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Édouard Louis: Your Identity Isn’t Private Property

Yesterday a theater director who wanted to stage an adaptation of one of my books wrote to me. He said he was not sure if he could legitimately tell my story, since he is straight and I am gay, writing about homosexuality. Here is what I answered — and I thought it would be a good idea to share it, to say once and for all what I think about these questions.

  1. You are always legitimate to do whatever you want, no one else can tell you what you can or cannot do. People who think they are left-wing but put a line between who gets to talk and who should shut up are right-wing.

  2. Experience is not truth. It can be a source, it can help, but it’s never a guarantee. All my life, I saw homophobic gay people, I met some racist non-white people, some misogynistic women. Experience is not shielding anyone from ideologies. So, the question is never who is talking, but what are they saying. It’s about the content of your discourse. The question is: Are you saying something that helps gay people or something that insults them? Are you saying something that can help working-class people or something that makes them more invisible? Are you saying something that gives them weapons or something that reproduces their situation of oppression?

  3. People who think about identity as something that belongs only to a certain group of people are capitalistic. They are part of capitalist oppression. They talk about identity as a little private property — my house, my car, my purse, my identity, my queerness. This is a mistake. My identity doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. My homosexuality is not something I own, so anyone can talk about it — again, the only question is what people say about it, rather than who is talking.

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