AK Reader: Has “Celebrating Diversity” (1996) devolved into “Identity Politics”?

The theme of this column, written for the Fall Equinox issue 1996 of Sagewoman, is one that I never thought would become even more problematic than I recognized at the time. It sounds so good, that phrase, “celebrate diversity”! But in the last few years, this issue has begun to make my blood boil even hotter than it did over 20 years ago. Why?

Here goes.

Usually I’m all for non-binary approaches to life, realizing that life is much more colorful than merely black and white. But there’s something about the LGBTQ movement, or whatever it calls itself now, that just doesn’t sit well within me.

There may have been a few more letters added since last I looked to the increasing subcultural differentiation of the supposed gender spectrum. Notice my snarky tone. And indeed I do feel snarky about this issue, the latest, to my mind, designed and promoted to set us apart and divide us further into tiny little warring groups, not just based on “interest” anymore, but on what we now call “identity.” Voila: IDENTITY POLITICS. And: “if you don’t realize I’m at “this” place on the gender spectrum, and don’t call me by the pronoun that I declare valid, then I will judge you unmercifully as bad or wrong.”

I’m trying to take my own temperature here; trying to figure out precisely why I get so triggered by people who get triggered when others don’t see them as they want to see themselves “on the gender spectrum.” As I said above, and let me repeat: ordinarily I do not “advocate” for binary anything. Indeed, I spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to educate others on the fact that opposites need to be bridged and there’s lots of shades in between.

But I do think I’m beginning to recognize what I consider so off and off-putting about this movement to increase the range of gender possibilities in the human world, and to base one’s self-worth on whatever part of the “spectrum” one decides to “identify with” and then not just ask others, but insist that they agree.

I now realize it’s because I’m getting sick and tired of people identifying with the body as their main underlying source of not just “identity” but self-worth. As I told a male friend recently who wants to identify as both male and female and wears skirts on occasion, I’ve been working to integrate male and female within myself for probably 50 years now. (Karl Jung called this process of integration “individuation.”) That for me, this issue is a mental/emotional/spiritual one, not a physical one. At least not usually.

Of course, I realize some people are born with ambiguous genitalia. Native Americans call them “berdache,” and see them as special, holy. Others, even when small children, seem to gravitate to what at least our culture sees as opposite sex activities and attitudes.

But to me, those who use hormones to change their bodies, and worse, much much worse, those who would mutilate their bodies through surgery in pursuit of the opposite sex, are going in a direction that not only might they regret later, but that is against what nature intended, at least in this life.

I realize that I may be considered hopelessly antidiluvian in this attitude towards this latest “celebrate diversity” category, and though I’m usually all for seeing life in terms of a spectrum of possibilities, I do assume that, with few exceptions, most bodies are designed by nature to be either female or male, period, no matter what their occupants might decide. 

So, though I was a tomboy as a kid, and though many people at first glance would think me lesbian (short hair, active, direct thrusting manner), I tell anyone who asks that I am decidedly heterosexual. Not that being lesbian is “bad,” either, but it’s simply not my proclivity to sexually desire a member of the same sex. While I find that the female aspect of myself is by far the more problematic than the male aspect, that does not mean that I want to cut off my breasts and pretend I have a penis. Why do that? I don’t identify primarily with my body. My body as a part of nature, is a vessel for emotional/mental/spiritual aspects of myself.

Nature’s ways are mysterious. And I will learn from Nature whatever it is I need to know about being in this body rather than its opposite.

 

“Celebrating Diversity” (1996)

by Ann Kreilkamp

I winced when I learned of this issue’s theme. Not because I don’t want to celebrate diversity. Of course I do. Don’t all “right thinking” people want this? What upsets me is that this beautiful phrase, “celebrating diversity,” has been picked up, bandied about, co-opted. It is now just one more “politically correct” tag to use and abuse.

