Queerness is an interesting detail that governs the way I live. My Queerness is not your Queerness is not ze’s Queerness is not our Queerness.
Queer is Queer but lately I’ve seen Queer become the new gay.
In discussing Ginsberg during one of my classes I confidently called him Queer. His life was non-normative down to the way he recited his poetry, his protestations, his love of “cock and endless balls,” his visions … His Queer identity was not defined by his gayness but his gayness occupied a space within his Queerness. His gayness, however, played a huge role in how he viewed bodies, sex, and others in that his desire was always illegal and it was nonetheless very important.
After Stonewall I still see Queerness, but gayness, as I conceptualize it, starts to take control and starts to reach mainstream success (assimilation) post-’96. I want to describe this gayness as “homonormative” but I’ve always had issues with that word. At its basic constructs “homonormative” doesn’t make any sense to me: homosexuality isn’t normative. Definitionally it is a pathological description of someone with a sexually deviant desire (with scare quotes around each and every word). Gaynormative sounds silly and then would have weird implications with calling gay subculture normative, which it is, in part, by queering straight, mainstream culture but I’m not a fan of that either.
Thus, there is some normative implication when I think of gayness as different than queerness. It internalizes heteronormative ideals: gender stereotypes (particularly since gay as an umbrella term is misogynistic by making the non-heterosexual identifier the one that applies primarily to men), monogamy (one look at any liberal facebook user and you’re hit with the equal signs of marriage “equality”—two bars creating an equal sign, two partners, two: pair, monogamy), whiteness, upperclass, etc., basically I see, hear stories, and am expected to be heterosexual accept that the person I bring home should have a penis (heteronormativity just keeps rearing its ugly head as it seeps in because my sexual orientation is perceived as ONLY a same-sex desire and not a same-gender desire).
This new queerness is inclusive. Its warm and fuzzy. Its like we’re wrapping ourselves in this new queer blanket of happiness. Which I can appreciate on a human level—it feels nice to be able to call a group of people members of my queer community. It helps to provide me a home, a safe space, and validation. However, by calling everyone queer what happens to the word? Does it gain power through strength in numbers and through its positive affirmations? Or does it lose power because it is overused and appropriated by non-Queer “queer” people? At times queer as this umbrella term seems way too contrived.
Queer has become the non-heterosexual, the new gay, and I think its potential for radical change has lowered. What happens to us that identify as QUEER in the sense of non-normative in that we want to fuck the system, enact radical social change, but also remain steadily different?
My Queer identity will only be my Queer identity as long as we resist the full-scale approval of Queerness. For if we don’t what will us Queer folk call ourselves? Will we have to keep reclaiming past words to show our difference? Will we need to create new words to show that we are still here? Will we need to chant “Queer” louder so we’re not erased? My Queer identity is always shifting and always changing because its not just anti-heterosexual but it’s anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist, it’s anti-white supremacy, it’s anti-classist, it’s anti-ableist, it’s anti-genderist, it’s anti-society. But it’s not just this terrifying negation—it also allows a space for me to breath knowing that I’m not ok with the way things are and to call it something. It allows me to name it into existence and make my experience tangible, copable.
My Queerness points to a whole lot of nothing; it’s as if my Queerness points to an impossibility, a space outside of something that I can’t escape. I’d like to keep it this way.
KNOWhomo Past Posts and their Relevance Today
Pride Flags You (Might?) See and What They Mean
Flags of Our Family
With flags being flown across the country, accompanied by dedicated voices, strength, and compassion, we provide a helpful history of some of the colors waving above our heads.
(for more information, check out #Flag)
LGBTQ* Pride Flags You Should Know
#1: LGBTQ* Pride (**first flag in 1978 with 8 colors represented Lesbian/Gay culture)
#2: Bisexual Pride
#3: Pansexual Pride
#4: Asexual/Ace Pride
#6: Intersex Pride
#7: Trans* Pride
#8: Lipstick Lesbian Pride
#10: Leather Pride
Summer camp! It’s the best time of a kid’s life! It’s just friends and fun without the pressure of school or parents. There is a unique closeness among those who go to the same camp. I went to camp for nine summers of my childhood and it gave me the best friends and memories I have. Sadly, though, camp lost its magic for me as I got older. Somehow, I felt less and less included in that special closeness. By the time I was 16, I realized that camp, this haven from home, this respite from reality, was not for gay kids.
