Sara, your Facebook friend who loves kink, her undercut, and the boyfriend she’s had since high school? Queer.
Connor, the cashier at Trader Joe’s with the purple beard, wife, and two-story ranch house in the suburbs? Queer.
Brad, your co-worker who enjoys wearing women’s underwear under his three piece suit (which you know about because he told you and everyone else in the office about it), casual misogyny, and his “trans-feminine” identity? Super queer.
Samantha, your polyamorous next-door neighbor who cares more than anything about feminism, her husband Jeff, and her boyfriend Lance? Oh yeah, queer as FUCK, y’all!
All the above people have three things in common:
- They have never once been in a same-sex relationship.
- They are cisgendered
- And ten years ago it would have been laughable for them to identify as anything other than the straight people they are, and back then the LGBT community would probably not have been comfortable with them doing so.
But sometime after 2008 there seemed to be less and less reason for LGBT people in the United States to segregate ourselves from the rest of the world. Thus was born The Straight Queer. As in: Straight people who like to cross dress (no, really); straight people in the BDSM community (no, really); straight people who practice polyamory (no, really); straight people who once kissed a girl/boy and liked it, but could not possibly fathom a future with someone of their own gender; and so on.
And if these straight people wanted to join our big faggy pool party and claim the trendier parts of our identity for themselves — and score some cool points in the process — well, what could it really hurt?
The water’s fine, come on in and join the party! There’s room enough for everyone to be queer when Obama is president! Gay marriage is legal in lots of states, and soon it will probably be legal nationwide! Don’t Ask Don’t Tell just became ancient history! The President signed an executive order protecting trans people! Same sex partners can adopt children now! Hate crimes now include LGBT people! Oh hey look, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country, just like we were hoping! Bathroom bill? Never heard of it! Progress is obviously inevitable, and we can’t wait to see what Clinton will do in her first term!
But in November 2016 a moth-eaten apricot by the name of Donald crashed the party and Trumped in the pool, and the proverbial water may never be fine again.
Since the election, LGBT people have increasingly become one of the minority punching bags of choice at the federal, state, and interpersonal levels alike. Trump promptly rescinded the executive order protecting trans people; the Texas Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not they can roll back same-sex marriage benefits such as health and life insurance; nine states have introduced bathroom bills; reports of hate crimes against LGBT citizens have risen sharply; and, well, here we are.
To put it plainly: right now it is really fucking dangerous to be someone in a same-sex relationship, to be someone with a trans history, or to be someone genuinely aspiring to either or both of the above. This means that, while no one has the right to invalidate the identity of another, there are and will continue to be immediate and considerable consequences for anyone whose choice of life partner or gender presentation makes them visible — and vulnerable.
Are straight queers going to defend us when this administration comes clawing its way into our bedrooms, our bathrooms, our marriages, and our lives? Can straight queers really be counted on to join these fights when they, themselves, really have nothing at stake in them? Will straight queers still stand with us when their own behaviors become toxic or harmful to us.
Yes, straight people, I know you have marched for us, and I’m sure you will march again. You have cared about us, and I am sure you will continue to care. But you haven’t fought for us the way we have fought for ourselves — not because you don’t support us, but because it’s human nature not to enter into a life-or-death struggle when neither your life nor your death are on the line.
“Simultaneous marches were held in cities worldwide as women from all walks of life banded together to protest against various women’s issues from equal pay to reproductive rights, which have long been central to political debate.
But where were these (white) women when DC’s town hall meeting to address missing black and latina girls was taking place? Nowhere in sight.”
Three guesses as to who would’ve shown up if white girls were the ones missing? Again this is simply human nature. People show up for the fights that affect them most directly; people just don’t have the emotional/psychic energy to fight to the death over every single issue that comes along.
A Facebook acquaintance of mine recently expressed shock in response to a post about the above-mentioned pending Texas Supreme Court decision. “I had no idea that was even a thing. That’s messed up!” she breathlessly exclaimed. This is a person who identifies as queer despite the fact that she has never dated a woman, and as near as I can tell her only sexual experiences with women have been in threesomes with her boyfriend. It’s understandable that she wasn’t following a pending legal case that would have had no effect whatsoever on her life; why the hell should she?
