affinity politics

Subject: affinity politics
Date: Thu 15 Jul 1999 - 14:20:48 BST

As repulsed as I was by the notion that we can dismiss someone until they
prove to us that they are worthy of standing, I was intrigued by the notion
that Suzan brought up that she knows who she is by knowing who she feels
affinity with.

I think that this is a powerful notion. We are ugly ducklings, looking for
home and family where we feel safe, where being a swan is normative, where
people understand and accept us because they know what it is to be a swan
like us.

I remember being taken to a Polish restaurant in Manhattan by a friend, but
when we sat down, I stared laughing. "This isn't a Polish restaurant," I
told her. "Sure it is! I've been coming here for years, the peirogi and the
borsht," she replied. "Look at the people. Blue eyed blondes, like me. This
is a Ukrainian restaurant." "Oh! You're right!"

I really liked being around people who looked like me, who felt like family
on some deep tribal level. There is a comfort in being with those we feel
are like us, a sense of being part of the crowd, safe in numbers.

I wonder how shamans handled their task. They were both of the band they
were born into and very unique, very distinct, a sort of tribal matrix
management, where we both reported to the tribe and to someone in the
underworld. Maybe the whole vision quest thing was just to get away from the
family and spend some time with our other affinity group, one that was not
visible in the world of meat.

I know how I have searched for an affinity group. I remember the same "aha!"
moments that any tranny has, the moment we first heard someone say they were
the same as us, the time we first met another tranny, the time we went to the
first large gathering of trannies and felt part of a crowd. In the midst of
that, I ran into a few "sisters" here and there, where a family resemblance
knocked me over the head. I remember being at IFGE Portland and going out
one night to a movie theater that was showing Mary Ellen Fisher's "Split."
In a row of people that included Holly Boswell, JoAnn Roberts and Sandra
Cole, I watched International Chrysis up on that screen and knew she was my
sister. Later, when I had dinner at the home of someone who knew Chrysis
well, took photographs of her, and they told me I reminded them of Chrysis, I
was touched.

I have spent my life looking for people like me, someone as a mentor, someone
who I could learn to mimic so I could see how their choices fit me, so I
could take some of their tricks and add them to my bag. I kept looking for
affinity, so I could see bits of myself in the mirror, and though examining
my own reflection, understand more about who I am.

This search for affinity has been crucial in my life, but I also know that
this search is limiting. I was talking with a friend recently about my
writing, the work I do for me and put out in order to get reflections, to
find people who are like me, who understand like family. She said to me "I
think the audience who understands you is not the audience you need to

Wasn't the job of the shaman not to find people who understood them, but to
help the people of the band understand in a better way? In other words,
their power came when they crossed worlds, not simply meeting people in the
underworld, but connecting the underworld to those who could not see it as

The term "affinity politics" is the reverse of identity politics. It speaks
about people who come together around who they see themselves as being, but
rather what they see themselves believing, where their shared connections lie.

affinity (from the Princeton WordNet database)
-- Kinship by marriage or adoption; not a blood relationship
-- (biology) state of relationship between organisms or groups of organisms
resulting in resemblance in structure or structural parts
-- A close connection marked by community of interests or similarity in
nature or character
-- The force attracting atoms to each other and binding them together in a
-- Inherent resemblance between persons or things
-- A natural attraction or feeling of kinship

For me, this is the question: is affinity the same as identity? Do we stand
with other people because we see them as our blood, the same as us, or do we
stand with other people because we see how we are connected to them? Is my
job to find people who are the same as me, or is it to find connection with
people who may not yet understand me?

In other words, do I look for affinity, for safe and comfortable space, or do
I have some obligation to reveal affinity, by creating that space?

I have looked hard for affinity, wanting to discover it like some treasure
garden, discovering who I am by who I am like. I just suspect for me that
it's time, now that I know who I am, to move beyond that and help people
discover how we are alike. Rather than searching for exposed affinity, I
need to search for affinity to expose.

This was the role of the shaman, of course, to have affinity with the group
and remind the group of their affinity with the underworld, with the creator.

Is it possible to move from identity politics, where group boundaries are the
ties that bind, to affinity politics, where connection is based on revealing
what we share across boundaries?



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