Sunday, June 1, 2014

A rallying cry and a colourful flag

So, between life events and exhaustion and a bout of depression (now lessened), I've been failing at getting Speaker posts done.  Should get back on track for next Sunday.  In the meantime, have a post on a couple of my favourite subjects: language and queer politics.

'Queer' is a contentious word.  I'm a fan of it--I refer to myself as queer on a regular basis--but not everyone is, because for some people it's a slur and it always will be.  Which is awkward mostly because it's the only word we've got right now that isn't an acronym (or worse, an initialism) for trying to collectively refer to the many demographics that aren't heterocis.  LGBTTQIAP+.  QUILTBAG.  What's we're getting at is basically:
  • Homosexual (comprising lesbian and gay, but there's never an H in these things)
  • Bisexual (hello!)
  • Pansexual (neither identical to nor exclusive of bisexuality)
  • Asexual (encompassing a whole spectrum of grey/demi variations)
  • (also any of the above can have '-romantic' swapped in for '-sexual' for finer delineations)
  • Trans (without the asterisk, for several reasons)
  • Genderfluid/genderqueer (these are both themselves big umbrellas)
  • Two-spirit (all across North America)
  • Intersex (which is related but in many ways very different from these other things, which is part of what I'm getting at here)
There's also GSRM for 'Gender, Sexual, and Romantic Minorities', which has its own set of problems and isn't even whimsically pronounceable.  (I'd get into why, but that's a whole post on its own--if you're not familiar with the subject, it's worth a google.)

I would not call a person 'queer' if I don't know if they reject it for themselves.  I wouldn't use it to refer to a group in any situation where it might sound like I was 'othering' people rather than referring to my own group.  I know it's a slur--I've been getting called queer by people as an insult at least since I was eleven.  (People who had no idea whether I was or not, of course, because it's intended as an insult, because who would want to be queer?  Yo.)  That's not the kind of thing that a person can toss around lightly.  (I had a whole knife-juggling metaphor about this, like two years ago.)

But I claim 'queer' for myself, and I do tend to use it for those other groups too, because that's part of the point that I'm getting at when I mash all those many different identities under one term: their problems are not separate from mine.  The oppression of trans people is not some side issue I can choose to ignore because I'm cis.  The right of pan people to define their identities as precisely as they want to is not something I can ignore if I want to be able to define my terms either.  The existence of ace people is not something I can pretend is up for debate if I want anyone to care that bisexuality is a real identity.  Queer is, for me, a matter of solidarity, and a reminder that as a white cis allosexual bi man I'm actually doing pretty well privilege-wise and there's a much bigger community that I need to listen to and support.

And it's a bit weird, isn't it, that the word I'd latch onto for this is a synonym for 'weird', but that's a reminder for me as well.  I imagine most of us in one of the above demographics have heard a variation on "Oh, for a moment I forgot you were _____".  The thing is, on good days, on the best days, I forget I'm queer too.  I don't forget I'm bi; there are entirely too many pretty people in the world for me to forget I'm bi.  But I've known I'm bi for about two years now, and I asked a guy out the other day (no luck) and I remarked to a friend afterwards that the weirdest thing about it was that it didn't feel weird at all.  I don't know what anyone else in the area might have thought about a couple of dudes potentially going on a date, but as far as we were concerned, this was life as usual.

When people say to me (with blessed infrequency) "Oh, I forgot you were queer", what they're saying is "I forgot there's something weird about you".  What I mean when I say I forget I'm queer is "I forgot that the way I am is considered abnormal, my identity is up for debate, and my rights are privileges to be granted by the majority".  To call myself queer is to remind myself that there are two angles on my identity; one is just about who I am and the other is about how I'm treated, how I'm viewed, how society at large ranks me.  One is immutable and the other is not.

If you're any of the things on that list up there, or more than one of them, or some very specific thing that doesn't have the kind of media attention cis white gay men have managed to gather, there's a good chance you've been called a special snowflake at some point.  The idea here, obviously, is that marginalisation is such a rollicking good time that people declare themselves to be abnormal in order to boost their egos.  So, if I'm going to talk about queer, if I'm going to talk about 'weird', then let's not leave out its obverse, because it takes a whole lot of chutzpah to take one particular body shape and one particular pattern of attraction and one particular aesthetic presentation and one particular set of pronouns and tie all those things together and declare that's normal.  If you're looking for a 'special snowflake', consider the person who says that they're the only kind of person in the world that isn't 'weird'.


