The Order of Identity

Callum Angus


Over the last three years of submitting short stories, poems and essays to

various online and print literary journals, this is how I’ve identified


“I am a queer & trans writer”

“I’m a queer trans man and a writer”

“I am a queer transman living in Maine”

“I love glitter glue and other queers and farm stands.”

“I’m a queer trans man and I really enjoy listening to the tree frogs.”

“Callum Angus is trans and queer and lives in Western Massachusetts, but

grew up in upstate New York.”

“I’m an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I’m

also a queer trans* man.”

“Callum Angus is a white, queer trans man pursuing an MFA in fiction at the

University of Massachusetts Amherst.”

“Cal Angus is a transmasculine and white queer person pursuing an MFA in

fiction at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.”


I want to write about my bio because it’s one way I analyze how I identify

myself, and more specifically, it’s an arena where I place a lot of

importance on the specific order of my various identifiers. When I say

“order”, I don’t mean the arbitrary order in which I choose to note down

different aspects of my identity. Rather, I see the order in which I

identify myself as communicating something important about my position in

the world relative to everyone else.


For example, what is the difference between these two phrases:

I am a trans white man.

I am a white trans man.


For me, the choice of phrasing matters immensely. It makes me think about

which identifiers are more closely joined, and which ones I want to

interrogate deeply. As a group, white males have for millennia perpetuated

more crimes (against indigenous peoples, against people of color, against

women, and against all those who aren’t in power) than trans men. The

phrase “white [trans] man”, in my opinion, introduces a modifier that lets

me push apart these two signifiers of my identity, two of the most obvious

signifiers of how I appear to others when I walk down the street. It allows

me to disown and condemn the actions of other white men because I think I

am different by virtue of being trans.


This is not how I want to operate in the world. As an activist and writer,

I am always trying to critically question my subject position. Being a

trans [white] man, on the other hand, acknowledges several things I try to

do in my daily life. It keeps “white man” together as an important

signifier with its historical context intact. It forces me to keep

returning to unpack and engage with all the terrible stuff my white male

ancestors are responsible for. It also foregrounds my race in a way that

refuses to allow my whiteness to recede into the default mode.


Looking at the various biographical statements I’ve included alongside my

work, it’s only recently that I started exhuming my race from the realm of

the unspoken, and it’s raised a lot of new questions, like will an editor

misread my intention and think I’m referencing my race to garner favor?

Should I instead not speak my race in queries and contributor sections and

just let my queerness speak for me? But this last option feels like a cop

out. White queers can’t truly embody queerness unless we also own up to the

role race and white privilege continue to play in our creative and everyday



There’s a deeper level on which the phrase “trans white man” operates than

just contributor bios, though. In this description of who I am, transman

has been separated by race. It prevents me from relying on my queerness as

a signifier of difference. I will never be able to just be a transman; I

will always be a trans white man, and I will always be invested in holding

myself and other white people accountable for undoing our unspoken

complicity in racism. And by identifying myself in this order, it’s a

recognition of the big differences between me and trans men of color whose

experiences are vastly different than mine, even though we share a very

specific and important part of our identities.


This type of intersectionality is hugely important to me in my political,

personal, and creative lives, and it’s part of the reason I’ve always felt

ambiguously about queer or LGBT groups. Growing up and going to school in

rural areas of the northeastern United States, most of the LGBT groups I’ve

been a part of have been predominantly or entirely white, and the lack of

willingness to critically think about race and our relationships to other

marginalized groups of people in our areas has been troublesome to me. So

I’ve maintained an insider/outsider attitude to these groups, which is

perhaps also reflected in my decision to splice my identity down the middle

with an acknowledgment of my race.


The question of “order” has also come up in my classroom when I’m teaching

undergraduates how to write. I don’t always come out to my students as

transgender. One time I did, and a student asked me if when I’m hanging out

in a group of cis men and someone says something sexist, do I call them out and

come out, or do I just call them out? What was difficult to say to this

student was that I don’t even always call them out; sometimes I’m just too

nervous or I don’t know what to say. I’m trying to be better–I’m trying to

do more shaming of my fellow men who audibly say of the literary agent

visiting our MFA class “Wow, she’s actually kind of hot.” But the truth is

that sometimes I’m more effective at holding another man accountable when

they don’t know I’m trans, when they think I’m just another cis dude who

doesn’t approve of their childish, sexist, racist shenanigans. When they

think I have no biological reason to be on team Politically Correct, and so

they are forced to think ‘if he thinks I’m an asshole, maybe I’m really an



But that’s the kind of interaction that happens on the ground in social

situations where I have little control over circumstances. It doesn’t quite

help me with my question about bios. When I do have a say in how I’m

identified to a larger editorial and reading audience, how should I say who

I am?


Another reason to keep the spoken “white” signifier in my bio is that I’ve

clearly already been dropping hints of my whiteness in my bios, I just

haven’t been saying them out loud. I’ve spent almost all of my life in two

very white places in the Northeast. Much of my life has been spent in

institutions of higher education which, through a history of

institutionalized racism and class privilege, have remained very white.

What makes me cringe most from some of my earlier bios are my attempts to

quirkify myself without bringing in my race at all. Although I was trying

to sidestep this entire internal debate, it clearly can’t be sidestepped,

and this starts to veer uncomfortably into the territory of ‘look how

different and diverse I am without being a person of color.’ Yuck.


It’s not made any simpler by the fact that much of my identity is still in

flux, as I suspect is the case for many queers of any race. How do you pin

down the person you are for a soundbite? One that will be findable for

years afterward on the internet?


Recently my partner of 4 years has come out as genderqueer. They’ve been

experimenting more with names and pronouns and different clothing. It’s

provoked a range of emotions and conversations between us, and it’s made me

realize that I don’t want to stop evolving in my identity. I don’t want to

ever stop asking questions about who I am and how I should describe myself

to others to be accountable for all the parts of myself.

Callum Angus is a trans & queer white man living with his partner in western Massachusetts, where he’s working on *The Book of New Fish, *a novel.


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