Explorative Musings on the Insufficient Politics of Inclusion (Part One)

Include: from the Latin root, includere, to shut-in; 1. to shut up, enclose;
contain between or within, as a whole does any parts or elements; 2. to place
in an aggregate, class, category, or the like; 3. to contain as a subordinate
element, (biology, geology, metallurgy) to contain a body or particle that is
recognizably distinct from the body or substance in which it is embedded.

Movement One—to shut up, enclose, contain between or within:
I first learned about inclusion as a child following eagerly behind my grandparents, learning everything I could absorb, as we went about rock-hounding and fossil-hunting all over Arizona. Traipsing around desert lands, dried creek beds, and mountains, discovering and looking deeply into the material evidence of an interconnected cosmos made tangible everywhere captured some deep yearning within me and held it. Some abiding longing for connection; understanding; origins; place. Perhaps, even belonging. What we learn from nature, if we turn our attention, never ceases to teach us. Gleanings from nature work on me, root into and shape, more and more, how I see the world.
Inclusion, essentially, refers to any material body that is trapped within another in its formation. Included bodies are distinctly different from the body they inhabit. They stand out. Sometimes, stunningly beautiful, nonetheless, they are enclosed, contained as a subordinate element within a larger whole. Included bodies are, by definition, not part of the thing that houses them. They are, perhaps, tolerated by the surrounding body, as their embedding cleaves a defined, but limiting space. Inclusions are contained.
As I got older, I learned about inclusion in the world. Through experience, I learned being included meant being absorbed, squeezed and conformed into something different, something not like me. I learned there were consequences to inclusion—fractures, confinements, losses of essential pieces. I am not alone. Others have learned this as well.

Movement Two—an aggregate, class, category, or the like:    
The framing idea of “inclusion” has dominated the rhetoric of movements for justice—especially, the LGBTQ movement for equality. If what we are seeking is, in fact, inclusion, then we have been successful.
The evidence of our success: an entire collective of diverse peoples, we have indeed been included: trans/gender-expansive persons; all who are women; bisexual and pansexual persons; and all queer and trans persons of color, alike, share the same inclusion—we have been shut in, enclosed, and tolerated into a movement for equality that reflects the dominant culture and is not our own; a movement that is centered within a cultural history of constructed norms and ideologies that become the default measure of, not only, our progress, but our very being-ness. The lives of the rest of us, our experiences, and our interests, have been compressed into an overarching, homogenizing “gay” narrative: the aggregate class somehow, still, superordinate to the rest of us, the aggregate-of-the-aggregate.  Our voices and our stories exist at the farthest reaches, framed by a larger assimilationist bedrock. The gay rights movement for inclusive equality includes all of us, different-of-the-different, as the subordinate class at the margins.
Perhaps, the reason we struggle to create a society of equitable diversity is precisely the result of the language, and thus the thinking, we use to frame it. We have become subject to the language we use.
This is understandable; we are steeped in culturally transmitted, rhetorical conditioning:  colonialist capitalism, the culture of “whiteness,” the elitist myth of the American Dream, patriarchy-preserving science, suppositions of normalcy and deviance, ruling class Democracy, universalizing liberalism, and the misogynistic, racist, androcentric ideals that these systems of knowledge and power affirm and preserve. These ideals include into us, our psyches, worldviews and ways of being; they embed themselves, included material contained in our bodies—personal and collective—we carry them around, unconsciously, even as they cleave us, until we become aware something profoundly vital and visceral has been torn. We strive for change using the same systems and practices that mete out our oppression.
Intentional, reflective attention to the language that forms our efforts for change is the only way to create something different—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us.

Movement Three—to contain as subordinate element a particle or body that is distinct:
Words matter. Words are thoughts; thoughts are words. Words forge beliefs; have power. Especially, when we unwittingly turn them on ourselves.
I stir uncomfortably, inwardly resisting the language we seem to assimilate, almost unconsciously, without real reflection. Some words creep into our language, practically bellowing and hollering the unconscious acquiescence that moves external nomenclature to internal lexicon.
People of trans experience…trans-identified…gender non-conforming…preferred pronouns. These words consternate me. There are others even more troubling. Such is the plight of the subordinated—always sifting through the linguistic table scraps scattered about the ruling-class storehouse, searching for language that fits our needs. The language of revolution. Left groping, the language of inclusion sticks in my throat like bad food I’ve been taught to believe is good. I long for something more.
             Life seems to compel me toward an almost nagging impulse to turn again—to reflect, to question, to look more and more inward, to probe a little deeper, searching always for what will suffice, what seems real and meaningful. Half measures are meaningless. Transition, too, is like that it seems. Never one-and-done. Never a discrete, finite thing. Transformation is so much more than a terminal series of easily distinguishable events. True, for people and for worlds. Once consented to, once an opening is made, there is a rippling of interactive movements, widening, expanding outward and returning inward again toward deeper realizations of self and world.

A body that is distinct: distinct living bodies; enspirited; infused with self-understanding.
I am, among other attributes, qualities and quirks, a person who is trans—not trans-identified, as if I simply relate to being trans or comprehend it. While there are many paradigms and systems in our culture I choose not to conform to, while there are forces I resist with every thread of attention and intention I can weave together into a cohesive, active response, I am not simply choosing not to conform; I am choosing daily to accept and affirm my own gender self-understanding. I am not alone.
I am an embodied person, endowed with identity, infused with a persistent is-ness of personhood, in a state of perpetual being, longing to become and belong and be in interconnected, interdependent relationship with others, with nature, and with the world I inhabit. I am a distinct body in a world with other distinct bodies. My body is powerful, fragile, odd and marvelous, perfectly imperfect. I am a person, doing the best I can to live, grow, thrive and contribute in a world that values sameness as a means for maintaining power for the few through creating divisiveness among the many. I grow increasingly resistant to inclusion. I am not alone.
We are all distinct, individuated, enspirited bodies, endowed with identity and personhood. We are not meant for inclusion. We are meant for more. No inclusion into a homogenized collective status quo can erase or minimize our individual selfhoods or value. More, a politics of inclusion will never move us toward the just liberation we are seeking. To create something different, we have to think something different. We have to envision, dream, language, and speak something different.
We were not meant for inclusion, for enclosure. We were meant—all of us, without hindrance and without bias—to be set free, unbound, liberated to be and become fully, distinctly, who we are.


About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, theological activist, writer, trans activist-advocate, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through workshops, support activities, and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the intersecting layers of disenfranchisement and oppression which stymie our efforts to create a just and meaningful common good. I work with, consult with, educate, train public sector groups, secular groups, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of trans/non-binary and gender non-conforming persons. This space is a small part of the work.
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