“Queer sexuality is as hard to define as it is to ignore” — paraphrased from Courtney Trouble (link NSFW!)
Some vocabulary to start the conversation…
First off, “gender” and “sex” are not synonymous. Sex generally refers to the biological assignment of male, female, or intersex (which, depending on the definition, occurs est. 1 in 2000 births). Gender is the social construction of sex differences, and how one presents oneself to society using these differences (feminine, masculine, femme, butch, etc). Gender is not defined by a simple binary of “woman” and “man,” but encompasses a spectrum that includes points in between and even outside of what we think of as the man-woman binary. Different societies have different constructions of gender relations.
Secondly, the “LGBT” community has reclaimed the word “queer”, so it’s cool if our straight allies use it. Seriously. It just depends if its used degradingly or simply as a term. In fact, a lot (mostly younger) queers prefer it to the acronym LGBT and dislike the term “gay community” or “gay liberation.”
Thirdly, “genderqueer” is a gender identity. A genderqueer person is someone who identifies as a gender other than “man” or “woman.” Some genderqueer people see their identity as one of many possible genders other than man or woman, while others see genderqueer as an umbrella term that encompasses all of those possible genders. Still others see genderqueer as a third gender to complement the traditional two, while others identify as genderless or a-gender. Genderqueer people are united by their rejection of the notion that there are only two genders.
And now, the conversation…
Queer liberation, formerly termed as gay or LGBT liberation, encompasses more than just a four-part acronym of sexual orientations. Queer liberation means the emancipation of all sexuality, orientation, and gender outside the realm of cismale (“cis” meaning one who accepts what their gender is assigned at birth) heterosexuality – what our patriarchal society deems as “the norm,” or the gender and sexual orientation that has the most power under capitalism.
Queer introduces the reality that human sexuality resembles more of a constellation than a binary. Alfred Kinsey, a pioneering sexologist from the 1950s, developed the Kinsey scale, where a person was rated from zero to six in terms of “purely” hetero to “purely” gay (attracted to the same gender). We now know that there really is no such thing as purely one way or another – most humans are in the grey area (but mostly gravitate to one side or the other). So what does bisexuality mean?
Bi, pan, queer: what’s in a name?
By now, “bisexuality” really should mean pansexuality (“pan” meaning attracted to “all” gender expressions). Again, “bi” reinforces the concept that you’re either gay, straight, or “somewhere-in-between.” So, bi’s or pansexuals, like everyone else who’s not defined as hetero, come to the realization and define themselves when they feel an attraction toward the same gender, or even a “different gender” than the “opposite sex.” Here I mean trans women, trans men, cispeople, and genderqueers.
Oppression and chauvinism from the Right, “Left,” and the inside
Many do not know that it isn’t the regular patriarchal culprits, namely the “religious right,” who has only contributed to queer oppression (although they are the main oppressors). Second wave “feminists” have also played a backwards role when it comes to queer liberation and sex-positivity. In general, they’ve ignored queers and trans folk to spread their own “separatist” agenda of, for example, labeling all penetration as violence or castigating queer sexual expression as sexist or misogynistic. (In the 1980s, it was so bad that many lesbians distrusted bisexual women for fear of spreading AIDS into their community.)
Furthermore, patriarchy has created the conditions for deeply internalized and, what I like to call aversive oppression, within the queer community. I’ve been to many functions and “safe spaces” where queers bemoan that “queer has become an academic construct,” or “unless you’ve really felt oppression, you haven’t gotten a taste of what it is to be queer.” While these concerns are valid, it doesn’t foster much of a safe space for the queer community to discuss the big problems at hand. Most of the “queerer than thou” rhetoric reduces our community to queer-baiting when we’ve already been questioned about our sexuality and identity from the hetero community. It’s our job to keep ourselves in check of this type of destructive chauvinism.
Some of my experiences inside and outside the queer community…
I’ve heard all sorts of assumptions, confusion, and bi-phobic remarks from gays, lesbians, and straight people:
• “Oh you’re just a sexual person” — So what if I am? How does that affect my orientation? (It doesn’t!) P.S., since when did embracing your sexuality or being sexually powerful become odd or something negative?
• “Well, I think you’re just choosing to be attracted to guys” – So you’re denying I have a “gay gene” in my body? Why should you care if I’m socialized or inherently attracted to guys? Can’t you just accept who I am?
• “So, you’re not really gay” — No, I’m attracted to both men and women – and even some who don’t define as either! Get over it.
• “I thought you said you were queer.” — Yes, I am, but I still have a girlfriend.
• “How can you be satisfied with just one person then?” – Some fall in love with one person of a particular gender and choose to be devoted and monogamous to that person. Does that mean they have one gender preference over another? Maybe, but they’re still bi or pansexual. Still others choose to be polyamorous, or to have many partners.
Which brings me to my next point. Don’t make these kinds of negative assumptions. And I say negative, because everyone assumes – it’s really not a crime – but while curiosity and intrigue are generally welcomed, pretending that you know someone’s orientation point blank is not.
Since we live in a heterosexist world, everyone under the sun usually thinks I’m straight – unless I’m wearing eye liner, fancy shoes, or I’m in some other effeminizing role, like working at a sex boutique. And after they’ve assumed and they see me holding hands or kissing someone (or many people) of any gender they don’t expect, their heads really spin. Of course this usually makes me happy inside more than annoyed, because it’s telling me that I’m breaking down their personal assumptions and their socialized heterosexist upbringing.
Can a queer man have a queer relationship with a queer woman? In my experience, absolutely we can. Of course a queer woman-man relationship has the privilege (if they’re not “recognizably” transgendered) of looking like the usual hetero couple down the street, which becomes frustrating to the queer couple (believe me!). But inside a club, a bar, or any other space where cruising or flirting goes on, people will start to notice.
Fighting for a public space for our sexuality
So why all this information about what goes on in people’s “private lives?” Because the personal is political. Because the bedroom is a political space. Because queers have been silenced for such a long time, any and every expression of our identity, of what makes us who we are, is revolutionary. And because many of us are sexual radicals – defying the constricting, sex-negative religious culture that we have been silenced and cornered in by. We believe in the politics of pleasure – that sex is not meant simply for procreation, but for everyone to express and enjoy in a healthy and consensual manner.
In order to truly be a good ally, you need to learn about the experiences of queers, and not just support “gay rights.” So the next time you hear a friend say, why should I have to hear or see another gay pride day, tell them that we get to see straight pride day everyday. Tell them if they’re uncomfortable to just think of how a gay kid thinks when wherever he goes, everything is telling him to be straight. That’s queer oppression.
Queer liberation can only come about with the destruction of capitalism and the development of socialism. We have seen over the years, great strides in “queer capitalism,” only for queers to turn on ourselves and exploit us the same ways as heteros exploit themselves. From Bacardi ads to our own TV channel “Logo,” we’ve come a long way from out of the closet, only for businesses and corporations to exploit us with different mediums. While mainstream recognition and reform, such as gay marriage, have gotten our foot in the door, we need to be kicking that door down and charging in.
How many more kids will have to commit suicide from homophobic bullying? How many more times will queers have to die from HIV and AIDS before we allow comprehensive sex education that addresses queer sex in our classrooms? How many more times will a Matthew Sheppard happen before we bash back?
Queer liberation still has a ways to go, but we must look back to the legacy of struggle and victories until we have started a movement in conjunction with people of color, the working class, and women.
Doug is a queer boy, a kinky switch, a sexual radical, and is polyamorous. He lives in the Windy City and works at a woman-owned sex store, is a youth and student activist, and enjoys smashing heteronormativity.