I remember the first summer I tried to get a boyfriend. I was 11. I’d always known that girls and boys became couples when they got older, but somehow I had never thought that applied to me. I learned that it did in a camp cheer. When we were small children, our cheers derided the boys. Then, the summer before fifth grade, our cheers suddenly changed; apparently, we now liked the boys. I was baffled and I seemed to be the only one who was confused. It was the first time I noticed I might be different. It was also the first time I feared I might be different. I asked a boy to the dance that same day.
As we became teenagers, my friends and I came to see camp as the only place we could talk about everything. I remember feelings scandalized yet thrilled when I found out what 69-ing was. We asked the counselors about losing their virginities and they told us what to expect. But through all that openness, no one ever said it’s ok to be gay. Homosexuality was an issue that went unacknowledged. The counselors and staff offered no guidance; they were silent. I was left in isolated confusion.
The summer before 9th grade, I was pretty sure I was lesbian. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a dramatic love triangle with two boys. As it turns out, they are both gay too, but you can decide whether that’s significant. I had fun dabbling in dating like all the straight kids. But behind it all was always a trembling fear. I thought if I didn’t pick a boy to “like” my friends would think I was a lesbian and then I wouldn’t have friends anymore. I think most gay teenagers experience this fear whether they go to camp or not. At the same time, camp, with its claim to provide safety and support to adolescents, ought to have been the place I first learned to shed the fear of judgment, not succumb to it.
I only worked as a counselor for one summer. Then, I had brief, dispassionate romance with a male counselor. I could not have articulated this at the time, but I was afraid that if I turned him down, all my friends would realize the truth about me and turn on me for it. Camp is not like school, where you go home at the end of the day. Every second is a social situation and to be ostracized socially would be beyond devastating. It was when I was with that boy, struggling to find the energy to feign interest in him, that I thought, I can’t come to camp anymore.
I could have easily written this article about public schools or the laws in our country, for all the ways those institutions continue to fail young gay people. I give summer camps special attention because as I look back, that was the place that could have made my awkward, shameful adolescence so much easier. I see now that my counselors never brought up the issue of homosexuality in part because they didn’t want to make the gay kids uncomfortable. But it had the opposite effect. In order to make camp a truly welcoming environment for everyone, we have to make being gay normal, not taboo, and talked about, not hushed up. This is especially true because at camp, a lot of kids are figuring out that they’re gay and it’s a good time to talk about it.
No it’s not feminism, nor fun, nor figs. But fag.
Fag. Fag. Fag. What do I think of each time I read the word FAG?
The soft whispers that follow me throughout middle and high school? Even in elementary school when I have no idea what a “fag” is let alone know that I am one? People snicker and laugh all because they thought I could be … a bundle of sticks.
People scream “fag” from cars as if when you spot a fag on the street you must proclaim it because if not the whole world implodes, right? It’s a public service not a hate crime. It’s to let everyone know around me that I’m a fag and my fagness (*metacomment*: google wants to correct fagness to gayness …) is so pungent that literally everyone in the world can smell my fabulosity. Society hates fabulousity. Society hates fags.
Fags make people uncomfortable. People being, brace yourself, the heteronormative and sexist robots that they are like things to be neat and orderly in two packages, yes—package (just phallic enough), the womanly woman and the manly man. The neatness is so ambiguous because even too feminine of a women or too masculine of a man, I’d argue, are looked down upon. It’s the middle ground (middle-right, who are we kidding) that society craves, which is impossible. #gender. People like their gender.
So when I walk down the street in green bedazzled shorts or when I wear a billowing scarf or when I wear a messenger bag or when I happen to be model walking to Azealia or when I happen to be coming home from the club on a Friday (reeking of that fag smell) or when my cat eyes rival actual felines or when I’m screaming about faggy things or when I look at all faglike, yes. I make people uncomfortable. Half the time it’s on purpose.
To reclaim fag is like reclaiming any other word. To me it starts off with an intra-community usage that first gets LGBTQ folks OK with the word again. We have to wipe away the slur and the violence and the hatred and the shame to replace it with a celebration of self-identification. This takes time and this takes effort. The switch from intra- to inter- doesn’t seem like a possibility to me these days but I only have to look towards words such as “queer,” although, in my opinion, it is often misused and dehistoricized and misunderstood, to glean some hope. My professor uses the word “queer” and I don’t shudder but I want to applaud. One day maybe someone will use the word “fag” and I won’t want to defenestrate someone into a pit of fire.