  1. If we're having queer tmi day...

    I find it really hard to claim my queer identities. Maybe it's because I'm not out (though I'm not even sure what that would mean in my case) or because I've internalized the "special snowflake" business or because sex and gender have never felt right when applied to me. I'm asexual/aromantic and genderqueer...genderfluid...gender something that's not cis. (Considering the letter on my driver's license is the identity I have the least.) But I pass as not-queer.

    I could tell my coworkers I'm asexual/aromantic, but why? They're not trying to date me. I don't pretend I have or am looking for relationships. I'm quite open about being happily single. I suppose in a way, I'm out without using any specific words. It just feels awkward, somehow, to put a label on it. Like "I love friendship, but as far as love and sex go, I'm gonna be over here living happily alone with my cats, thanks." doesn't feel like it needs a label. And then I wonder if there are other people at work who are asexual or aromantic or both but don't feel safe admitting it even to the extent that I do. :\

    Whatever my gender identity is doesn't even have a label I feel applies. I'm not upset by my body, nor do I have any desire to change it. (Even if trying to wear women's clothes for real (ie outside of a changing room) gives me an incredible sense of wrong that might well became a panic attack if I couldn't change.) I dress as male/neutral according to our culture, but my internal gender identity is mostly...none? Both? Empty set? I sort of feel like the whole gender/sex thing never quite got switched on at all for me. And again, when would it ever come up? How could I be out when I don't even have a good label for what I am? (Though on line, I'm coming to feel that zie/zir isn't so bad as far as pronouns go.)

    I do hope someday I don't have to have an letter on my driver's license that doesn't describe me. I hope someday that space either doesn't exist or is home to a whole alphabet of possibilities.

  2. I understand the thing where you don't "come out" because what is coming out anyway. I'm bi, but it has never come up naturally with a lot of people I know. I'm a woman married to a man, so everyone assumes I'm straight unless I say otherwise, and I'm not comfortable just blurting it out off topic. It just seems like a privacy thing to me. If I'm not looking to have a relationship/sex with a person how is it their business who I do want to have a relationship/sex with?

  3. I really liked how one of the links up there talked about bi as same
    gender/other gender rather than cis female/cis male, because I like
    using bi and that is my understanding of it. I just never had such good
    words to express my feelings.
    I find it so hard to use a lot of the terms in this post. Mainly because I'm honestly afraid of misusing them.

  4. There are a few definitions of bisexuality in use by bisexuals--"same and other genders" is my preferred one, but just "more than one gender" is also in common use. I like "same and other" because the "same" aspect is what feels like the key element distinguishing bi from hetero. Strictly speaking, "hetero" just means "different", so in the same way that bisexuality does not mean "two genders", I see no reason heterosexuality should only mean "the binary gender that is not my own". Thus I'd have no problem with it if a man or woman were dating a genderqueer person and still identified as heterosexual, but I'd also see the point if they identified as bisexual because they were clearly into "more than one gender". It's an area of overlap, but one that rarely gets discussed.

    There are a few reasons it doesn't get discussed--partly because bigots who care about this type of thing aren't really bright enough to accurately assess the situation, and thus would probably consider a man dating an AFAB non-binary person 'straight' and an AMAB non-binary person 'gay', so, paraphrasing a web comic, they would actually have to be smarter in order to be stupid correctly. So since the actively-oppressive people we're dealing with don't even have a sufficiently complex framework to engage with multiple genders (and looping back around now to the original post), the aspect of my orientation that gets the most attention is "he's into dudes". That's the part that sets people off, that's the part that makes me clearly not-hetero, so that's something I see as central to the definition of my bisexuality. But language is sturdy enough to allow for multiple people using slightly different definitions, as long as we all know what we're talking about, so it's not a point of contention for me.

    (The vastly more rancourous debate continues to be over the distinction between bi and pan, since there are a distressing number of transphobes who insist that bisexuals aren't into trans people (including binary trans people, because, again, we're talking about transphobes and they're awful) and thus pansexuality is the only truly enlightened and accepting alignment. This nonsense is supported by transphobic bisexuals who want a cover for only saying they're attracted to cis men and women. This is a muddy trench war which may never be properly resolved, because there are always more awful people out there.)

