Many people claim, often jokingly, that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Which these two kinds of people would be varies between different discussions as well as between different jokes. The truth is that each human being belong to many different categories, in many different categorizations.
Imagine this guy named Bob. He has an office job and has playing chess as one of his greatest hobbies. Sexually, he’s mostly into BDSM and mostly attracted to women, although he does have some sexual interest in vanilla sex and men as well. Physically, he happens to need a wheelchair because of a problem with his legs. He also happens to be white.
Many categories there, easily labeled by names such as office worker, chess player, bisexual, sadomasochist, heterosexual, and disabled.
A person does not have a skin-color, a gender or a sexual orientation. Instead, each person has a skin-color, a gender and a sexual orientation. As well as many other traits.
When a person or society does categorism… treats you in a certain way, based on their ideas about categories… when they discriminate you or display prejudice or bigotry… it is typically based on several of these categorizations rather than just one. Interaction between categorizations is known as Intersectionality.
The concept of intersectionality (not the word itself, but the modern concept associated with the word) comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw, who in an essay (published 1989) argued that feminism and anti-racism both tend to exclude black women: Feminism by focusing on women (who are assumed to be white), anti-racism by focusing on people of color (who are assumed to be male). In other words, white people and men are what I call the zero-category: The category which is perceived as so normal that people are simply assumed to belong to it.
It is easy to make up a dichotomy between two categories, where one is constructed as privileged and the other is constructed as underprivileged or oppressed. To make such a distinction can often be a useful analytical tool to help identifying when people are getting mistreated in society. It is a privilege to be the social norm, the zero-category. As a person in a privileged category, your life may still be hard… but at least you are considered normal, as long as you conform to the right stereotypes about your assigned category.
However, one implication of intersectionality is that there is no such thing as a normal person:
1.) Each person can be categorized in many different ways.
2.) While a person is likely to belong to the zero-category of most such categorization, they will still belong to the outsider category of some categorizations.
3.) If there would actually be a person who is ”normal” in EVERY categorization, then this in itself is actually extreme rather than normal.
Now consider another fact: Categorizations are social constructs that we human beings do. The categorizations do not have any existence of its own. While a categorization may be invalid, bad, okay, good or better at describing whatever thing we are talking about, it can never be ultimately accurate in itself.
We draw a line somewhere, because our minds need lines to be drawn. The line itself does not exist, except in our minds. Reality is full of sliding scales, not dichotomies.
When people are divided into two groups, there will always always be people who do not fit into such black and white thinking. People are too complex to be reduced to simple dichotomies.
When people get stuck between categories, they suffer from midclusion. This is to be between inclusion and exclusion, but not necessarily a stable point between them: A person who suffer from midclusion may be fully accepted in both groups at one particular time, and fully excluded from both groups at another.
Because of intersectionality and midclusion, the idea that each person is either privileged or oppressed would be wrong even if it were true that a category is some sort of monolithic universal structure. Which it isn’t.
While trying to make people understand that there is a difference between individuals and social structures, it is too easy to talk about ”individual level” and ”structural level” as if they were on the same scale. However, they are actually different kinds of levels.
Instead, we need to treat individuals, groups and systemic patterns in society as one sliding scale from micro level to macro level. Different kinds of social structures – discursive, normative, social inertia and so on – is a separate system which intersects the first. Sample levels versus structural levels. Actual laws and similar formal rules should probably count as a third separate set in its own right.
Anyway. Lets return to Bob, our hypothetical example of a person suffering from midclusion.
So. Bob is sexually attracted to both men and women. This is simply a fact of life for him, not any identity. The fact that he have had boyfriends in the past is enough to make homophobes hate him, threaten him and discriminate against him.
Yet, the fact that he is mostly attracted to women makes it easy to dismiss him as not sufficently gay to count. Some people argue that he should be labeled as straight, and that straight people should be banned from Pride.
This particular form of midclusion is far from unique. It happens to many people who are attracted to both men and women. Especially if they are more attracted to one gender than the other and doesn’t overcompensate by going out of their way to publicly build an identity as bisexual or pansexual – and even if they do, people may still accuse them of being ”fake”. Because after all, ”there are only two kinds of people in the world”. In this case, meaning that everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual whether they like it or not.
This version of heteronormativity also includes these two absurd assumptions:
1. That identity and practice has to be the same thing. Bob is required to identify as bisexual because he have had sex with men, AND is required to have a sufficient (yet unspecified) amount of sexual encounters with men to ”qualify” for “not being straight”.
2. That certain practices are always identity while other certain practices are never identity. Bob’s bisexuality must be identity, while his sadomasochism must not be identity.
Meanwhile, people at the office and in the disability community may harass and belittle Bob for his sadomasochism, while claiming that their behavior is okay because being into BDSM ”isn’t a real identity” anyway. When people defend Bob, they might accept this premise while trying to claim that he should be protected because he’s bisexual. At the same time, Bob may not be able to attend events for LGBT or BDSM because these events are held in buildings which are not accessible with a wheelchair.
All these problems can be dismissed by dancing around with the categorizations, always refusing to see the intersectionality and the midclusion. As they thus keep excusing prejudice, bigotry and discrimination against Bob, they can always top it off by affirming that Bob is a white man and therefore by definition privileged and therefore by definition a person who cannot be oppressed or whatever.
There are many people like Bob out there, in all kinds of categorizations. Midclusion is common.
In conclusion, the struggle for human dignity and human rights need to be universal rather than based on categories of people. When we base it on categories, there will always be people who falls between the cracks. Eventually, anyone & everyone might fall between the cracks. Every person is excluded from the social norm in some way and to some extent. While we need to highlight categories which are especially targeted for categorism, this must be a part of the universal struggle rather than being the main thing in itself.