I have a confession to make on this Bisexual Visibility Day–I’ve definitely got some internalized biphobia going on. Whenever the topic of biphobia or bisexual invisibility comes up, I totally “rah rah” along in solidarity with bisexual folks, but I also have some kneejerk reactions to bisexuality as an identity that I need to keep interrogating. When I identified as gay, I had the bad grace to think of my own bisexual history as a phase I didn’t want to think too much about, and I definitely made the error of thinking of bisexual people as “less queer.” Now that I identify as queer, I’ve made some progress in understanding bisexuality as a valid identity for other people, but I realize that I’m uncomfortable identifying with bisexuality or seeing the commonalities between bisexuality and my own identity.
In case you haven’t received the memo, in the United States at least, we’re living in a capitalist heteropatriarchal society. And when those two elements combine, one of the results is that it’s a citizen’s capitalist duty to literally produce people — to reproduce within a heteropatriarchal family structure. But what about the queers? Does being queer and anti-capitalist mean being opposed to production as a concept? Well, not necessarily.
I think queer creative production provides an interesting theoretical alternative to the capitalist heteropatriarchal ideal of production through reproduction. Sure, some queers make babies, but more interesting I think is another way we produce, through our creativity. Most of us don’t prioritize popping out kids to make the nationalist economy function, but a lot of do prioritize another kind of production.
Queerness has long been about producing love, producing connections, producing art and health and survival. I believe that to be queer is inherently to be making, creating, re-forming, and yes, producing. I love the way queers often form pastiches and remixes by creating on top of one another’s work, by rethinking ideas, by questioning and challenging. We get creative because we have to in order to survive, sometimes making our own alternative economies and family structures. We figure out how to survive through wit and connections and creativity. This is especially true for QTPOC and indigenous queers, for those whom society has left behind. Queerness is in this way, opposed to capitalism but also inherently generative.
I’ve said before that I don’t really have a sexual orientation based on gender, that I’m attracted to queer people of all genders. But what about people who aren’t queer? Well, sometimes I’m attracted to them too, but much more hesitant to hook up or start a relationship. Why? Because I’m sick of people, typically cis men, making the assumption that I’m a “safe” choice because I’m not too “obviously trans.”
I used to say, essentially, “don’t worry, being with me doesn’t turn you queer. You get to pick your own identity, as long as you don’t try to misrepresent mine.” But you know what? No. I’m tired of protecting cishet identities. I’m tired of fragile masculinities. I’d rather say I will turn you queer. That queerness, like a glorious disease, will spread from my body to yours and that you cannot share intimacy with me and stay “safe.” You don’t get to have those two things simultaneously. I’d rather be a threat than silent. I’d rather be scary than fearful.
For the most part, that means that I don’t want to be intimate with those who aren’t queer anymore–or at least not with those who are terrified of queerness, who are uncomfortable with queerness. I can’t sacrifice my survival for someone else’s comfort. If you’re in my life, the queer will rub off on you, at least a little, and that’s a deal breaker.
One of my favorite reasons for identifying as queer is all about fucking with how we center our understanding of relationships and attraction. In the last post, I covered how other terms don’t work well for me because they’re clunky to use as a non-binary person. But also, I don’t find terms that relate to gender to be particularly useful for describing those to whom I’m attracted. Gender just isn’t my main focal point for classifying my relationships and attractions, and I find it strange that a single trait would be so central to how almost everyone talks about these subjects. Even terms like “pansexual” are implicitly about gender–they just mean “all of them.”
Personally, I use other sorts of categories to vaguely describe the pool of folks I’m interested in. I’m attracted to queerness, dominance, and (with some notable exceptions!) femmes. I suppose I could come up with specific terms for these attractions, but I like “queer” as a way of saying “hey, you might want to ask me some more questions to understand my sexuality.” I can then describe my attraction in sentences and paragraphs, and that’s more likely to lead to a connection anyway.
In the last post, I talked about queer as a term that is inherently intersectional. Today I’ll cover one of the reasons that queer specifically makes more sense to me than any other sexuality term out there. This one is pretty simple–it’s because other terms, in my view, all have at least some reference to the speaker’s own gender, and those terms only awkwardly account for non-binary people like me.
Although I do occasionally joke with one partner that we’re in a heterosexual relationship because she’s a woman and I’m not, that’s not usually how terms like straight and gay work. What does gay mean for a non-binary person? What does straight? Certainly there are non-binary people who claim those terms, and they have every right to do so, but they don’t work for me. Similarly, while I’ve heard bisexual used to mean “both my gender and different genders,” it doesn’t have resonance for me, and I don’t know that any of these terms would be legible for cis folks–in fact, they might lead some cis folks to incorrectly assume my gender.
I like that “queer” doesn’t actually tell you much of anything about my preferences. Instead, it invites you to ask.
Since the vast majority of folks who find this blog through a Google search land here on some variation of the question “what does queer mean?” or “what’s the difference between queer and gay?” I thought it might be fun to do a short series on why I use the term “queer” as an identity and what it means to me relative to other possible labels.
One of the biggest reasons I use queer is because it’s inherently intersectional. Queer has a political meaning to a lot of people, and wrapped up in that is the importance of considering policies and human rights issues that go beyond those narrowly focused on sexuality like same-sex marriage or the rights of gay and lesbian folks to serve in the military. Not all queer issues have an obvious connection to gender or sexuality, but they do all impact queer people’s lives, because no queer person is just queer.
In my experience, queer communities are particularly likely to recognize the importance of prioritizing issues that affect our most marginalized members–issues around poverty, immigration, prisons and policing, sex work, and racial justice to name a few. These things don’t just affect queer people, but they do affect queer people (and especially trans queer people) in unique and compounded ways.