I am engaged to a woman, we live in Texas, and I worry about that pending Supreme Court decision every single time I work on planning our wedding, turning what for most women is a joyous project into a pitfall of anxiety and fear. When my fiancee and I talk about where we’d eventually like to live together, we must consider not only which state would be best for our respective careers and family ties, but also which is least likely to be hostile to our very existence. I must carefully consider when and where I use the bathroom lest I be mistaken for a man because my hair is up or I’m not dressed femininely enough. I have to wonder whether or not one of the men I sometimes work with, who has on more than once occasion made “dyke” jokes, really believes some of the awful things he says.
If you have never been in a same sex relationship, nor have ever transitioned — or are in the process of actively transitioning — from one gender to another, then these are simply not anxieties that you will understand. So whom does it help when you, a person with vastly different life experiences and stressors than people like us, claim our identity as your own? I can tell you with certainty that it does not help us. Being queer wasn’t an identity I ever decided to have or try on for kicks; it was the result of a painful and prolonged process, to accept and understand that who I was and who I loved would involve real, sometimes very unpleasant consequences. Most gay/bi/trans people have a similar story — or a much worse one.
And before anyone accuses me of “erasure” or “identity policing” or another thought-terminating cliche that ilk, consider that one of the principal failures of identity politics is the refusal to discern between the different levels and severities of harm. I can present no better evidence of this in action than the following following excerpt posted right here on Medium by an ostensibly bisexual “high femme” not one day after the Pulse shooting in Orlando in which 49 LGBT people were killed and a further 53 were wounded:
“ Bi erasure and femme invisibility…means I get dragged back into the closet every damn day. It hurts every time, but today in light of this already bleeding wound, biphobia and erasure is excruciating.”
Let me again frame the above quote for emphasis: One fucking day after the deadliest and most devastating act of mass violence ever perpetuated against the LGBT community in the United States, this person felt the need to equate — and in fact prioritize — the pain of invisibility over the pain of actually being gunned down, murdered and/or severely injured. You know what? You know fucking what? I’m going to take a super big leap here and say that actually being shot and killed by a terrorist explicitly because you are gay and attending a visibly gay nightclub far outpaces the “pain of invisibility.”
Perhaps you still believe that what I’m saying here is, at best, biphobic — that I’m denying the very real lived experiences of people who have experienced same sex relationships and then later gone on, for whatever reason, into relationships that are seen to the outside world as heterosexual. I am not talking about those people here. Hell, I myself have been one of those people. I have dated men and women both before and after transitioning! I know firsthand how painful it can feel to have one’s past experiences erased or ignored by those around me, and how lonely it can feel to lose the sense of community that comes with LGBT life, after entering into a relationship that reads “straight” to the outside world. People in situations like this have actually lived their lives in such a way that have, at one point, shaped who they are and put them under many of the same stressors and threats faced by other LGBT people. They are our brothers and sisters and absolutely deserve our respect and protection.
The travesty that I am specifically calling out here is the fact that we have expanded the umbrella of “queer” to include people who’ve never once felt a single drop of rain; an umbrella that is already stretched to the point of breaking in half, at which point it will help to protect no one.
The LGBT community is under attack from about six different sides right now. We need allies, not interlopers who want so badly to join this pool party for the free punch and pie, but not badly enough to arrive early and help set up, and certainly not badly enough to stay afterwards and help clean the Trump out of the water.
Perhaps now is the time for LGBT people to simply move on from Queer. While we may have reclaimed what was once a slur from the mouths of our oppressors some twenty plus years ago, it has since been reclaimed from us, by our well-meaning — if misguided — straight friends in an attempt to show solidarity while at the same time gaining some “cool cred.”
So to all my cool straight friends, I say: You win; queer is yours. You have beaten a word we once proudly owned into an unrecognizable pulp, colonized our identities, and ruined our party. We’ll show ourselves out, thanks.
And to my LGBT family, I say: This party’s dead. Let’s go and build spaces that center our lives, our safety, and our experiences — and this time let’s be more careful about whom we put on the guest list.