Blog Archives

Is “Queer” A Useful Umbrella Term for Organizing?

This past weekend, I got into a discussion with a couple of friends at a gathering of mostly queer-identified, mostly female-identified folks.  We were talking about the problem with LGBT (or QUILTBAG, or any other acronym) as an umbrella term.  Two of us preferred not to use LGBT because of the tendency to exclude trans people and others not actually represented in the acronym.  One woman had an interesting argument, though, against the use of the word “queer” as an umbrella term for the movement.

She explained that she would include a lot of marginalized sexual identities under “queer,” including asexuals, kinky people, poly people, etc., but that she didn’t think trans and genderqueer people fit.  Her understanding of “queer” was that it necessarily refers to sex, not gender, and so it wouldn’t make sense to lump in gender identities.  She preferred LGBT because transgender people are a small enough group that some coalition-building is useful, and her take was that LGB priorities in many cases match up with transgender priorities.

Regardless of who is right in this debate, she does bring up an interesting point, which is that people tend to have an inherent sense of what any gender or sexuality term means, and often there are disagreements.  Since we don’t yet have set-in-stone language (and maybe that’s a good thing), reasonable people are likely to disagree on the meaning of terms.

I like “queer” as an umbrella because its original definition is odd or different.  I think it’s a good way to lump together all marginalized gender and sexuality identities when one wants to speak generally.  But I’m also conscious that when I say “queer,” some people may not be hearing trans and gender non-conforming under that term.  I’m also very conscious that queer people have different policy priorities.

When we’re talking about personal identity, of course, the best thing is always to simply ask a person for their personal identity terms.  When we’re talking about policy, I think it’s most useful to think about how groups naturally form around a particular issue.  When the same (or more-or-less the same) group forms around a number of different issues, then that group might be a unit that can work together and form organizations or a policy agenda.  But it’s also important to recognize that not all members of the group are going to agree on everything.

Even when we’re dealing in smaller units, we need to keep in mind that priorities may not be the same for everyone in the group.  For example, a lesbian organization needs to be aware that the priorities of its supporters of color in urban areas will differ from the priorities of white lesbians in a rural community.  Trans people and gender non-conforming people often act in coalition, but in some areas, they will have different policy priorities, and that’s okay.

Coalitions are a powerful tool.  Often, one small group will take the lead on a priority, but others can lend support when they agree.  This, I think, is what we’re getting away from with the “LGBT” idea, but it’s where its power could potentially lie.  My friend was right in saying that trans people are a relatively small group when it comes to making concrete legal and policy change.  Trans activists usually have to ally with non-trans people to get things done, and often gay and lesbian people are supportive of trans issues because there is a common thread linking sexuality-based and gender-based oppression.  But it’s important to respect the autonomy of each group, and not to use a coalition to dominate.  The best way to operate is under an “I’ll scratch your back, now you scratch mine” philosophy.

You’re Not Alone: A Video Project for Queer Youth

There’s been a lot of talk about the It Gets Better project and how “It Gets Better” is mostly true for cis-gendered, white, gender conforming, able bodied, middle-class gay and lesbian youth.  This is an alternative project aimed at youth for whom it very well may NOT get better.

The You’re Not Alone Project asks for video contributions from everyone, but especially those who are queer, trans, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, people of color, immigrants, disabled, or any other often-ignored part of the queer umbrella. The message is not that it gets better, but that queer youth are not alone.  We’re a large, diverse community that can offer support and understanding, even when change is slow in coming.

To participate, upload a short video (less than 10 minutes) to the video service of your choice.  The goal is to communicate your own experiences in your own “words”–speaking, singing, signing, using art, dance, whatever medium you prefer–with the theme You Are Not Alone.  All languages and means of communication are encouraged.  Focus on queer youth in general or on a particular population.  You might tell a story, talk about your identity or your community, or provide resources for support.  Don’t forget to tag your video with You’re Not Alone and any keywords that are relevant.  Once you’ve uploaded, submit your link to me at one of the following:



Google Plus



You can also e-mail the link to yourenotalonevideos [at] gmail [dot] com.

If interest is high, I will buy a domain for the project and post an index of all these videos on the web.  Please reblog and share widely!  This won’t work unless we get a diversity of voices to contribute.

Emotional & Social Support in Activism

I’ve been thinking about activism since a number of you commented to my last post expressing your interest in queer-movement building.  One of the ideas I have actually comes from my reading about pregnancy and childbirth in preparation for possibly one day becoming a doula (childbirth support person/advocate).  I was thinking about some of the functions of a doula as caretaker–providing massage, food, tea, helping the pregnant woman move around and bathe, etc.  It occurred to me that not only pregnant women need this kind of support!

When is the last time someone held your hand, prepared you a meal, or gave you a hug?  This question may sound kind of hokey, but I think a lot of us who are involved in activism tend to be very go-go-go, without ever slowing down and considering how to best support ourselves or ask for help.  Activism can be draining work, particularly when it runs parallel to our own self-discovery or processing.

Those of us who are interested in building a queer movement may encounter questions about our own gender and sexuality in our work.  Online community can be a great way to do this processing–through blogging, supporting others in forums, etc.–but it’s also good to have an in-person support system and think about how activists can blend social and emotional support with activist work.

I’ve been resistant to suggestions like this is in the past because they tend to come up in a gender-essentialized framework.  For example, when feminists encourage other feminists “not to deny your feminine side” or to “accept the natural desire for nurturing and care,” I tend to shut down.  This doesn’t fit into my concept of myself as genderqueer, which is separate from the gender binary.  My self doesn’t have “masculine” and “feminine” “sides.”  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need support.

I’ve talked about conscious-raising before when blogging about third-wave feminism, but I think that it’s worth bringing up again in this context.  Part of queer movement-building can be coming together in small groups for a potluck or game night, getting to know fellow activists, and talking about our own processes.  Many of us (myself very much included) could use some development of our listening skills if we want to meet the ten points I proposed for a queer movement.  Sitting down and just sharing our stories can be a valuable way to do this–without interrupting or analogizing to our own experience, or thinking about what we’re going to say next.

I also think that one way to encourage a more body-positive and sex-positive approach to activism and to life is to start in small groups.  Being aware of other perspectives and open to them is a crucial skill for activism.  Talking about our own bodies, sexuality, and queer experiences can be one way to open ourselves up to the diversity of the queer movement and to begin to flush shame and guilt about our genders and sexualities out of our lives.

If anyone in the Baltimore/DC area would be interested in some sort of potluck group or queer games night, feel free to get in touch with me at judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com.  Or if you want to propose such a circle in your area, leave a comment!