“We’re here, we’re queer, get over it!”
This used to be a rallying cry for the gay and lesbian liberation movement, but I think it’s high time we appropriate it for something different. “Liberation” is supposed to be a lofty goal, a formative moment in the life cycle, but in fact it’s become a prison cell. The more I hear from the gay and lesbian movement, the more disillusioned with it I become. It’s time for something new.
Johnny Weir Comes Out, Gay Media Pitches Fit
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. For years, the gay media has been annoyed with American figure skater Johnny Weir for refusing to self-define as gay, while mainstream journalists can’t say one sentence about Weir without a cutesy comment about fashion or mannerisms–all code for “wink wink, he’s a big ole homo.” In fact, I’m looking over my shoulder right now, waiting for the Associated Press to issue me a fine for not including the adjective “flamboyant” in front of Weir’s name in this blog post.
Yesterday, Weir finally “came out” when selections from an upcoming issue of People magazine were leaked. What did said gay media, waiting all this time for Weir to finally stand up and be counted, feel about this revelation? Well, relief, of course, because Johnny Weir coming out means that the gay media can finally “write about [and] appreciate” him. After all, without making a public statement about his sexuality, “[h]ow could he be considered a role model?”
Talk about damning with feint praise. What I find so insidious about that After Elton article, and others like it, is that any closet around Johnny Weir is entirely constructed around Weir by the same gay media that criticizes him for not coming out of it–as well, of course, as the mainstream media that describes his competitors’ talents and masculine strength in an Olympic report while only mentioning Weir’s love for Lady Gaga or his hairdo.
It’s important to note that Johnny Weir never said he was in a closet. He never said that he was straight or gay. He consistently uses quotation marks around the word closet, and in response to the leak he Tweeted the following:
I don’t remember ever pretending to be something other than I am, nor do I remember living with my coats inside a wardrobe. I just live.
In a world where heterosexual is normal, queer celebrities are necessarily “in the closet” if they don’t discuss their sexuality in public. When a celebrity says nothing, the assumption is that he or she is trying to imply straightness. What I find such a shame is what Weir said in the People article about how he was talking about his sexuality now in part because he wants to be a role model to the queer adolescents that are considering suicide. I find it devastating that someone would have to use the word “gay” to be a role model, but I also see exactly where he’s coming from. Kids are raised in this black and white, homosexual/heterosexual world. Even bisexuality is misunderstood, not to mention pansexuality, queerness, and differing gender expressions. Weir is out there being himself, doing what he wants to do, being a role model for kids–but society’s blinders say that he’s closeted, send a message to adolescents that I doubt Weir himself would ever approve.
Johnny Weir has become one of my role models because he does blur lines of gender and sexuality. As a genderqueer person coming to terms with my own gender, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a public figure being so defiant, refusing to let others put a box around his neck. I love the way he demands that the focus be put on his interests, his projects, his creativity, and not his identity labels. Even in the People article that tries so hard to fit him into a typical coming out narrative, he stirs that up a bit by talking about different aspects of himself, the things he loves, the traits that transcend a simple gendered picture.
Again: we’re here, we’re queer, get over it. It’s time for those of us who don’t fit in boxes to start our own movement.
I know I’ve mentioned here before that I get frustrated by the emphasis on marriage and the military in the gay rights movement, two issues that don’t really matter to me personally and in some ways seem less important than other issues (like decriminalization of sodomy around the world, like HIV prevention, like hate crimes prevention, like non-discrimination laws). But aside from that, I was just wondering, why marriage? Obviously it’s an important institution in our society, but I find it interesting that it happens to be the marker of how the gay rights movement is progressing around the world. A lot of countries in Latin America, for example, have really impressive laws about hate crimes and non-discrimination, but that doesn’t get emphasized in the news at all, while a new country getting same-sex marriage is automatically a big deal.
Throughout the coming year, I’ll probably be bouncing around thoughts on this space as I prepare for my Student Note with the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice. Tonight, I have some observations in three areas.
The first deals directly with gay rights, and it was a bit of an emotional crisis I had the other night. I had been receiving some conflicting messages about the extent to which our Notes can pertain to an international issue. That’s since been cleared up, but at the time I was asking myself – can I write a domestic issue? Well I could write about a domestic issue. So I started doing some searches in legal databases for the issues to see if there was anything interesting I could write about. I’m not saying that there isn’t, but a lot of what was coming up were the same issues – marriage, adoption, IVF, the military, discrimination, hate crimes, immigration. All important topics that I believe in. So why do I find it hard to write about domestic issues?
It’s like putting a bandaid on a corpse. I believe, and I am a pessimist and sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I believe that each of these issues, though solveable, will not help the situation in this country all that much. They will provide individual solutions for individual problems. People will be able to get married, or serve in the military. But this will not change the systemic hatred, intolerance, violence, ignorance, and annoyance towards LGBT Americans. The discrimination is persistent, it is terrible, and it is real. It may be more obvious in certain pockets of the country, but it exists everywhere. Everywhere, young LGBT Americans are terrified to come out to their peers. Adults experience the same fear, and with just reason. When I started thinking about the possibilities, it only made me upset. Of course LGBT people face discrimination all over the world, but this is so close to home. This is my own experiences, my communities, my adolescence. It’s hard to look in the eye. Like other minority groups, I think this struggle will take us hundreds of years, and it may never fully be over. That’s difficult to think about.
Another thought I had when thinking about my Note topic was how I wrote in my application for the Journal about the essentialization of identity. I’m wondering if I haven’t started to essentialize my own identity. The more out I become, the more I make myself a poster child for lesbianism. I’ve been able to embrace being the gay one in the room. I’m cool with that. But it becomes “my issue,” and other parts of who I am – female, Southern, etc – disappear into the background. It doesn’t change the fact that I want to write about an LGBT issue, but it does make me wonder what I’m missing by “zooming in” so much.
Finally, just a general observation about human rights. I’m seeing two complementary views of human rights that I hadn’t before, and I’d like to share them. One, which I’ve understood and held very dear for a while, is the concept that rights do not have to be enjoyed by anyone to exist. People say “but if human rights are universal, there must be very few, since people don’t really have most of the rights on the list.” My response is that they have the rights, they just aren’t recognized or enforced. African slaves had the fundamental human right to liberty throughout their enslavement in the United States, but that right was violated. Women have the right to be treated humanely and not discriminated against, but they do not fully enjoy that right in many places. It doesn’t mean they don’t have it. The second view, however, is an interesting one that I haven’t thought about as much. That view is that rights can come from practice, even where they are not recognized by the law. A scholar on Mexico, Speed (Sharon, I think?), makes this point in relation to the Zapatistas in Mexico. They took over their communities and implemented human rights, and then told the government that they didn’t need to negotiate for legislation protecting them. They had the right and so they were going to implement it themselves. Interesting food for thought.
ps – Lesbian Book Club folks, I’ve posted my thoughts on Stir-Fry here. Feel free to chime in if you’ve read it, and if you’re reading or planning to go at your own pace and post your thoughts whenever you get to it. No pressure. (Don’t forget to log-in to access the link).