One of the values at the core of my intersectional feminism is solidarity, which means to me: I want my experience of marginalization to make me more compassionate to those who are different than me.
I am nonbinary. I want to use that experience to allow me to relate to binary trans people, who experience gender dysphoria as I do; to gender-non-conforming and LGB people, as well as anyone who’s had a hard time fitting in their gender role, who are harmed as I am by the gender binary and oppositional sexism; to otherkin, people with bodily identity integrity disorder, and some anorexics, who just like me experience proprioceptive hallucinations, what-is-this-body-I’m-looking-at-it’s-not-mine, and weird floating preferences about category membership that don’t connect to any disagreement about empirical facts or fact about how the categories are treated.
Of course, our experiences are not the same. I can get top surgery; an anorexic who has a similar relationship to their weight that I do to my sex characteristics may die if they get the body they prefer. This is a tremendous difference. But I think there is a lot to saying “here, this is the experience I have, let me use this as a tool and a motivation to understand you, person who is very different from me.”
And I’m not saying I’m good at this, mind you. It took me a surprisingly long time to connect “I have this strange preference that I be considered nonbinary, despite agreeing that I possess all the traits typically associated with women and knowing that my life would be far easier if I were a woman” to “I have this strange preference that I be considered nonhuman, despite agreeing that I possess all the traits typically associated with humans and knowing my life would be far easier if I were a human.”
There are costs to this perspective. Right now, the legitimacy of trans people’s genders is very fragile. Most people, even in relatively trans-positive countries, do not see trans people as the genders we identify as. Even fewer people see otherkin as the species they identify as. If the trans movement as a whole said “otherkin with social species dysphoria are just as valid as trans people with social gender dysphoria!”, I’m pretty sure the response of people in general would be “so what you’re saying is that both of you guys are fake?” It wouldn’t do much good.
And a very common way marginalization works is that people have the mistaken belief that Widely Disliked Group A are really all Widely Disliked Group B. If a masculine gay man hears someone say “all gay men are flamers!”, he of course responds “no, we aren’t! I am gay and I’m just a regular guy: I lift weights, drink beer, and don’t know Cabaret from Carousel.” On one hand, his desire to not be mistaken for someone who knows things about musicals is quite reasonable; it’s not a great feeling when people believe inaccurate things about you because of your marginalizations. On the other hand, he is distancing himself from feminine men. In many, perhaps most, cases, the subtext is: “I’m gay, but that’s not bad. Now, being a feminine man, that’s really bad and awful and deserving of derision.” The insult gains its sting from the cultural horror of feminine men; if someone said “gay men all have blue eyes!”, he would be nonplussed, not offended.
A quite natural way of dealing with marginalization is to say “I don’t deserve it. They deserve it.” This can work on an external level– “you shouldn’t use that condescending tone when you talk to a person in a wheelchair, it’s not like they have Down syndrome or something”– but I think it is most pernicious on an internal level.
Neurodivergent people who have high IQs or good academic skills tend to wrap up a lot of our self-esteem in being smart. We go, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way, I’m smart.” We go, “actually, I am better than the people who are being cruel to me, because I’m smart and all those bastards are going to work for me one day.” We go, “I’m not worthless, because I’m smart. If I were this fucked up and I weren’t smart, then I would probably be worthless, but actually I’m an eccentric genius and did you know Albert Einstein didn’t wear socks because he thought they were a waste of time.”
On one hand, we don’t deserve to be treated that way, we aren’t worthless, and we may very well be better than the people who were cruel to us; if this mindset allows us to understand those facts, it is good. It rubs me the wrong way to take away people’s coping mechanisms from them. On the other hand, the whole idea of having to earn not being mistreated is harmful, and it inevitably happens that at some point you’re not the smartest person in the room anymore and if you’ve wrapped up your self-worth in being smart when that happens you suddenly feel like you are really worthless. And, of course, it’s kind of shitty for intellectually disabled people. Intellectually disabled people deserve to have autonomy over their lives and not be bullied or abused, because everyone deserves to have autonomy over their lives and not be bulled or abused. A politics that denies that is harmful to intellectually disabled people.
And… I don’t like doing it. I don’t feel right when I deny my similarities with others, when I refuse to have empathy for people who are like me in order to maintain the shreds of rights or worth we’ve been able to grasp. Which I guess is my true rejection.