As often happens when many people simultaneously become aware of some feeling, that feeling will be described with a certain phrase. A phrase which is utterly appropriate to the meaning. A phrase which, furthermore, sings. “Celebrating diversity” is such a phrase, and it clicks into the collective unconscious.

As a result, more people use the words “celebrating diversity” to express the feeling inside them. The feeling builds. Or at least we think it does. We hope it does. But here’s where it gets tricky: the more people use the words, the more the words themselves take on their own life. What was originally an inspired symbol of a significant feeling is transformed into a sign, which merely points to something. What? The original feeling which inspired the phrase has become buried, under the projections of those who (intentionally or not) begin to use this phrase for their own ends.

The phrase “celebrating diversity” begins to have another connotation, of a social or political nature. We identify  ourselves with the phrase. The phrase becomes just one more tag which we attach to ourselves. So we begin to think of ourselves as good, wise, politically correct, etc., because we, unlike those other people,  celebrate diversity.

In this way what was originally a full and generous feeling which prompted the invention of a certain linguistic phrase to express it appropriately, tends to transform, over time, through the magic of our relationship with language, into its own opposite. We celebrate diversity, unlike “those fundamentalists.”

“Fundamentalist”: another word which we use these days, a word to describe those who do not celebrate diversity, but instead insist on their own beliefs and way of life as the only ones which are good, politically correct, etc., because they, unlike those other people, know the Truth.

So we who proclaim the Truth of “Celebrate Diversity” need to recognize our own fundamentalism in judging those who do not know this Truth, as bad, foolish, politically incorrect, etc.

We need to embrace two challenges, here and anytime we use language in an attempt to transform consciousness.

*1) How can we keep the original feeling behind the language alive? The feeling, in this case, which truly celebrates all of life. How can we learn to see through our own words, and the self-identification and self-importance that comes into us when we use them, back to the feeling that birthed these words as a common expression? How can we do this as we are speaking?

* 2) What stops us from opening our hearts to everyone? Why are fundamentalists so angry? Why are the fundamentalists in ourselves, we who despise fundamentalists, so angry? What needs to change within us so that we may truly celebrate our diversity, rather than assuming that we do celebrate it, and hate those who don’t?

The first question refers to the alchemy of language. The second goes deeper, to that which in us slams the door on others. I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I have been looking at the questions, especially the second one. I want to identify and transform the fundamentalism inside my own world.

This task is not just mine, it is everyone’s. Pluto’s 13-year transit through the sign of Sagittarius is going to force us to confront fundamentalism, not in others, but in ourselves. Pluto moved into Sagittarius soon after the verdict was reached in the O.J. Simpson trial. That verdict clued me in for the first time to the profound fundmentalism within myself: I, I now realize,am a racist. This realization came as a complete surprise. The clue was my response to the verdict, and the reports of blacks cheering that verdict. I was shocked, disturbed, nauseated.

I wanted individual justice done, O.J. Simpson convicted. Instead, what America received was racial justice, for the crime of race murder. A balancing of the scales didtake place, not on an indivdiual level, but culturally. But I did not see that at the time; instead, I was furious and terrified — of the black race as a whole. The feeling was familiar. It is ancient, tribal. This was the first time I noticed it move from my unconscious to the surface and erupt.

I was not only shocked at the verdict of that trial, I was also shocked to find myself so shocked. For the first time I was paying attention to a reaction of mine which, before Pluto’s entrance into Sagittarius, I would not have noticed at all. I would have found it normal to be shocked, not noticed the racism underlying it. Now I was probing my own reaction, for what it meant about me. How I could be so racist without knowing it?

This task, of paying close attention to, of probing and dismantling assumptions, is the task of those who intend to evolve under Pluto’s transit through Sagittarius. I have noticed that this task is also fiendishly difficult. When I immediately react to something, it feels instinctive, natural. I don’t realize that my reaction is mediated— by assumptions, values, attitudes which I hold at such a deep level that I don’t know they are there.