In activisty Pinterest-land, I keep seeing memes about how queer identity is “not just a phase.” I get that impulse, and I do think there are places for the argument–when people assume that queerness is a phase, especially in the condescending way adults often do with young queer women, it’s just obnoxious. But also, I’d like to question why we’re so negative about phases in the queer community. In other words–what if an identity is a phase?
I think it can be really scary to claim one identity and then change your mind. Particularly if the change is towards an identity perceived as “less queer” (which, for the record, is not a thing) you might get written off and excluded from communities that meant a lot to you. Lesbians can be pretty cruel when one of their own decides she’s bisexual or pansexual, and trans folks aren’t always the nicest to someone who decides that transition isn’t for them, or who first comes out as a trans man or woman and then realizes non-binary is more correct. I used to be terrified that this might happen to me, but then I started thinking, so what if it does?
Fun fact: people change. And our access to rights, or community services, or recognition, shouldn’t require that we have a bone-deep permanent understanding of our sexuality or gender identity. You can identify as something for right now. You can try something out and see how it feels. You can even be pretty sure about an identity for ten years and then watch as it shifts and surprises the hell out of you. Some of my favorite things have phases–project management, the moon, human lifespans. So while it’s not “just a phase,” it might be a phase, and that’s okay too!
I saw a femme on the metro the other day, and for whatever reason, this person’s gender presentation got me thinking. They were dressed relatively simply, their clothing all sharp black lines, but the combination of hairstyle, eyeliner, and a bold red lip pushed them into the femme box in my perception. They also had this challenging stare that made me blush and look at my lap, and for some reason, start thinking about the way I do femme in contrast.
Femme is one of the few identities that totally speaks to me—no doubt in part because, as an identity, it’s so fluid and can be so many very distinct things all at once. FemmeCon 2012 was one of the few events where I really felt community. One of the best things about it was that, as an entire conference for femmes, there were so many varieties of femme representing, and your femme was taken as given by virtue of being present there. There was no femme bar to entry, and so I saw femmes like me (“lazy femme” or “blah femme”) alongside a million other different expressions. I didn’t need to prove myself, or think too hard about the difference between what I’m able to show the world physically, who I am, and what I might want to be.
To clarify a bit: my gender exists somewhere between squishy shy alien creature and calm, helpy robot. It’s not really something I can represent in physical space. I am drawn to things coded feminine and to queering them, so I experience delight in the color pink, in spoonie communities of care, in fannish frivolity. Many of the things I love can most easily be interpreted through a femme lens—except, I sometimes fear, for me.
1. A queer-identified person who is geeky about data and shares an affinity with other queer data geeks.
2. A philosophy or orientation towards data that focuses on (a) challenging the norms of a data-driven culture or the data industry and (b) approaching data collection, use, and maintenance a way that may seem counter to generally accepted principles
At a recent conference, I only half-jokingly encouraged people to Tweet about my talk with the tag #dataqueer because I kind of wanted to make it a thing. I’ve been thinking a lot about dataqueerness lately, and what it might mean in relationship to my work.
As someone who works in data with other queer people, and enjoys geeking out about data with fellow queers, sometimes just being queer and being into data is a social affinity that I can happily share with others. But I’m also thinking of dataqueer as an orientation or approach to data. Smushed with a prefix this way, queer is often used to imply critically challenging norms, destabilizing or decentering hierarchies and binaries, and applying creative redefinition to a particular area of focus. If we think of it this way, dataqueer could be an identity that signals a particular approach to data.
What Does It Mean to Queer Data?
One possibility is that dataqueerness is simply about questioning the central principles of a data-driven society or industry. In business, this could mean looking at how we can use data for something other than increasing profitability and revenue or reducing risk. In academia or policy or the technology industry, we might think about how we can both be data-oriented and also question the value of a data-driven society. Rather than thinking about privacy as an afterthought or an extra layer, following the core assumption that More Data Is Good, dataqueerness might mean always asking why we need data as a first principle rather than just how to collect more.
Being dataqueer might also be about focusing on data that is messier or less obvious to analyze, spending time on the unusual data points or outliers. It might mean thinking critically about established categories and instead looking for new and different ways to slice information. Why, for example, is it always 18-35? Why are gender categories in marketing data always male and female? (What is the value of gender as a marketing demographic in the first place?) Someone who is dataqueer might take risks in going beyond how the standard data professional would approach data, and instead think creatively, applying different values or looking for different outcomes. A dataqueer person might even use data to show the harms of collecting data, or work within data with the aim of destroying or complicating data.
These are just some nascent thoughts, of course. What does #dataqueer mean to you?
In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of posts and Twitter commentary on how insidious it is when folks claim that the “A” in LGBTQIA (an alphabet soup I’m not too fond of in the first place) stands for “ally.” All these commenters make good points about why allies shouldn’t get a cookie or claim allyship as an identity, as well as about asexual erasure. I too find it frustrating how corporate white gay America, institutionalized in various forms such as the high school gay student organization, equates being an ally with actually being a GSM, often defining “ally” only as someone who vaguely supports “gay rights” and shows up at queer events from time to time. But I’m even more frustrated when I see some of the same white queer folks who make these points about how ally is not an identity that gains you membership into the queer club try to simultaneously position themselves as allies in another space—the space of anti-racist organizing and conversation.
Yes, there is a role for white folks in anti-racist work. But we don’t belong front and center. We don’t get to name ourselves “allies,” or claim membership to a club simply because we manage to have a bit more humanity than our white siblings in naming and shaming racism. Simply by virtue of being white, we are part of a brutal genocidal culture, and no person of color should have to give a reason for wanting space away from us, or for wanting us to step back in anti-racist movements.