There is so much history that continues to be written for this word “fag.” There is so much terror with the word “fag.” There is so much assumed with the usage of the word “fag.” Every time I hear it and am called it I have to disconnect myself in order to twist it into an affirmation. “Fag” can be positive. “Fag” can be freeing. “Fag” can help us break the system.
Two years ago this week, I lost my dear friend Sam to suicide. In the days and weeks following his death, I sat with friends in silence, all of us shocked by this jarring news.We cried.We hugged.And we tried to understand why this happened, yet we were left with no clear answers.That is perhaps the most frustrating thing about suicide.There is almost never just one cause, yet we as survivors want so badly to answer the impossible question of why.
What concerns me, though, is that this often results in the creation of a single-issue narrative for our framing of Sam’s life (and also his death).This leaves me wondering: How do we share someone’s story after they die, and who controls that message?Who gets to shape and tell that story?And finally, how can we remember Sam for his full self, in all of his complexity?
I am really not sure what the answers to these questions are, and I still struggle to understand my own role in unpacking Sam’s story.I want to be transparent about the fact that I do not share many of Sam’s identities.My reflections come only from my personal interactions and friendship with Sam.I desperately wish that he was here today to tell this story in his own words.But he is gone, and those of us who loved him cannot let his story go untold.We must remember.We must do our best to speak his truth.
Sam immigrated to the United States from the Persian Gulf area when he was just 12 years old.He and his family came here legally, with proper documentation.However, his status expired, and upon graduating high school, he found himself entering college as an undocumented student.He could not work, sign a lease for an apartment, or obtain a driver’s license.As a teenager, Sam also came out as gay to his family.He was forced into “reparative therapy,” after which he pretended to be “cured”.Sam once told me that he had almost attempted suicide as a teenager because of these stressors.Away at college, Sam was out to all of his friends as gay.But due to his documentation status, he was highly dependent on his parents for financial survival.Sam pretended to be “cured” for several years, until finally he came out to his parents again in the spring of 2011 (which did not go well).
Many survivors point primarily (sometimes only) to Sam’s gay identity when trying to understand his suicide.It is true that he wrote about how hard it was for him to be gay in his suicide note.But in our efforts to understand Sam’s life and death, we must look at the whole picture.Sam was not just gay.He was gay and undocumented, among many other identities.It would be easy for survivors to blame his family for not wanting to talk about his sexual orientation, but that is only one piece of this story.Sam was not only closeted as gay; he was also closeted as undocumented on a predominately white, U.S.-centric campus, where many of his friends were perhaps uncomfortable talking about his documentation status.So in the space where he had support as gay, he likely did not feel safe to be open about this documentation status, and vice versa.
We as a society still struggle with single-issues narratives; there’s no room in our conversations for intersectional lives.But what does it mean when Sam’s undocumented status is erased from his story?What does it mean when his sexuality is erased from his story?How can we remember and honor multiple identities, as well as the many ways in which they were intersecting every day?
I often think about the cumulative effect of these oppressions on Sam and wonder how this stress and isolation contributed to his overall mental health.The “why” question remains impossible to answer, but when I look at Sam’s story I can’t help but feel that the complex oppression he experienced was a significant culprit contributing to his depression and ultimately to his death.I wish with all my heart that Sam had maintained just enough hope to stay with us.Just one year after his death, he would have been protected under President Obama’s Executive Immigration Order for undocumented children.I honestly don’t know how this policy would have played out in Sam’s life, and I know it would not have erased all of the barriers he faced, but I wish he was still here to find out.
You never know what is around the corner.Please stick around to find out.If you or someone you love is at risk for suicide, please reach out for help:
· Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) at University of Michigan
· The Trevor Project: LGBTQ Suicide Hotline
· National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Last month, I went on a trip to San Francisco to visit my oldest sister. She is seven years older than me and we have always been close, especially now that we’ve both reached our twenties. She is loving and fun, but occasionally dense about gay issues. While we were catching up, enjoying fine San Francisco dining, I told my sister about a new girl I was seeing. It was not new territory; I usually tell my her when I’m excited about a girl and she is always supportive. Such conversations tend to flow as naturally as when one of my other sisters talks about a male love interest. I was surprised, therefore, when my sister asked the question, “So, which one of you is the boy?”
