Toward a Queer Ethos

May 6 · 5 min read
Photo by Dimitar Belchev on Unsplash

We all have an artist in us, some innate creative energy that wants to work its way up from our depths through our bodies and be expressed outwardly. Queer people take our artist’s seriously. We edit and curate ourselves and our lives to reflect ourselves back to us. While everyone “does” this performance or curation of self, queer people are forced to examine that self and typically do not have the luxury of arriving at a prefab, binary version of a self. To arrive at a loving, desirous relationship with this self, one, necessarily, must question the environment that mechanized to suppress the self in the first place. You begin to see implicit hierarchies for the farces that they are; striation and sorting into distinct, discrete boxes feels heavy-handed; the desire to inflict the dehumanization you’ve experienced on others lessens. You become softer, more loving, more open to being loved, to being really seen for the first time. You begin to see all that there is to see in other people, too, and in the world around you. Queerness is possibility and regeneration.

Telling deeper levels of truth about and within every institution gives us the profound privilege of stripping ourselves down to our foundations, and building something more like us. And then doing that over and over and over again. Queerness is destabilizing. This can be confusing at times. Many of us — I suspect most — have been doing this work consciously and unconsciously since we were children, called forth from the purple matter into apartments or tenements or cul-de-sacs. We have been asking the disruptive questions, the delicious questions, the this-is-so-obvious-why-is-no-one-talking-about-it questions. We have done this work, at times to our peril, for our whole lives. I feel nothing but gratitude for our collective effort. We have asked the uncomfortable, dangerous questions; pushed for clarification, honesty, even when it was met with awkward silence, deep sighs, aggressive language, physical violence. We have been mirrors for ourselves and for people who were not quite ready to see themselves reflected in a collective as joyous and honest as we are. We look back, reflect your own curiosities back to you, destabilize desire, and dismantle (or disrupt) the white supremacist heterocapitalist patriarchy by poking holes in the notion that power and domination are synonymous. We repurpose the concept of power to be a self-compassionate, safe, boundaried, balanced, positive force for liberation and community building. This is what queer world-making does.

What do I mean by world-making? In this context, world-making is the process by which marginalized people create and enact strategies, communities, and safehouses to navigate the complex web that is power filtered through a neo-colonial lens. By busting through, flipping, remixing, turning over, excavating, re/naming, questioning, and looking back at the power structure, queer folks generously show us new-yet-old ways of living wholeheartedly and holistically.

So with all that in mind, it feels urgent and necessary to come out about something: a lot of the time I don’t feel queer enough. I often wonder if I’m doing it right. Am I social enough or out enough? Sometimes I police myself, temper my self-expression, blend in. Sometimes I don’t feel political enough or radical enough or sexual enough. And sometimes that very tension is how I locate myself within a queer ethos. The process of self-discovery and self-recovery is part and parcel of determining to be out and queer and self-possessed. This self-reflection, this daring to ask, is part of the ever-evolving, lifelong journey we’ve agreed to by coming to terms with ourselves. And maybe summiting the feeling of “not enough” is the crux of the work of coming and being out, the work that we do while we’re still in. In normalizing the ongoing self-interrogative process that it takes to arrive at oneself, queer folks generously shepherd us all to a more just, verdant, and authentic world.

In order to arrive at and embody a queer ethos and queer aesthetic in a culture hostile to difference, one must necessarily do the work of unpacking, tearing down, excavating, redefining undoing, disengaging, naming, and acknowledging the energetic tentacles of a machine designed to run on your self-loathing and feeling of inadequacy. The tricky part of this machine is that it is also designed to become so neutral as to be invisible. So what happens when we look back at this machine? What becomes possible? On the other side of self-hatred is radical self-love.

Queerness is a question with an embedded answer — yes! Queerness is permission — yes! Queerness is holy. God is an artist, and we paint and beat face with every color available. Queerliness is next to godliness. You are one step closer, beloved.

Queerness is freedom. Why? Why not? Why this? Why not that? Queerness is willful. It is a truth that we are willing to enact, to embody. Queerness is radical commitment to the truth, an understanding that only by living life exactly on your own terms, on your own understanding, can you joyfully, meaningfully show up for another. Perhaps this is why we feel like failed queers sometimes, like we’re not doing it right. But worry not, my dear — queerness is a practice. Queerness is the praxis.

Queerness is about the look — take that how you want it; an aesthetic, an assessment, a cruise, a confrontation. Queerness is the return serve. It’s the gaze that looks back at. Queerness is synthesis. It is a truer and larger whole. It is the culture.

Queerness is the sex you wish you were having, and the sex you can be having.

Queerness is community in the face of a world that sells us selfishness and solitude. I’m sorry that you feel so lonely sometimes, so isolated.

Queerness is an unearthing and rebirthing — it is archaeological, curatorial.

Queerness is it’s own thing. It takes responsibility for itself.

What an honor, what an immense privilege, to be one among this delightfully odd bunch of magicians and healers. We are artists and we are art.

In the series of essays and reflections to come, I hope to add to the conversation about how to survive, thrive, and be our highest and best selves. Think of this as simultaneously a continuation, a beginning, a jumping off point. This is prescriptive to the degree that it feels good for you. My hope is that by sharing some of the medicine I’ve found along the way, you tap into the places in you that are sources healing. I am also healing as a write this, alongside you, and as I dive deeper into myself and community. I am so taken by queer world-making and self-care practices, because I want to find out how embodiment of these practices and principles open one’s life to abundant possibilities in order to help myself — and perhaps, you — understand that queerness and the practice of a queer ethos can save the world. I’m also constantly awed at how this embodiment has saved and continues to save my life. I hope to make clear, useful, and accessible the concept and practice of a queer ethos, and hope to create safe harbor for myself, for all of us, to keep coming out, to keep growing, to keep rising.

Rise toward a queer ethos! We need you here. We need you healthy. We need your medicine.

Austin Monroe

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Austin is a writer and student living in New York. Pronouns: he/they Instagram: austinmonroe.biz

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