  5. There's a person I'm a fan of on tumblr who once described their gender as "assigned fuck you at birth", which is probably more aggressive than you would want on your license, but perhaps speaks to the essence of "look, I don't know, this is a much bigger deal to everyone else than it is to me". I know that there are some countries that have started allowing M, F, and X for "other", which isn't great for specificity or validation but is at least a step up from "pick a side of my false dichotomy".

    Gender has been a weird thing to think about for me as well, since for ages I didn't think about it at all, and when I did, my conclusion was something like "Well, I *am* male, but I don't feel like there's some kind of You're A Dude flag waving in my head". When I didn't have a great concept of what it meant to be trans, I tried to imagine how I'd feel about a bodyswap, and at the time concluded that I'd mostly be distressed about how much it shrunk my dating pool, since I still thought I was only into women. (Since then, having worked out that I'm bi, and having had a couple of years to consider the matter, I've waffled on that and then re-concluded that I'm perfectly happy to not have to contemplate dating straight men.) At this point I'm settled that I'm a cis dude by process of elimination--I don't have any desire to be perceived otherwise. I dunno how much of that is inborn and how much is socialisation; maybe I'd be something else if I'd grown up in a different culture with a different range of options. (I remain super-uncomfortable with any discussion of gender identities that relies on gender stereotypes, but that's getting far enough away to be a topic for another discussion.)

  6. Only a few days ago I had a conversation along these lines with someone. Part of my part of the discussion was my feelings of discomfort about being most comfortable using the term "not straight" to identify myself. My discomfort stems from the bit where I use an exclusionary term for part of my identity. I mean, every other part of my identity is "I am X," not " I am not Y." It's just that none of the terms in use for sexuality feel right. The closest is bisexual but even that isn't quite me.

    I also hate the acronyms and initialisms. Partly because they always exclude someone, partly because my personal taste doesn't care for the sound of some and partly because, for the love of flowers, I do not have enough time in my life to spell out the whole fricking alphabet every time to include everyone although I'm enough of a hypocrite to get mad when bi is left out and I feel bad if I've excluded someone because we've all been excluded enough already. I kind of wish we'd just start using the word 'alphabet' so every possibility is included.

    I almost just edited my run-on sentance up there because wow, that's a run on sentence. On the other hand, that's pretty much how I'd say it out loud. Plus, growing up with an English teacher for a parent has left me with a streak of rebellion that rejoices in bad grammar. :)

  7. Ha, yes, exactly. I'm a straight cis guy who only really identifies as "male" so that A) you won't be surprised at which restroom I use, B) you won't be confused when people pronoun me, and C) if there's a sudden life-threatening emergency in my pants, the ambulance will take me to a urologist instead of a gynecologist. Other than that, I don't really care. I'm sure I behave in a statistically male fashion on assorted markers, thanks to hormones or upbringing, but I'm not proud of it. (I've thought about identifying as "a hypothetical trans lesbian if I find myself in a futuristic society where someone can instantly download my mind into Shirley Maclaine's cloned body and my shoulders no longer look ridiculous in a club dress", but it takes too long to say. Besides, being a straight cis male is like everything Louis CK says about being white. You'd need to offer me a lot to give up this sweet deal.)

    The funny thing is, both my little brother and my best friend from high school are trans men, and they're way better at being men that I am. I mean, they're good at it because they care. They dress well, they have poise. So I wanna be like "fuck societal norms, gender means nothing," but then I'm like, "oh, ok, gender's awesome when represented by people who sign up for it." It's folks that think gender should be some sort of externally-assigned objective essence that are the problem. Just relax and treat it as performance art, guys! You'll be happy, and the people you refrain from killing/jailing/firing will be happy too!

  8. I'm a bisexual cisgendered female engaged to a mtf transsexual lesbian. I get more hate from lesbians than ANYONE. I have NO idea why lesbians hate bisexuals so much, but it's sad because I am in what is definitely a lesbian relationship but absolutely cannot hang out on lesbian forums unless I pretend to be "all lesbian". It's even ok that I was married to an (asshole) man for 13 years as long as I say I am no longer attracted to men and that that was "just a mistake" because I was "in denial" ... but if I dare insinuate that I still find the idea of wang attractive, out I go on my arse.