I have recently been part of many conversations about what it means to be queer. Several of my cis-het colleagues have approached me about The Acronym (you know, the “LGBTQPAAII” under which all of us queer people are lumped). This acronym presents several major problems, one of which is the mixture of gender and sexual orientation. It maybe, kinda, sort of addresses relationship orientation, but not comprehensively so. This mix of identities is confusing for everyone: Am I queer because of gender or sexuality? Am I not queer if I’m aromantic but heterosexual? Are trans homos more queer than cis homos?
What exactly does it mean to be queer? When my parents were young, “queer” was used pejoratively to describe homosexual people. For some reason, my mother’s dorm at nursing school was given the label, “queer hall” and the libelers did not intend it to be a term of empowerment. One of my favorite family dinner moments occurred several years ago when I was visiting mom and dad. I must have kept referring to myself as queer because my mom finally got a bit upset and said, “would you stop using that word!” I was a bit surprised that she took offense at my self-identification and we started talking about it. She still felt the word queer was derogatory and offensive. When I asked, “what did you think I was, mom?” She responded, “I thought you were just gay.”
At this point, mom understands why I identify as queer and how the word encompasses all my…well, queerness, but I’m not certain there is an easily definable and universal meaning to the word.
Plus, to make it more complicated, there’s queer and then there’s Queer!
I’m going to muse now. Let’s see if this gets us anywhere:
queer might be homo-normative
Queer! certainly is not
queer assimilates into heteronormativity. Think weddings with white dresses and two parents in one house with children and the stock market and shopping at Target*… always shopping at Target
Queer! has it’s own timeline
Queer! doesn’t follow a typical career path
queer agrees and aligns with institutions and systems
Queer! subverts institutions and systems
queer doesn’t question (as much)
Queer! can’t stop questioning
I am trying to observe and document the difference between queer and Queer! without judgment, but I am aware that I have some judgment. So I will just try to not judge my judgment and be transparent about the fact that there is some judgment.
The thing that has been so hard to navigate in the past few months (years maybe) is the recognition that I am marginalized within my marginalized community! It’s hard enough being queer, but when one realizes they are Queer! and therefore too Queer for queer people… well, it hurts.
Methinks ’tis related to normativity.
There is nothing wrong with straight people. There is nothing wrong with wedding dresses and nuclear families and cisgender people. There is something horribly wrong with Target and I won’t back down from that one, but there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to fit in.
The “wrong” occurs when those of us who just don’t fit in are ostracized and humiliated and told we’re crazy and our visions are alien and our way of being is frightening and our silence is threatening and our voices are aggressive and we “should be this” and we “should do that” and we are too sensitive and our tears are hysterics and our anger is out of line and our anti-consumerist stance is tiring and our purple hair is a midlife crisis.
I had a dream last night in which all the players had purple hair. Maybe the Queers! are about to start a revolution.
*In case it isn’t obvious, I do not bow to the Gods of Consumerism. I am quite certain that I was not given a body for the sole purpose of buying shit and amassing wealth. For me, Target is a symbol of rampant, unsustainable, unnecessary consumerism but I could have easily used ‘Costco’ or ‘Walmart’ in place of ‘Target.’