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What Is Identity Policing?

September 20, 2023 Daniel Lyons

Identity policing is when a person tries to tell another person (usually one with a marginalized identity) that their identity is invalid or that they can't or don't belong to an identity group they claim to identify with. I wanted to talk about this after my last post, where I talked about what it means to be a lesbian. Unfortunately, even within the queer community, I have had my identity policed on more than one occasion. Identity policing can be extremely hurtful and problematic. Allow me to illustrate with the example that follows from my life. 

A Personal Story About Identity Policing

A couple of years ago, when I had started passing as male in my transition (meaning I no longer presented as female and the world read me as male), I went to an online meeting of a spiritual community I attended at that time. The meeting was listed as open to transgender folk (those whose gender identity does not conform with their birth sex), non-binary people (those who don't identify exclusively as men or women), and women. Because I am both transgender and non-binary, I hoped to attend. That particular day, I had my pronouns set to "he/him," as I am gender fluid, meaning my identity can shift daily, and I change my pronouns as I see fit. 

As I entered the meeting and looked around, it appeared most people in the space identified as women and used she/her pronouns. A few minutes into the meeting, a woman messaged me and told me I was mistaken and making women feel "uncomfortable" (mind you, I hadn't even spoken--I was simply existing). She said people with he/him pronouns were not allowed in the meeting and asked me to leave. This is identity policing.

I felt stunned, confused, and outraged—because of the way that I looked, I was not believed to be transgender or non-binary. I was assumed to be a cisgender male (a man assigned male at birth whole identifies with his assigned birth sex), and my identity as a transgender (trans) person and a non-binary person was completely invalidated. It appeared the meeting only wanted people who looked more feminine and that my masculinity was threatening. Sadly, I have heard countless stories like this from other transgender friends. 

Who Identity Polices?

These women were identity policing. They told me I didn't belong in that space because I didn't look enough like the women in the group and that to be considered trans or non-binary, I needed to not look like a man. Unfortunately, much of the identity policing I have endured has come from other queer people and often has happened to me in queer spaces. I could tell five other stories like this one, policing all different aspects of my identity, not just gender. The reality is that anyone can identity police, however. 

APA Reference
Lyons, D. (2023, September 20). What Is Identity Policing? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/thelifelgbt/2023/9/what-is-identity-policing



Author: Daniel Lyons

Daniel Lyons (they/he) is a writer and mental health therapist who is passionate about the intersections of gender, sexuality, and mental health, and he lives in Oakland, California, with his service dog Noche. Find Daniel on Instagram and Medium.

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