16 July 2015

My Queer Manifesto

Within the last year or so, I've started identifying as “Queer”. There are many reasons for this. For a long time, I reluctantly considered myself bisexual. I say “reluctantly”, because while I had a relatively healthy idea of what being bi meant, I misinterpreted the rampant bi-phobia and misconceptions about bisexuals I encountered as the dominant and popular opinion. I got tired of clarifying what bisexuality meant to me. I didn't realize that I was giving bi-phobia so much weight by carrying my identity like a burden.

No, it isn't phase. No, I’m not half gay and half straight. No, I’m not “curious”. For a long time I didn't have a connection to the greater LGBT community, and I thought I must be the only person in the world to think that being bisexual was a valid, safe and healthy identity.

But even being bisexual didn't fit me 100%. It still rang of “one-or-the-other”. Even “either/or-and-both!” seemed limiting. Both? Doesn't that mean I only have two choices? The more people I met, the more ways of expressing gender - or expressing no gender at all - all served to show me just how little I know about the world, and how woefully narrow my vocabulary was.

I know now that there is no wrong way to be bisexual, and that bisexuality has a place for trans and non-binary folks and attraction. Personally though, I see the term as having its genesis in “male and female”, and though the definition has evolved, it just doesn't feel 100% right for me. That’s not to say that I judge anyone who finds it fits them. And I support the idea that the concept has evolved. Hell, it was originally a term for having two sexes, so I think the idea of an ever-expanding definition is pretty much built right in.

As I grew more comfortable with my sexuality, the more I saw that it wasn't a single, standalone thing, separate from other parts of me. Yes, I’m attracted to a whole lot of kinds of people, people of all genders, or no genders at all. But that’s not all there is to it. Learning about, and accepting who I am attracted to is inevitably connected to how I choose to present myself, in terms of gender and also in general. And how I present myself is in turn connected with greater ideas about representation and how I feel a part of my community. All of this is about so much more than who turns me on.

I also noticed that for a lot of the world, being straight isn't just a separate, sexual thing either. Being straight is about more than who one chooses to have sex with. So much of our culture is built around the idea of straightness, of hetero-normativity, that even as the world at large grows much more tolerant of other sexualities, it still feels like that acceptance is strictly a sexual one. Okay, fine, go have whatever sex you like behind closed doors, then come back and take your place in our straight world. See? We accept you now. Isn't that great?

That’s why I love the word Queer. I love that it is, in itself, confrontational. I love that it says both a great deal, and nothing specific about me. I love that it doesn't pin me down, and yet totally defines me. While straight people, gay people, and bisexual people all had ideas about what “bisexual” meant (even, or perhaps especially, inaccurate ideas), I’m yet to find anyone who knows exactly what I mean (or thinks they know exactly what I mean) when I say I’m queer. Some people like that. Other’s don’t. And that’s why I choose that word.

I personally like that queer has a history of meaning skewed and strange and just… odd. I like that it is short hand for “take what’s ‘normal’ and twist it around a bit.” I also realize that feeling comfortable with this connotation comes from a place of privilege. I have never had this word hurled at me as a tool of hate, and while I like to think that I would still embrace it even if it was used that way, I cannot truly put myself in that situation. Far too many people have been in exactly that situation and I do not want my embracing of the word in any way to disrespect or devalue the struggles of people that fought for acceptance before me. I want to challenge people with the word; I don’t want to disrespect people in my community with it.

When I started identifying as queer, I realized that it is not a coincidence that the attitude of queerness permeates most of my identity. My art, my politics, my self expression, my passions and my pleasures are all queer, skewed from “normal”, and that has nothing to do with sex. And being skewed is not to say better or worse. It is just different, but inclusive. It means, have no preconceived notions about me. Judge me by my actions and my words, but don’t think you have me in a box. But it also means, let’s talk about the idea of boxes. How do you see your self? Are you in a box? Want to be queer with me, and also… want to be queer with me?

Because while queerness isn't all about sex, it is about sex. And not just about who I want to have sex with, but how. Queerness says, more options please! Everything’s on the table! Everyone’s on the table! It doesn't mean I do everything in the every way with every person, but it means that anything safe, sane and consensual is just as valid and interesting as anything else. Sex isn't always about love, but queerness says that our definition of love needs to be broader too. Queer means why would I ever put an arbitrary limit on who I can love and how I can love them? Love might be the only thing in the universe that there is never, ever too much of. Queerness says, how can we get more of that (love) in there (and it also says HOW CAN WE GET MORE OF THAT (SEX) IN THERE).

This is the first time I've written at length about being queer. It is both easier, and harder than I thought it would be. When I started this, I hoped it would be my definitive statement on the topic. Of course, that is not the case. My identity, and my writing about it, will always be in flux. I still occasionally introduce myself as bisexual, or a queer bisexual. Sometimes it is a shorthand that isn't 100% accurate, but is expedient. Writing about my identity, whatever it is, is just as important and helpful to me as I hope it can be for you.

I was inspired to write this, in large part, because of this excellent post by about Queerness. The blog it is on looks abandoned, which is a shame, because that post really changed my life. Read it. I feel pretty much the exact same way. Every sentence I nodded along: Yes, yes, yes. Me too. It read so close to me, I almost didn't write this, because they summed up everything I might say so much more eloquently than I ever could. But that’s what queerness means to them, and while I may agree, I would rather add to the conversation rather than co-op their words. (I found that post via nonmodernist’s excellent post about their queerness. See how important community is?)

This post originally appeared on Medium on 26 February 2015.

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