Taking up space.
I’ve gone through my life taking up a lot of space. Always one of the tallest kids in the class. Always talkative, confident, unafraid to speak my mind. I drink heavily and speak loudly, not dominating conversations so much as leading them, regularly filling gaps left by my quiet friends. And I have plenty of friends.
But I’ve not always been popular. I grew up unathletic, weird, into oddball bands, and queer. My tendency to speak up probably didn’t help with any of that. I’ve not always fit in. Until I started going to shows. Live music became a lifeline, local scenes feeling like a place I finally belonged.
Well. To say I fit in at shows would be wrong — I regularly get the impression that people in the scene don’t like me. Possibly because I’m loud, and obnoxious when I get drunk sometimes, and I’ll stand up front and take up space and sing along, and stagedive sometimes. Some people don’t like that. But for me this expression of emotion was essential for my survival — getting through another day, week, month, year would be impossible without this outlet, the only place I have to cut loose, sing, shout, cry.
I am queer. I don’t feel comfortable with the label “pansexual” for some bizarre, unexplainable reason (it just grates on me), even though it basically describes me accurately. I usually go with bisexual, despite its inherent binary meaning, and the fact I also identify as non-binary. I know many people dislike this terminology, but the easiest way to put it is that I was born male, but drift back and forth between feeling more of a connection with a female gender identity. So I am queer. And I’m open about this to my friends, but not to my family, my job, or the public. So despite all of these identity labels, and the way I feel, and the way I dress sometimes, to the outside world, I look like, and appear to be, a straight, white cisgendered male.
To most people, I am these things. And, for the most part, I enjoy the privileges that come along with these things. And when I go to shows, and am loud and passionate, I am not seen as a queer person finding their space in the world. I am seen as a straight, white, cisgendered male, taking up space needed by other people. When I am in groups of friends and acquaintances, or colleagues, I am not a confident queer person, comfortable in their skin, openly conversing. I am a straight, white cisgendered male, overpowering others.
I don’t begrudge people this opinion, mostly. Beyond the odd item of clothing or makeup I don’t do much to express my identity. I am not brave enough for that, not confident enough. And I learned a lot of my behaviours through a lens of that privilege, through straight white male socialisation. The way I talk too much and overpower conversation, particularly when drunk, comes from my father. The way I behave at shows was learned and affirmed from the straight white males at shows I went to in my formative years. No matter what I am on the inside, to most people I am part of the problem.
Because of this, I have learned lessons from feminism, about what straight, white cisgendered males should do to be good allies, and to be more inclusive. I want to be welcome in spaces that value these things, and I don’t want to look and act like a typical straight, white cisgendered male while using the excuse of being invisibly queer with no real “proof” of it to justify behaviour that I know is unwelcome in those spaces. I hate people who act like that, and think they need to reduce the amount of space they take up to make room for more diverse voices — which means I hate people that act like me, and think I need to take up less space if I don’t have the confidence to use my voice as I perceive it internally.
So I have put effort into making myself smaller. I speak in a quieter voice, I try to drink less and hold myself back when I don’t manage that. I slouch into seats tuck my body away as much as I can. I huddle in the corner of public transport. I’m careful with my arms at shows, I stopped stagediving and moshing, I stand further back — nine times out of ten, anyway. But people still resent the very sight of me, because of my physical size, because of the way that I look.
But taking up less space represents a problem. I try to take up less space because of how I am perceived, not because of how I am — so I am silencing my own queer thoughts, feelings and experiences. Because of the way I present myself to the outside world, I assume no one wants to hear them, is interested in them, or believes they’re real — unless I explicitly use queerness as a tool to force people to accept me. When not all of my problems are related to being queer, this feels even more problematic.
I recognise that we can’t give every straight, white cisgendered-appearing male the license to do whatever they please just because they might actually not identify that way, because that doesn’t solve problems that need to be solved. But there are issues here.
As a queer person who has occasionally existed in queer spaces both online and in real life, I have been given more license to express my feelings and emotions than I ever had before I found these spaces. Mental health problems and an inability to express oneself emotionally are not unique to queer people, and there is a legitimate mental health crisis with very high levels of suicide among young males who are not given the space or equipment to express themselves healthily.
When we insist men take up less space at shows, that they stop singing, dancing, thrusting fists towards the stage, grabbing each other in the pit and letting themselves experience a platonic emotional connection with their peers, and instead make them stand at the back feeling like they have so much pent up in them that they could explode, it’s unhealthy — whether they’re queer or not. But this behaviour makes other people feel unsafe, so everyone needs to find a way to co-exist. All I really know is that insisting everyone who looks like they could be a straight, white cisgendered male represses all feeling is not the answer.
One of my favourite bands is called RVIVR, and for a while they were notorious for a perceived hardline stance on guys at their shows. Girls to the front, no moshing, no crowdsurfing, no aggression of any kind. This was hard for a lot of the guys that had been following the singer since their days in Latterman, and wanted to get up front and get rowdy. But RVIVR are queer feminists, and wanted a safe space for women and queer people. Sometimes they got really mean about it, and alienated a lot of male fans.
But I’ve never experienced that at RVIVR shows. Which means so much to me, because ever since Mattie Jo Canino came out as queer I’ve connected with her, RVIVR and Latterman so much more. And I’ve got rowdy at RVIVR shows. I’ve stood up front and yelled my heart out to those songs with my fist in the air, trying (and succeeding) to not accidentally touch anyone else, but still not apologising for that genuine outpouring of emotion. And I’ve gone up to Canino afterwards with tears in my eyes to say thank you for everything, and I think she’s seen some of herself, after all those years of hiding in the same way that I am now, of trying to carve out our own spaces but feeling like we have to restrain ourselves until we find the strength to develop a voice that everyone agrees needs more space.
There’s no real conclusion to this piece. No ideas to take away and build upon. I’m just expressing, because I don’t have many other opportunities to do it.