12 October 2006

freaky queer weirdos are your friends

so today, i hear, was National Coming Out Day. the occasion has given me some additional thoughts on coming out, sexuality politics, and coping as an Other. i thought i'd try to put them together here.

i've heard a lot of people say things like, "i don't have a problem with gay people, but why does [lgbt person] have to talk about it all the time?", or "i hate it when people wear their sexualities on their sleeves like that", or "every time I hear someone identify as 'gender queer,' i.e. 'LOOK AT ME I AM SPECIAL,' I want to claw out my eyes". and i think it's easy to say these things if you've never felt your freedom or happiness threatened by hetero-normativity or by the sexual hierarchy.

because i don't have direct experience with non-heterosexuality, my understanding of this comes in two indirect forms. the first is through people who identify as queer or as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-. some of them are writers whose project it is to make others aware of their existence and rights, and others are just friends of mine who happened to help me learn along the way. i don't want to claim to represent all or any of them or their experiences. i just want to lay out something pretty personal, which is how i've come to be more perceptive of my heterosexual privilege and more receptive to the desire some people have to make "coming out" a whole project, or to identify as "gender queer" or some variant, or to live their sexualities in a way that seems loud or insistent compared to how easy it is for straight people to live ours. the second avenue i've had for thinking about this is through my experience of being female. i know that you can't just map one oppression onto another, but realizing how my experience has been shaped by being a non-default, and an Other, in matters of sex and gender has supported my understanding of heterosexuality as being a default and a privilege too. so, onward.

heterosexuality means that when i choose a romantic partner, i don't worry that my choice will cause me alienation from my family or friends, the verbal and physical assault of strangers, the loss of employment, or legal obstacles to sharing property and having children. these are things that i pretty much never have to think about when i make deliberate choices about my love life, much less every day of my life. i'm immensely privileged in that respect. i recognize that these are concerns which could not only weigh heavily on one's mind but also lead one to chafe fiercely at such marginalization.

i also don't have to work too hard for potential sexual partners to make themselves available to me. that is, i'm a woman and if i'm interested in men i don't have to do very much to signal to men that i am interested in men. they just assume it. if i were interested in women instead? not only would it be way more difficult to have to actively signal to women that i consider them potential sexual partners, you can bet i would also have to find strategies to deal with the men who would assume they were in the game. i am privileged in this respect too. i recognize that if you're not straight, it might not always easy to "be subtle about it" and still pursue a romantic life.

these are very tangible threats to happiness that non-straight people might have to deal with all the time. another is the psychological strain engendered by being a peg with a hole cut out for you, one that defines the way you'll live your life, based on the genitals you pop out with at birth, and not liking or feeling at ease in that hole. for example, "penis and balls > will have sex with women, will support a family, can throw a punch, doesn't cry." a lot of the aspects of these expectations have slowly been weakened, but not all of them and not everywhere. making this one or that other one ("vagina and ovaries...") the only two available options in society -- and anyway, at birth you are simply assigned just the one -- can cause terrible pain for the rather significant number of people who don't feel comfortable with them, and sexual orientation is one those aspects.

if these things have never been a threat to you -- because you're straight, or you're financially comfortable, or you're surrounded by people who happily accept all kinds of sexuality, or you don't mind being hit on by the wrong people, or you're a relatively femme-y girl or studly guy, or something else -- then maybe it's never occurred to you to play with sex- or gender-role expectations, other than perhaps as a novelty among friends. but if your everyday life involves being aware that you're oppressed by norms of sexual orientation and gender, then wanting to revolt makes a lot of sense.

it could be said that i talk about feminist issues, and about being a woman in a patriarchal world, all the goddamn time. it's because i've come to see that it MEANS something, to be a woman in a patriarchal world -- it has an effect on your identity and your situation and your opportunities -- and i'm pissed about that. so, yeah, gender both exists (and is real and worth talking about) and is a construction (and is wrong and worth taking apart), and i think that answers why people can be against sexual discrimination but use their sexuality to define themselves. so i talk about how being a woman matters AND about how it shouldn't matter. and because i'm pissed i want to revolt fairly often and i can't blame others for being brave enough to try. i care about this shit -- and yes, having a stake in it, feeling personally threatened by patriarchy, pushed me into the realization that it's wrong -- and consequently i talk about it a lot. maybe it makes people want to claw their eyes out, but i can guarantee it's not frivolous or forced, which is what gender-fuck and vocal lgbt-identification are often dismissed as. i'm not big on physical accessories of femininity, for example makeup or heels (which in my life are for playing dress-up), but i've considered dropping altogether the ones i do indulge, like shaving or certain kinds of clothes, and i know that that would brand me in some people's eyes as "trying too hard" or "too strident" or "wearing it on my sleeve" or something like that. but i think it's a worthy idea, and the people who would make such judgments probably haven't had occasion to understand why the personal might be so political.

i am not going to argue that everyone who considers themselves lgbt needs to come out and do it loudly, or that everyone who has a problem with traditional gender roles needs to start gender-fucking. i pick my own battles and decide what strategies i'm comfortable with, and you do the same. lord knows i'm not that much of a rebel myself, when it comes to this; the best i can manage is to look dowdy. but, from the perspective of someone who hasn't chosen that route, i nevertheless want to make a defense of it. we are all aided by people who are willing to be really loud about how they are not cut out for the hole society says is theirs. these people are someone to look up to: they are brave and they are committed to their selves and to the truth. have you read about the Stonewall riots, and the early gay pride parades, and the radicalism of people shouting "we're here, we're queer, get used to it!"? do you remember the eye-rolling that attended our parents' mention of those crazy Gays, the ones who made it orders of magnitude safer for those after them to be out, whether loudly or quietly? i see this as more of the same. these people frustrate the attempts of society to say that they, and others in their boat, don't exist. the fight against that kind of identity fascism is not going to be won for all of the world's Others if we all adopt the strategy of saying "really, we are just like you!". as someone noted about the movie "guess who's coming to dinner" (a white couple struggles to accept sidney poitier as their daughter's boyfriend), "really, black people are just like us!" is both true and not true, and it does everyone a disservice to acknowledge only one side of that coin. you can't just statement-away oppression, so saying "we are just like you" is only half of the battle. it's true, in that no human being has more intrinsic moral worth than another; it's false in that society's prior judgments to the contrary have created two different ends of the oppression stick, and two (well, very many) different experiences of life.

the point is that for the people *i* can think of who have chosen to identify as some kind of queer, the motivation is that life is getting too difficult, or too nonsensical, having to be "feminine woman who likes men" or "masculine man who likes women" when they don't feel themselves to BE one of those things. it's not about making a fashion statement or getting attention or gaining cool, edgy friends; it's about already BEING something "queer" (that is, not-being something "normal", by society's own judgment) and finally fucking calling yourself that. it's no skin off my back, and in fact i see it as a positive social/ethical act, for me to support the validity of that kind of choice.

I randomly ran across this entry in a Google search, and I just wanted to stop by and give you mad props. ^^


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