Not So ‘Queer’ After All
I don’t make a habit of reposting my Bilerico blogging here on NFABS, because I don’t want this blog to become a feed for my Bilerico work. That said, this post both fits well with NFABS’ general themes, and with my new commitment to greater openness. This post originally appeared on The Bilerico Project on 9/26/12
Not So ‘Queer’ After All
Early this year, not long after becoming a regular contributor for The Bilerico Project, I wrote a post on the controversial subject of the reclaimed word “queer” as a personal identity.
At the time, I laid out the arguments for why I felt “queer” was the right word for who I was and how I lived my life. I’m not only someone whose partners are of the same gender, but also someone who is polyamorous, kinky, and who rejects the very narrow confines of who the gay world, and media in particular, sometimes try to say “gay” people are.
I also wrote about the fact that while I didn’t see having trans men partners as inherently contrary to someone identifying as “gay”, the widespread and destructive transphobia I often see within the gay community made me reluctant to embrace the word as my own.
When I wrote that post in January, I’d been identifying as “queer” for many years, and didn’t really expect that I’d be writing this one less than a year later.
You see, I find myself feeling as if I can’t continue to identify as “queer” anymore.
Before I get to my own situation though, I want to briefly address the use of “queer” as an umbrella community term. Talking about the “queer community” as an alternative to saying “gay community” or “LGBT community” has never really sat all that well with me. Sure, the alphabet soup of letters such as LGBTQQAI can get incredibly cumbersome, but the whole point of a reclaimed word is that people make the choice to reclaim it forthemselves, not have it thrust upon them in the manner of their oppressors. If you don’t like the word “queer” you certainly shouldn’t have to have it used to describe you.
Personally, I’m a fan of GSM or GSRM to describe our community more than any other acronym I’ve seen lately. It stands for Gender & Sexual Minorities or Gender, Sexual & Relationship Minorities, and has a deliberate catch-all quality that I appreciate.
But it isn’t the advent of a new term that has me felling the need to let go of my queer identity. As far as I know there isn’t yet a term for a someone who fits within the GSRM umbrella, and I’m not eager to invent one.
Rather, the issue is that I have come to find “queer” a less inclusive word than either it once was, or I once perceived it to be. I’ve always been a bit of an anomaly as a cis man who ID’s as queer, particularly as a cis queer guy who is primarily interested in same-sex relationships. Which isn’t to say I haven’t met others, I’m not a special snowflake.
But I’ve noticed more and more that queer spaces are not open to me as a cis guy, Many organizations, parties, etc, that identify as being queer-focused are formally or unofficially only open to cis women, trans women and trans men. An interesting corollary to this is that when I’ve been in open queer space, people have tended to assume I’m trans*, and are sometimes taken aback to discover otherwise. This has, at times, let to some ugly situations, with there being a perception of deceit on my part, or of me as a cis guy intruding on, and compromising the feeling of safety of queer space, even if that space hasn’t been formally designated as not open to cis men.
Words and labels are slippery things, that’s what makes them so powerful, and yet so potentially contentious. I understand that I could choose to continue to ID as queer and no one can stop me. But I also recognize that labels serve a valuable purpose, and if the broader definition within our community, or at least my little corner of it, of “queer” has becoming something I’m not, it makes little sense for me to continue using it.
On a selfish note, it’s painful to be told “this thing that is like you, isn’t open to you.” To be completely clear: I’m not saying that anyone has to include me in anything, or that my experience is somehow unique or particularly onerous. And yes, I do acknowledge that an expectation of inclusion on my part can be chalked up to my own white-cis-male privilege. But if the definition of what it means to be queer has evolved in a way that doesn’t include cis men, my point still holds that it is a poor descriptor for me to continue using.
Which of course, leaves me in a bind. The reasons that “gay” doesn’t work for me don’t magically vanish just because “queer” doesn’t either. If we’re only interested in the question of who I seek sexual and romantic intimacy with, the overly clinical “homoflexible” could conceivably work. But for me that may be a descriptor, but not really a coherent identity. Likewise, “a GSRM” makes my orientation sound like an expensive Japanese motorcycle rather than a way to navigate the complex waters of self-identity.
For now I’ll explore and try to make my own road. There will probably be times when “queer” is the most useful shorthand, and others when “homoflexible,” or “gay” might be. Hopefully in time I’ll find a new place of comfort with one of these words, or someone will invent a new one entirely.
I call “not it!”
As an aside, the multifaceted topic of self-identified “women’s spaces,” such as the Boston-based group MOB, that are open to trans men as well as trans women and cis women could easily be a post in itself, but it’s one I’m completely unqualified to write. I hope someone else will do so, maybe as a guest post for us one of these days.