing society — especially dissent and opposition — to effectively vouchsafe the group identity.

    This, inevitablly, as history teaches, must also diminish even the freedom — inner (as in conscience) and social (as in acting on one’s freedom of conscience) — of the individual within the favored identity group.

    The American example of white supremacy has ample evidence of how white individuals were suppressed, and repressed, in the name of identity politics. Of course, the cost was much higher for the people outside the favored identity group. The caste system in India is another example of this seemingly universal feature of human civilizations. Us v. Them is internalized and expressed socially.

    In modern politics, group identity is a rhetorical weapon that has corrupted the public discourse on marriage and other matters of human sexuality. The abandonment of principles in favor of group identity is one of the surest sources of bigotry, injustice, and violence.


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