On Queer Liberation and My Own Struggle

February 1, 2010

by Doug

“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.


Toward A More Colorful Queer Future

March 20, 2009

Over the last few years mainstream gay advocacy groups have focused their efforts on one issue, a panacea to seemingly solve all forms of inequality that gays are faced with: marriage rights. With the passage of Proposition 8 this summer in California, many people’s hopes that gays would achieve full equality in this country were dashed. What was even more distressing, however, was the wave of racist backlash against people of color in California, who were accused of being the cause of Prop 8’s passage (this is a completely unfounded claim, as studies have shown). When I look at the actions of HRC, GLAAD, and other mainstream gay advocacy groups from the past years, they make me sad to call myself queer. In particular, their perpetual focus on marriage rights as the most pressing issue facing queers, the only obstacle blocking the road to full equality, is an awfully myopic and misguided claim. To assume that marriage is the main issue all queers should be organizing around automatically constructs an essentialized version of a gay person, when the very existence of queer people should be to contradict and confront essentialism everywhere. In as much as anarchists say that “our dreams won’t fit in your ballot boxes,” queer bodies and experiences are too, well, queer, to fit in the state’s centuries-old definition of marriage. For queers to appeal for marriage is to desire assimilation into a heteronormative conception of sexuality, gender, and relationships, things which the state should have no business regulating or legislating in the first place. What scares me even more about assimilation is that it compels us to ignore the structures of power and interaction of power dynamics in this country, because supporting marriage is supporting a means of institutional oppression. Historically, marriage was never rooted in religion, but rather it was a way for the state to regulate the transfer of property from a womyn’s family to her husband, effectively binding the wife into a slaveholding document wherein she too became part and parcel of the man’s life possessions (Mrs. is a possessive form of Mr.). For queers to appeal to an institution that has historically oppressed womyn (as well as non-whites) baffles me.

Assimilation has a precedent, and it always ends up with the same results. Assimilation pretends to seize power for an entire identity group and instead simply reconfigures the structures of power in society and correspondingly redistributes privilege in a way which capitalism, patriarchy, or any other dominant ideology can accommodate. In this instance, wealthy, white, monogamous gay couples who agree with the gender binary stand to benefit, which leaves out the majority of queers everywhere. In fact, the “struggle” for assimilation, through marriage campaigns, actively silences every other queer who is not a member of this elite, privileged gay vanguard (as they have so positioned themselves), but who is enmeshed in the intersectionality of oppressions we are faced with everyday. As Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Where does a black lesbian womyn fit in the gay marriage campaign? An FTM trans immigrant from Latin America? A genderqueer working-class sex-worker from the rural Midwest?

Assimilation into state-sanctioned heteronormative and patriarchal institutions such as marriage and the military is not an option – why would we want “equality” in a state that denies those equalities to other citizens based on race, class, gender (identity), nationality, religious affiliation, etc…? Marriage rights aren’t the problem – marriage, and any form of institutional oppression, is! Mainstream gay activism is based on an outdated notion of change which is polite and gradual, a change which holds the door for the power-holders who will proceed to walk all over it, a change which actually reinforces the existing power structures it pretends to oppose. As a radical queer, I see myself as part of a larger struggle for equality, but not the state’s liberal definition of equality which hinges on white supremacist notions of individual rights and self-determination. No, I work for radical equality through collective liberation from all oppression. Where was the HRC in July 2007 when Victoria Aurellano, the inmate of an ICE detention center and an immigrant transwoman, died of AIDS, shackled to her bed after being denied medical treatment? Was it a gay rights issue? An immigrant rights issue? Or was it an issue of a legal system which reinforces white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs? In our public struggle, dividing our bodies, choices and lives into neat categories of LGBT makes it that much easier for capitalism to slowly accommodate some by extending privileges, while continuing to invent new ways to marginalize others, all the while marketing to every new compartmentalized niche identity. The time has come to realize how queer liberation is, always has been, and must continue to be bound with the liberation of all oppressed peoples everywhere. No matter if you are a white lesbian or a Filipino MTF transperson, an injury to one is an injury to all, and to effectively achieve victory, we must constantly remind our aggressors of this, our promise of solidarity.

There was a time when queers didn’t ask for change, they made it happen. A time of militant, organized queer resistance to state power, when truly fierce trannies, dykes, fags, drag queens, and all other gender traitors battled cops in the streets instead of asking nicely. A time of White Night Riots, Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. I believe that time is due for a comeback. We are beginning to look beyond the superficial, the figureheads, and peer at the privilege that keeps them in place. Even still, we can see that the dummy power-holders are not the ultimate problem, rather it is the coercive power bestowed upon them which perpetuates the systems of structural oppression, and it is this power we must seize and abolish.

Inspiration: cop cars burning on the eve of white night riots by queers avenging harvey milk's murder. they didn't show that in the sean penn movie did they?

Inspiration: cop cars burning on the eve of white night riots by queers avenging harvey milk's murder. they didn't show that in the sean penn movie did they?

Sylvia Rivera (right), famous for going up to a NYC legislator and hitting him in the head with a clipboard until he signed an equality bill, amongst other radical direct actions.

Sylvia Rivera (right), famous for going up to a NYC legislator and hitting him in the head with a clipboard until he signed an equality bill, amongst other radical direct actions.

This blog will self-destruct in 10 seconds.

February 18, 2009

Hello, and welcome to our new blog!

By “our,” I mean the Queer and Trans/Genderqueer Caucuses of Students for a Democratic Society.

In this blog, we will discuss our plans to convert breeders, elect Gay Bear to the Pink (formerly “White”) House, force everyone to get a gay marriage, and destroy the world by overthrowing the gender binary.