Those not in the know tend to substitute the word “gay” in for queer. Self-defined queers might be described as gay or lesbian in media profiles, for example, and queer struggles are often re-framed as “gay” or “LGBT.” This pisses me right off.
What’s the relationship between gay identity and the queer movement? Well, I would argue that the queer movement isn’t really about being gay anymore. In a lot of places gay people are fairly accepted these days. The degree to which this is true, of course, varies, and I don’t intend to downplay the seriousness of sodomy laws carrying death sentences, of homophobia in many cultures and communities, or of bullying in schools. But to some extent, at least, there is an understanding that a certain segment of gay people–generally upper-to-middle class white men with traditional family structures and a dollar to burn in some Global North economy–are “just like you and me.” Mainstream media outlets employ at least some respect when talking about the gays, and policy changes at every level make it easier and easier to be gay in this country.
Where, then, does queerness come in? In my observations, I’ve found that the queerness is about something other than being gay, and that many queers have little in common with your average gay person. Now, in some cases, a queer person comes to the queer movement because of same-sex attraction, but the impact of that attraction for a queer in the way I’m using the word is very different from the impact on a relatively privileged gay person. Many queers are drawn to the movement, and to the term as an identity marker, because it emphasizes the role that privilege plays when we look at how being out as gay affects an individual’s life. The queer movement tends to emphasize the role of family in the lives of queers of color, the intersection between the prison-industrial complex and the specific experiences of (usually) young trans women of color, the role economic advantage plays in whether a queer person has access to needed government services, etc. Claiming “queer” is an act of defiance that says “this is about more than gay or straight, this is about the fucked up system and where I reside within it.”
I don’t mean to give queers a pass here. A lot of people surely just like the word. A lot of queers do fucked up racist, ableist, imperialist, classist shit. The way I’m talking about “gay” and “queer” here doesn’t necessarily line up with how the words are used in mainstream parlance. But I think there is something going on that’s worth looking into.
Last week, a friend of mine put up a solid piece on the Huffington Post, providing some historical and literary context around Barney Frank’s use of the word “Uncle Tom” to describe gay republicans. Maya’s piece was straightforward and honestly shouldn’t have generated that much criticism. Frank was wrong. Slavery was a specific fucked-up thing that happened to a specific population, and no one else has the right to appropriate it. Move on.
But, as is the case when it comes to the Internet, HuffPo readers were not inclined to move on. They were inclined to comment, and comment they did, masquerading as reasonable rhetoricians but making disturbing arguments in fact that reveal a lot about what’s wrong with certain privileged gay folk. In a word: entitlement.
Raise your hand all African Americans living in slavery nowadays:
Now, raise your hand all LGBT people being discriminated thanks to the GOP:
The idea that comparing the gay experience to the black experience is somehow “inappropriate” is true, but not in the way the author thinks: Gays have it worse:
You don’t have to come out to your parents as black.
You don’t get kicked out of the house when they find out you’re black.
You don’t have the school telling you to “act less black” when you’re bullied for being black.
You don’t have your children taken away from you for being black (anymore).
Nobody will try to “pray the black away.”
“But…but SLAVERY!” Yes, slavery was very bad. But let’s not forget that gays used to be summarily executed. Yes, slaves were killed all the time, but people had a use for them. Up until recently, gay people were simply killed outright.
And let us not forget, when we rescued the people in the concentration camps in the aftermath of World War II, the gays were sent to prison. After all, it was still illegal to be gay.
we get it African Americans were the only ones struggling for equal rights in america…will that make you happy?….now can you get out of the way?
“…the fact that the experience of slaves and the experience of gay and lesbian people in this country are not comparable”
True, at least slaves got to live. LGBT people were often just killed, and in many other countries we still are.
“Precious few things come close to matching the horrors and indignities of the practice of slavery”
What about torture and wrongful execution?
I agree with most of the article, but the old “black people had it worse than LGBT people” thing is bogus. We’ve all faced the same hatred from the same groups of people for the same old reasons. We’re on the same team in my book regardless of race, sexuality, gender identity, or whatever as we’re all part of the oppressed segment of humans.
Maya, it is almost as if you have not once stopped to consider that there are forms of slavery besides the African-American experience.
This piece is disappointing at best.
LGBT citizens do not have the freedom to live their lives with the full liberty of every other American citizen.
If I am not free, I am a slave. There is no in between.
Barney Frank, while I am loathe to admit it, was right on this one.
This is why I want the media, and society in general, to understand the difference between “gay culture” and the queer movement. Because the queer movement cannot be reduced to gayness alone. Because we have to wake up to the myriad of oppressions that are going on simultaneously all around us, or we’ll lose the bigger fight. Because sometimes the “gay struggle” isn’t the only struggle, and our humanity demands that we recognize that. Because queer people of color exist, goddamnit. End of story.
“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.