by Miroslav Imbrišević
In the Old Testament, we read: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” God could make things happen by saying the appropriate words. We also read in the Bible: “In the beginning was the Word.” The idea that words have power is still with us. Take superstition: actors don’t want to utter the title of “The Scottish Play” inside a theatre, because it may lead to disaster. Even today, my mother (aged 87) curses “bad” people who cross her. She condemns them (in her native Croatian) to eternal punishment in Hell: “Be damned, and damned again!” In some cultures, words have magical powers, like spells. The anthropologist S.J. Tambiah tells us: “In Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism the view has been strictly held that in religious ceremonies the sacred words recited should be in the language of the authorized sacred texts.”
I was reminded of the power of the word when I read a post on a philosophy notice board: “I identify as a French philosopher.” The funny thing is that this young thinker actually is French and does teach philosophy at a university. They don’t identify into these categories, nor need they.
But nowadays, to “identify as X” seems to mean “I am X,” rather than “I feel a strong affinity to this group, although I really don’t’ belong.” There are usually strict conditions that have to be met (e.g. having a French passport, a French mother, a PhD or having taught philosophy) if you want to say, “I am X” (e.g. a French philosopher).  If you merely identify as X, in the old sense, a strong affinity with this group is all that is meant and all that is required.
So, when these (mostly young) people say, “I identify as X,” they don’t mean “I feel close to this group, although, strictly speaking, I don’t belong.” Instead, they are saying: “I am a member of this group.” If I have correctly grasped this shift in meaning, then ‘I am X’ and ‘I identify as X’ are supposed to be equivalent.
Instead of saying “I am a Catholic,” I could say “I identify as a Catholic.” As a result, the original meaning of ‘identify as’ gets lost. Somebody who feels close to Catholicism, but who was baptized in the Anglican Church, cannot use this expression anymore. They would have to paraphrase: “I have a close affinity with the Catholic Church, although I am not a Catholic.”
Perhaps this shift in meaning has something to do with identity politics? It isn’t enough to be something or somebody, you also have to identify as this, that or the other.
We encounter this new language in many contexts. More and more people nowadays identify as disabled.  But note that if you are not disabled you cannot identify as such. You cannot claim membership. Black people also use the phrase: “I identify as a black member of the BAME community.”  Again, strict membership conditions apply, and if you are white and identify as a person of color, you will be called a fraud.
There is an interesting variation in the context of disability. There are people who don’t see themselves as disabled, but at some point in their lives realize that they are or are diagnosed as such. Then they would say, “I identify as disabled.” 
So it appears that I am on the right track, and you have to meet certain conditions (actually being X) in order to use the expression “I identify as X,” just as in the claim: “I am X” (a French philosopher). Merely feeling a strong affinity with a group is insufficient for actual membership.
Things are different with people who suffer from gender-dysphoria, which I would argue is a misnomer and really should be called “sex-dysphoria.” A biological woman may say, “I identify as a man,” but, strictly speaking, she doesn’t meet the criteria for being a man. After all, before transitioning, she was a woman. And the same goes for men, suffering from sex-dysphoria. I suspect that in this context, for a long time, people used the phrase ‘identify as’ in the original sense, i.e., “I know I don’t belong, but I feel a strong affinity with group X.” 
As the idea that everything is socially constructed took hold in academia and percolated into society (and not just gender, but also sex), some trans people started to use “I am X” and “I identify as X” synonymously. The social construction of concepts suggests that the strict conditions of membership (for group X) don’t always apply. Some concepts which used to be tethered to a material reality and to the accompanying conditions of membership for a class (e.g. biology for the class ‘woman’) could be detached from that material reality. Recall the slogan: “Transwomen are women.” In order to be a woman you don’t need to be born with a female-sexed body.
Note that there is something different between the existential claims of disabled people or people of color, and the claims made by some trans people. Although everything is socially constructed, for the former groups the strict conditions (and the material reality) for being disabled or a person of color do apply, just as they do for philosophers and French people. For this reason, floating the idea of trans-racialism will get you into trouble, as Rebecca Tuvel learned. The same goes for trans-disability. But, for some trans people, these strict conditions no longer apply. I am puzzled by this.
Perhaps different conditions of membership apply for transmen and transwomen when they say, “I identify as…”? Perhaps it is their gender identity which constitutes the condition of membership? Many deny that there is such a thing as gender identity, but even if there is, the conditions of membership for transwomen and transmen (gender identity) would differ from those for women and men (biology). One could ask why that is. If transwomen are women (and transmen are men), then the membership conditions should be the same.
Furthermore, if we think this through, the gender identity claim reduces to this: “I feel a strong affinity with the opposite sex, and I would like to belong to this group.” This is actually what sex-dysphoria means. So we are back at the original meaning of ‘to identify as X’, and the notion that gender identity might be a sufficient condition of membership in the class ‘woman’ (or ‘man’) dissolves.
As always in philosophy, things are a bit more complicated than this. We need to distinguish between first-person claims and third-person claims. Trans-friendly institutions and organizations use the phrase ‘identify as’ to distinguish one set of people (within a class) from another.
The Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre advertises positions which are only open to women, but this includes self-identifying women (i.e. transwomen). The Centre distinguishes between women (i.e. adult human females) and self-identifying women. 