Finding my own racism goes against the grain of what I think about myself. My identity suffers when it finds itself interrogated. I think of myself as politically correct! Indeed, as a professional astrologer, for many years my very business has been to celebrate diversity, by identifying the unique energy pattern in each of us. So I find myself almost slack-jawed when my probes into my own unconscious yield results. Each clue to my own fundamentalism feels like extracting a tooth, it hurts.

In my own depths is a largely unrecognized, tangled, coagulated, rock-solid set of unconscious assumptions, which functions as the framework through which I view reality. It is as if there is a set of glasses inside my brain through which I see. They refract my world in a certain way. The glasses themselves, however, seem invisible and weightless. Since I don’t know I have them on, I think that my view of reality is real, objective, “The Truth.”

Well, wait a minute. It’s not thatcrude. I dorealize that other people see things differently, that each of us has a “point of view,” a certain angle or perspective through which we view the world. I realize that since each of us occupies a different point in space, no two “points of view” are identical.

So my background as one who truly does (in theory) celebrate diversity is not just astrological, it is philosophical. In fact, it got me in a lot of trouble as a doctoral student in philosophy, where “epistemological fundamentalism” is the norm. This idea is that, despite our different points of view, there is One Truth which we are all attempting, somehow (hopefully through science) to attain. What I did, back then, 25 years ago, was question how, if we do occupy different points within space, we could ever hope to see things the same? For this, I was scapegoated.

And I have been scapegoated by my own family, where my father is a fundamentalist Roman Catholic. As an obvious fundamentalist, his beliefs structure his life entirely. Whenever there is a conflict between what he thinks and what he feels, what he thinks seems to win. At least it seems to with me, the eldest of his eight children and the only one to directly question his beliefs. This puts me in a confrontational situation with him, over and over again, and it makes everyone else in the family extremely uncomfortable. So, even though some of them also have quietly diverged from the family belief structure, I am the only one to make an issue of it.

On the one hand, I want to say that all my brothers and sisters are fundamentalists, since they all still seem to live within that bubble created by the patriarchal father’s beliefs. On the other hand, I must admit that, besides my father, I am the other serious fundamentalist, since something about my personality, and my Sun in her Sagittarian desire for Truth creates a strong polarity with him and his beliefs. We judge each other absolutely. Our absolute judgments come from our “true beliefs.” It doesn’t really matter what those beliefs are. What matters is that, for each of us, those beliefs are so strong that they create a structure through which we justify ourselves.

My father’s giving up his beliefs would be his giving up his reason for living. His entire life has been organized around his belief system. Letting that go would be a free fall through space. Terrifying. Impossible.

I am more fortunate. It is not impossible for me to give up my fundamentalism, though it may hurt. Despite my Sagittarian tendency to dogmatism and righteousness, I belong to a generation whose ingestion of “consciousness-altering substances” helped us realize that all beliefs about the world arerelative. For if the world changes under the influence of LSD, then the one world which I had known before, fractures into two. And if there are two worlds there are many worlds. This is the essence of relativism.

Once I go through the painful process of discovering my “true beliefs” I can give them up, and drop down into another part of myself, the part which breathes, and digests, and loves, and acts. I can connect with my body, its real, unmediated instincts and desires, its pleasures and pains. I surrender to a larger whole by trusting in dreams and visions and the uncanny synchronicities of everyday life.

But if I let my Sagittarian personality take over, if I proclaim this more inclusive, right-brained way of life, this way of life which is larger than anything I can say in language, then I am trumpeting my own fundamentalism, blasting others with me, what Ibelieve and how Ilive, rather than letting them live in their own terms.

Therefore part of what I need to do in probing my own fundamentalism is to see how and where and how thoroughly I do assume that I am the Sun at the center of the universe, and that my rays reach all corners of the dark sky. Notice that here is one of those assumptions which I did not know I had: I assume the sky has corners, that it is finite, bounded!

