I am a woman. I also identify as a woman. This is, of course, redundant. Neither statement can be true without the other being true as well. One might think this makes them interchangeable, but that is not the case. People will perceive someone’s political stance very differently depending on which phrase they use and when.
The differences between saying a person “identifies as” a woman and “is” a woman are the former takes longer to say and avoids validating or acknowledging the actual gender of the person.
The use of “identifies as” in place of “is” is so commonplace that SIUE’s 2019 Sexual Harassment & Misconduct in Our Community training program uses it when trying to foster a safer environment for staff and students. Ironically, while it comes across to many as a more politically correct phrasing, it is actually not something transgender people tend to use or enjoy hearing.
I do not know what people intend when they use this phrase, but I usually assume they are trying to sound academic or parroting the way gender identity was explained to them for fear of navigating a social issue poorly. Having said that, it still does not feel good to be described in this way.
For one, cisgender people are rarely described in the same way. They do not require the qualifier of ‘identifying as’ men or women. They simply are.
Using this language implies the subject is transgender or non-binary in the same way calling a person ‘light-skinned’ implies they are not white — it could be accurate regardless, but is usually assumed in the case of members of either dominant social group and rarely pointed out. Drawing this attention may even reveal a person’s transgender status against their own wishes, which can put them in danger.
Additionally, there are people who use this construct to specifically avoid implying that a person has a legitimate claim to their gender. The distinction between being a man and merely considering oneself a man can be used to imply by omission that one is incorrect, and not really a man. People who want to avoid saying that someone is a man will often use this phrase to skirt around it with plausible deniability.
Sadly, the existence of transgender people is still a controversial issue, even in environments like SIUE where it is taught in classrooms. Right now, there are two ongoing high-profile controversies on campus surrounding our existence — articles using outdated pseudoscientific jargon to justify bigotry against us have been posted around campus, and there are allegations made via signage every Wednesday that a preacher on campus has referred to transgender students as “demons.”
In light of these concerns and the loss of governmental protections that are and have been happening throughout the year, I think it is especially important that well-meaning people give us the same respect they give other students and acknowledge our genders normally. To intentionally do otherwise is to cater to bigotry and acknowledge it as a reasonable stance.
Transgender people sacrifice comforts every day to interact with a society that largely sees us as an inconvenience. This is the simplest accommodation I can think of — that people do less work than they are doing now and stop singling us out.