Smith College is an educational institution for women. On their website we read: “Are trans women eligible for admission to Smith? Yes. We welcome applicants who identify as women, including those who were assigned male at birth.” For Smith College, the new criterion for being a woman is gender identity, not biology. Trans men, who were “assigned female” at birth are not eligible. Smith would probably agree that ‘identifying as a woman’ is the same as ‘being a woman’. But if their literature said, “we welcome all women,” this would not make it sufficiently clear that they include transwomen. For this reason they use the phrase ‘identify as’. It is supposed to include biological women as well as transwomen. So sometimes ‘to identify as’ is used as an inclusion marker.
The strange thing is that the College doesn’t see that their trans inclusion policy excludes all those (biological) women who reject the concept of ‘gender identity’: those females who don’t identify as women, but in their own view simply are women. In other words, Smith has adopted a new condition of membership for the class ‘women’, which might not apply to all women.
A charity in the UK advertises for a job: “As an equal opportunities employer, we particularly welcome applications from people who identify as women and / or LGBTQ+, and / or are from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.” Note that the groups in the first part identify as X but the groups in the second part are X. Interestingly, when women or LGBTQ+ people identify as X, then they are what they claim to be, but this charity doesn’t believe that you can identify as BAME. You actually have to be BAME.
This makes things very tricky. Sometimes ‘people who identify as X’ means ‘people who are X’ (especially in the trans context), but in the BAME context this charity insists that you have to be X, rather than identify as X. They assume that in the BAME context ‘identify as’ has the original meaning, but in the trans context it doesn’t. This shift in meaning, depending on the context, can be confusing. But it supports my thesis that the material conditions for membership remain stable for the disabled and for BAME people, whereas for trans people they have been detached from material reality and replaced by self-ID.
So when it comes to membership of the class ‘women’ (or ‘men’) we are dealing with two competing conditions for membership: the standard/traditional one (biology) and a new one (gender identity). But, as I have indicated, the latter is based on a sleight of hand. The idea that gender identity now constitutes one of the strict condition of membership (for the class ‘woman’) is mistaken. Transwomen who claim that their gender identity is that of a woman (“I identify as a woman”) are saying that they feel a strong affinity with women. Their mistake is to think that this constitutes a sufficient condition for membership in the relevant class. They assume that their belief in a particular gender identity and asserting “I identify as a woman” makes them into a woman; i.e. delivers membership to the class.  It is a modern variation of St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument. And as is the case with that argument, the obvious objection is that the fact that something exists in the mind of a particular individual (identifying as a woman) does not entail anything about what exists in reality.
Looking at the disability and BAME contexts illustrates that the conditions of membership don’t change, even if you say, “I identify as X.” The only thing that has changed is the language. You may say now, ‘I identify as disabled’, but it means “I am disabled.”
The linguistic practice in the context of disability and race is revealing. Here, there is no equivalent to gender identity that would allow people (who don’t belong) to assert that they do belong after all, by thinking or saying, “I identify as X.” When it comes to disability and race, there is wide agreement that strict conditions of membership apply, and merely asserting a particular identity not only will not be accepted, but people will be offended. The actual members of these classes do recognize such a sleight of hand when they see it and resist it. 
Perhaps there is another explanation why some people think that identifying as X will deliver membership. Trans activists and their allies might believe in the divine power of the word: Saying it and saying it often will make it so. The problem is that so long as there are other language users, especially women, who insist that you have to meet certain criteria, tethered to material reality, if you want to belong to the class ‘women’, the word will not become flesh, and the power of words will have an influence on some minds but not others. 
 I have changed the nationality to spare that colleague unnecessary attention.
 The conditions for being a philosopher are not as strict as the conditions for being a citizen of a particular country. In philosophy, all of this really started with Kant (whose philosophy, by the way, was very strict). He wrote a PhD thesis in Latin, and he held an academic position. In ancient times you could just hang out at the agora and ask people annoying questions, and that could make you into a philosopher.
 This is not the same as suffering from Body Integrity Identity Disorder: where people may want to have a limb amputated or wish they were blind. If they succeed, then they really are disabled.
 Black and Minority Ethnic.
 See the interviews here.
 Many transpeople recognize that they cannot change sex. When they state that they identify as a woman or man, they mean it in the original sense of “having a strong affinity with X.” Increasingly, however, activists shun people for such views.
 In contrast, the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre wrote on Twitter: ‘We are looking for self-identifying women to join our amazing helpline’. For them all women (whether biological or trans) are self-identifying.
 This only works with concepts that are vague (because there is no link to material reality) and which have no clear-cut conditions of membership or where such conditions have not been formulated. According to the University of Essex, ‘pangender’ “refers to a gender identity whereby a person identifies with a multitude, and perhaps infinite (going beyond the current knowledge of genders) number of genders.” It would be difficult to impossible to determine the membership conditions for ‘pangender’.
 Robin Dembroff, to their credit, realizes that transracialism is a threat to gender ideology and recently has tried to describe a substantive difference between transgenderism and transracialism: “Unlike gender inequality, racial inequality primarily accumulates across generations. Transracial identification undermines collective reckoning with that injustice.” This is unconvincing, however, as there is a long history of accumulated injustice against women, perpetrated by men (aka “the patriarchy”).
 Debating these issues is often characterized as “violence,” not just metaphorically, but literally. This lends credence to the “magical power of words” explanation.