But I don’t believe this! Not consciously! Indeed, I have not believed it for many years. In fact, one way I introduce astrology to clients is to say this: “You are the center of the universe. Everyone is in the center of the universe. Because the universe has no circumference, the center is everywhere.”

So, not only do I believe in diversity, I have a wonderful, expansive philosophical rationale for it: the universe is infinite in all directions. Spiritually and intellectually, I have long sensed the infinite mystery that surrounds this tiny little world we occupy. Even so, on a personality level, my own Sagittarian Sun (occupying the first house of my natal astrological chart) is so strong that it tends to scorch those whom it touches. I may say that I believe in diversity, but in practice, it is difficult for me to live and let live. Especially when I am up against one whom I consider to be “fundamentalist.” Such people make my blood boil. I instantly polarize, and there I am again, back duking it out with my father.

So what makes my blood boil? What makes the Montana Freemen’s blood boil? What makes the Middle Eastern terrorist’s blood boil? The feeling is so instantaneous and so strong that it must have some kind of survival value and must be somehow connected to a more primeval part of ourselves, the limbic brain, perhaps. In order to release that boiling blood, some deep insecurity, some deep threat to our own personal safety, will have to be addressed. Pretty words like “Celebrate Diversity,” won’t do it by themselves. We don’t go forwards into a larger life until we first make our foundations strong.

What is missing? What is the real foundation for which our various and conflicting “True Beliefs” have been a substitute?

 

 

 

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11 Responses to AK Reader: Has “Celebrating Diversity” (1996) devolved into “Identity Politics”?

  1. Ana Lee says:

    Whoo! You weren’t wrong in calling these posts atypical of your work. If they weren’t I sure wouldn’t be reading your blog.

    Honey, everything gets coopted. Remember? Women’s Lib turns into mandatory two income households see ’em have the energy to complain now”).

    You’re acting like one of those people who says “Oh, I’m a total believer in compassion” followed immediately by that deadly word “Except…”

    The solution to the gender reference problem is to develop a gender-neutal prounoun. Simple. Affirmative. Hate free.

    Very much unlike this post. Excuse me, I need to puke.

  2. I just left a comment. Your submission form malfunctioned during typing and eliminated the name blank from registration, so I don’t know whether it went through. If it did not, and you are interested in what I might have had to say on this subject, simply reply to this message. If not, please do continue to enjoy wallowing in your pain, frustration, negativity and hatred. Peaceful day.

    • Ann Kreilkamp says:

      It appears to me that your responses to this post are examples of the vituperation that “identity politics” relies on to continue the division among us.

  3. Kieron says:

    “… Native Americans call them ‘berdache’…” Close, but that is a French term applied by French explorers to a cultural phenomenon they encountered among certain tribes and groups of indigenous people. There was (and still is) a great deal of variation among these groups about the topic, which isn’t always made clear to outsiders (and given their experiences, can we really blame them?). Locally, the term most widely known is “Two Spirit” and in fact there is/was a periodic conference on the subject, by invitation only due to too many non-Native persons wanting to identify as such (i.e, trendy pseudo-Native spirituality). Unsurprisingly, it’s a touchy topic, and I do think our United States natal Cancer is at the root of everyone’s hypersensitivity, regardless of their position or opinion. Or it could be that Pluto, transiting Cap, is triggering the entire world by simple fact that Cancer is the opposite sign.

    I have no solutions, only observations. I’m a Gem Asc and capable of holding multiple viewpoints without necessarily subscribing to any. Therefore, I can understand how conservatives have derided the promotion of diversity by pointing out that this diversity doesn’t seem to include their viewpoints. However, it could be argued, they have had the podium (so to speak) for several generations and it’s time for new perspectives. It’s another reason I wish people understood astrology better because then they would, quite possibly, be able to relax about certain things which are transitory, or about characteristics of a generational cohort which may be more conservative or progressive, depending on the overall energetic flavor in effect at birth.

