What I mean and don’t mean when I use the word “Queer”

Today is one of those days that should be illegal. Slept though my alarm, woke up with a cold, traffic was nuts… You know the drill. So I’m locking myself up in my hot little bedroom in my mother’s house and blogging about my sexuality, just like every other post-collegiate feminist. Here’s to identity politics. Cheers, as I raise my third mug of black, black tea.

One thing I’ve learned is that even though identities are fluid and can change over time, we don’t get to go around saying that they don’t exist. The whole “people are people” thing–all people are people, no matter what their race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc–is a great idea. But the reality is that we, as a society, have not yet learned how to live by this idea. Racism, sexism, classism, agism… these things all exist just as potently as ever. To say differently is a mark of ignorant privilege. Most straight, white men are able to look past these “isms” exists simply because they are unaffected by them, and even benefit from them. So the struggle for equality isn’t about looking past these identity labels, but understanding how our society handles them.

Biblical and feminist scholars have talked about “the power of naming,” the idea that categorization is actually liberating. An identity label allows you to express who you are and legitimizes your existence. My battle isn’t about abolishing identity categories, but learning how to use them properly. Don’t fit into a pre-existing category? Make a new one.

One such newly-constructed identity category is an umbrella term form all folks who do not fit the heteronormative stereotype: straight, white man married to straight, white woman. More and more, LGBTQI folks are abandoning the alphabet soup of sexual identity terms in favor of the term “queer.” This term helps us recognize that sex, gender, and sexuality are related, but not dependent on each other. I’m one of them! Without being able to call myself queer, it would be extremely difficult to let another woman know that I’m possibly interested in her. At least, not subtly.

I’m a white, cisgendered, female, femme, pansexual woman. Mainstream society would have most people believe that I’m only interested in men and males. Nothing about my appearance or behavior suggests that I’m interested in women. At least not according to social norms. But my attraction to other people has nothing to do with genitalia or femininity/masculinity and everything to do with the way they express themselves and the way we interact.

So while I do enjoy the benefits of being cisgendered and white, I do not enjoy the benefits of being straight.

Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that it would be less oppressive if I were just plain gay. That’s not fair. But sometimes I do find myself wishing that I was just interested in one sex/gender or the other. Things might be much simpler that way.

Sometimes I like women, sometimes I like men, sometimes I like trannies, and sometimes I like dykes. I want to get with everyone, and that’s considered skanky in our society. I often ask myself that repulsive question: What’s wrong with me? It may seem like an easy question to flick off the shoulder, like no big deal. And sometimes, all it takes is a verbal spanking from my best friend. “There is nothing wrong with you. You want everyone! And that’s okay!”

But other times, late at night, it’s hard to tell myself that I’m okay. I might have just watched an episode of Pretty Little Liars (strictly for socio-cultural ethnographic research, of course) and saw a bit of myself in the young sporty girl who finally comes out to her parents. But she’s gay. Unlike us pan/bisexual girls, she isn’t battling that “bar-sexual” stereotype; girls who, when partying, betray their straightness in order to please men or gain street cred.

That’s fine, I guess. Experimenting is great. But when I finally gathered the courage to tell my mom about my sexuality (that really awkward conversation that striaght people never have to endure), I was terrified that she might strip away the gravity of the moment by attributing my sexuality to a “exploration of myself.” Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you already know how horrific it is to question the legitimacy of someone else’s sexuality. For the snarky social sciencey scholars out there, Judith Butler talks about this phenomenon in her book “Undoing Gender,” where she discusses the violence of being rendered non-existent.

Yet there’s something even worse than getting other people to recognize the realness of my sexuality. And what other people think does matter–it’s called consciousness. Getting myself to recognize the realness of my sexuality is probably the toughest part of the battle. I use the term “queer” to signal that my sexuality is questioned by myself and other people.

But according to the Gender Equity and Resource Center at Cal Berkeley’s Website, the term “queer” can refer to someone who’s trying to make a “political statement.” In other words, even straight people can be considered queer, so long as their relationship challenges the man on top/woman on bottom stereotype.

I don’t agree. Even though they can be queer allies, straight people are not queer because society doesn’t question straight attraction, it supports it. Walking down the street holding hands, a straight couple will not draw blank stares or sideways glances. Coming home to the parents, a straight couple will not have to battle the very existence of their attraction. While a straight person might take it upon themselves to examine their sexuality in relation to society, society does not engage in that same process in return.

Now, I’m not trying to knock solidarity. There is a crazysuperextremelyvery important need for allies. So calling a straight ally queer is not only inaccurate and unfair, it’s also not useful. Straight people who challenge heteronormative stereotypes add a lot to our society’s struggle for sexual transformation. It’s more beneficial to have straight allies than it is to have more people included in the umbrella term that is “queer.”

Essentially, if straight people are considered queer, then if you don’t practice racism, sexism, agism, cisism, classism, ablism, etc. in your relationships, then guess what–you’re queer!

Again, just because identities are fluid, that doesn’t mean that if you chew on them enough, you can blow ’em up like a bubble gum bubble and expand to include everything. Because eventually, that bubble’s going to burst and there will be sticky, oozy gum all over your eyebrows. If straight people can be queer, then the term is no longer referring to sexuality, but political identity.

Let’s be clear. While the political is personal, the two should not be conflated. So to all you non-heteronormative straight folks out there: you’re a soldier, an ally, and I love you. But you’re not queer. (And I love you!)

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