I’ve been asked this question before. In college, showing affection with a girl at any sort of social gathering will garner attention from boys who see us and assume they have an invitation. It is the sort of question I expect from people I do not respect and who do not respect me. But from a sister I revere, I was saddened by it. Does she really understand so little about me that she can only understand my relationships through a straight lens? Does she think all relationships can be reduced to a “boy” and a “girl”? I know there are gay couples that have one more masculine and one more feminine partner, at least in appearance. But in everyday life, such a distinction means nothing. Does the one who is the “boy” always act more dominant? Does this “boy” always pay for meals and hold open doors for the “girl”? No! In my relationships, there is a fluidity of traditional masculinity and femininity so that in practice, it tends to be a partnership without any hierarchy of dominance. I was surprised my sister did not understand that, especially since in her relationship with her husband, there is no clear dominant partner; they boss each other around equally.
My sister was the first person I came out to, when I was 15 and she was 22. I told her first because I knew I didn’t have to fear judgment from her. So, when I explained why I found her question insensitive, she apologized and we moved on. I think it’s important to address these little, insensitive comments in order to change attitudes about homosexuality. Even well meaning allies like my sister occasionally say something offensive, and because we discussed it she understands and won’t say it again.
I did a comic about marriage equality…
Society: “Let them eat cake.”
Mainstream Gay Movement: “Sounds good to us!”
Sometimes it’s helpful to compare concepts or experiences to get a better understanding of the world. Other times these analogies insinuate a false equality between the things being compared or they falsely presuppose that the things have the same significance or meaning.
“Love is all you need?” attempts to reimagine the world as if it were composed of only gay (presumably cis-) men and lesbian (presumably cis-) women. It gives a severely suburban view of America where all people of color are erased, all people of lower socioeconomic status are erased, all people of different ability status are erased, all people of non-Catholic faith are erased, all people that identify as bi, pan, fluid, and especially asexual are erased. It seems as if the director took their conception of normal today and tried to transpose it in order to create an all american control group—only changing the conceptualization of sexuality. Despite the fact that normal, in general, is problematic, the director’s normal is even more problematic.
With, virtually, the entire world transformed this movie starts to make no sense. There are so many plot holes that the whole renders itself unintelligible. If the catholic church was based on a doctrine of homosexuality then homosexuality, as it exists only within modernity, would have needed to be constructed much earlier or put forth by god. And had god done this then the creation story would have to have a nice little p.s. stipulating the creation of 3 original humans since two “males” or two “females” would have some great sex but no babies. Then everything about the world would change because it would be based on a symbolic system of trichotomies and not dichotomies (due to the influence this story has within Islam, Judaism, and christianity). Furthermore it doesn’t make sense for the term “faggot” to appear in the movie because it pejoratively means an effeminate gay man and has its offensive roots in bashing older women in late Medieval times. So this word means nothing in this film because there is a disjunct between it’s original meaning and its acquired meaning.
But what is wildly intelligible is gender. There seems to be a lack of feminization of gay men and masculinization of lesbian women but then gay men still like theatre and lesbian women still love sports. The lesbian moms are both feminine, which may, again, be the directors vision of normal, but the conflation of gender expression with gendered stereotypes of sexuality don’t line up. The feminine and the masculine are still intelligible as symbolic objects so I don’t know what’s up with that …
And then comes suicide. Now however satiric or campy the bullying ended up being, I think that the violence portrayed starts to come close to real life. Bullying, harassment, and assault are very much reality for a lot of lesbian and gay people. The perseverance of violence from school, church, and home was terrifying and is terrifying today. Thus, the emotional and physical impact of institutional and interpersonal hatred does come across successfully in this movie. By ending the movie with suicide it follows many of the narratives we find today in lesbian and gay bullying narratives. However, the placing of the suicide in the bathtub was an inappropriate, offensive, and triggering aestheticization of suicide. Having the epic battle music climax as the drops of blood crash into the pool of water is beautiful and sends, I hope, messages the director did not intend to depict. With the (attempted, for the movie leaves the plot unfinished) suicide taking place in a bathtub it shows the purification of death over life. It shows that one can come clean through a rejection of the world for hopes of a “breeder heaven.” One can read so much into this scene that I think I’ll stop here.
Although the movie attempts to make these lesbian and gay narratives comprehensible to straight folks it fails to realize that these narratives are already intelligible. And if one cannot empathize with these bullied gay and lesbian youth then I think its less the narrative’s fault and more on the fault of the individual. Through this movie analogy alternate reality trying to show the constructedness of sexuality I think that the message is lost within its own concept. Some stories should just try to be told as they are.