    As for Ana, well… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Can’t the blogger have her own opinion? I disagree on some parts, but I don’t need to take offense.

    • Ann Kreilkamp says:

      Thanks for correction on “berdache”! Meanwhile, I agree with you wholeheartedly that Pluto’s journey through Capricorn is, and has been, stirring up this nation’s massive array of hypsersensitive Cancer energies (Venus, Jupiter, Sun, Mercury). Thanks for the nudge. I’ll see if I can write up something on that.

  4. Ellen Jacobi says:

    Ann,
    The war against thought is getting desperate it seems. Your capacity for thought and analysis is well exhibited throughout your writing. Your life and experiences exemplify a hard earned journey of integration and balance. You have done the work and continue to do the work. lt is a lifelong process. Too much focus on the exterior really is an illusion. Whether that is physicality or anything else outside of ourselves. It is an illusion that many people think that if they can control other peoples thoughts or opinions about themselves,that they can create a safe space for themselves.
    The enemy is not outside, it is within. You are right about the work being in integration. We all have male and female inside of us. Society is failing miserably with this duality now. It always has but now it has taken a turn towards the opposite end of the spectrum. lt seems that the exterioisation of all problems and blame is encouraged more now than it ever has been. There is too much projection and no interest in dialogue. We need that dialogue with ourselves and with others. We do not need an echo chamber and the bait and switch tactics that accuse people of hate when they do not adhere to the proscribed politically sanctioned narrative. I know that those tactics do nothing to instill fear in you, for that l am thankful.

    I appreciate the honesty and well though out perspective that you have shared here. Accusations of hate and lack of compassion are without a doubt unfounded. There is no thought in throwing out the these slogans. It is weak, extremely weak. Gender issues being politicized is nothing but a diversionary tactic to keep the people from focusing on the real problems that plague our society today. You get it, l get it. I expect that soon enough, others will get it too.

  5. Ann says:

    Ann, Thank you so much for putting into words what I have been unable to express. I often wonder if our environment is contributing to the, what appears to be an explosion, of transgendered people. I have friends who are transgendered and I want to have a conversation with them about environmental factors, but honestly they shut me down before I can even broach the subject. It’s a topic that deserves a lot of thought and I appreciate you weighing in on it.

    • Ann Kreilkamp says:

      And thank YOU for letting me know that the topic, and the treatment of the topic, resonated with you. It helps me to hear this!

      • Kieron says:

        Ann K, if you’ll allow me to comment further:

        In the 1970’s, feminist author Judy Grahn opined in her book “Another Mother Tongue” that GLBT folk exist to bridge the gap between female and male, women and men, because the division between them can go–and has gone–too far, locking individuals into unbending rules and stifling roles, and causing pain to all who cannot/could not meet the social standards of the day. This fits with the Native/indigenous two-spirit concept, of those who straddle two sides and perhaps are tasked to heal the wound(s). I think Grahn is onto something, but I wonder what she would make of things today? We’re a long way from when the book came out.

        As for being shut down, to the other Ann, please understand the situation for trans people right now is fraught and sensitive, so soon after birth (if you will). Let them grow accustomed to the newness and find their footing. Let them know you are open to conversation and communication, by respecting a new identity, using a new name, acknowledging a new appearance. Asking such a tough question is threatening even if you don’t intend it so. In time, lines of trust will grow and you can then put a little more weight on the bridge you are building by asking your questions. And recognize not everyone is willing to engage now, or maybe never will be. Again, I think it’s the Cancer sensitivity being triggered by transiting Pluto in Cap. Everyone is on edge in some way.

        Thanks for indulging my verbosity. 🙂

        • Ann Kreilkamp says:

          Very much appreciate both your thoughtfulness and your way of educating me. Thank you. And yes, Pluto in Cap is fracturing what remains of civility and triggering all sorts of Cancer issues. Hopefully, something real will emerge from the rubble!

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