Queer but not so queer

As I sit down to write my like, 5th blog in two days, N tells me I’ve been a bit obsessed with this the last few days. Seems that way, true enough. Typically, I write more when I’m processing something, when I am close to having my period, and when I am procrastinating on something. All three are true this week. I have been abundantly philosophic for the last two nights, and I have had at least 4 topics I haven’t written on. This is the flight of fancy that mania sometimes affords me, and I get a little manic when engaging in all three of the aforementioned scenarios.

So. On to other matters.

Me, N, and two others were gathered at N’s house tonight, just shooting the shit. We are all relatively close in age, a diverse range of race and educational and gender and work experiences. What ties us all together is one group classification: we all identify as queer.

I’m taking this damn Group Process class for grad school, which starts this weekend. It is a class in counseling groups. We’ve been doing a lot of talking about groups on this blog the last couple of days. I’m struggling with some of the material about classifying groups, as you’ve all seen. Tonight I started thinking about where I fit into groups, where I feel like I belong best, and where I’ve somehow wound up; where I feel most comfortable, and where I really don’t.

It all started with a discussion of the L Word. Two of them started talking about some show with a person named Max, and Max transitioning, and Max’s experiences with gender and I assumed N and I were out of the conversation because they had hung out the night before, watching some DVD. I assumed N and I would be on the same page because neither of us had seen a movie recently with someone named Max in it. Then N joined in the conversation with the other two, and started referring to Max, and started relating that she, too had seen whatever it was that had sparked the conversation. Now totally in the dark, and also unable to speak the language of the group, I sat and listened for some clue that I would be able to rejoin the pack. I began to make an assumption that perhaps this was a movie or documentary regarding gender identity, perhaps TransGeneration, which is coming through our Netflix soon. That tied me to the group, and I was about to join in, when I realized they were talking about the L Word.

And then, I couldn’t relate.

Here’s the thing. I have never seen the L Word, and I really don’t care to.

And I fear that makes me a bad queer person.

There’s more to it. That’s not a joke.

I only came out a year ago. My story goes like this: At 15, I found some butch dyke at the summer camp I worked at hot, but I went home, figured it was all a phase and liked boys anyway. At 16, I became friends with my 27-year-old gay boss and his partner and learned all about the AIDS crisis among gay men. Then, I was straight for years. Until I was 29 and married and all of a sudden found myself with an asinine crush on a co-worker who led me on. I mean, I had no problem being queer — it was more about working out the details of my life to fit whom I wanted to love — but trying to fit me into the community is something else.

I am really struggling with that.

Here’s the deal. First, I am a femme. I wouldn’t describe myself as, you know, a manicured and pedicured and wearing furs and pink skirts kind of girl, but I wear makeup. I like jewelry. I tend not to leave the house without earrings. I get my hair highlighted. I’m 30. I’m done having a crisis about what I like and what I don’t. I’m not gonna, like, be shaving my head anymore trying to figure out who I am. This is it: jewelry and shoes and 10 lipsticks in the purse and blonde long hair.

The thing about being femme like I am is that no one recognizes me as queer without N by my side. I don’t have rainbow stuff anywhere on my person or property, and that’s not going to change. Some people have claimed that I “present” queer, but I guarantee you, 99% of the population is going to read me as straight when they see me. The only thing that marks me as queer is N by my side, or being able to say “she” when talking about the person I love when a) she’s not by my side, and even though b) she’s really not.

Not being able to be identified as a member of the group, being “stealth,” being, basically, invisible, really demarcates you from that group, in a certain way. Aside from allowing the “stealth” to claim the privilege that the oppressing, opposing, or other group claims, it also allows the group to which you really belong, the group you’d like to identify with, separate you from its ranks. Can you really be a part of a group without appearing or taking the image of one of its members?

So while I am sitting there thinking all of this, I am also still thinking about the L Word. And why my not wanting to see it makes me a bad queer.

I came out at 29. It’s been about a year. And I feel so detached from the things that really galvanize the queer community — gay marriage, adoption rights, health care for partners — some of these are really big deals. And I understand it at this really core level of yes! Of course everyone should have these rights. But it doesn’t feel like me, like it’s my rights, too. And I feel like it’s because I look at N and the people around me and think: I’ve been out for a year. How can I fight about these things? Technically, I have only been “oppressed” for one year. I have assumed, and can still assume, hetero privilege. I would genuinely feel as though I would be an ally, and not fighting for my own rights. I don’t know how to explain this schism. It’s not because I am ashamed of being queer, had any problem in adjusting to my newfound “identity,” which I think is still evolving, potentially. But I feel like much, if not all, of the discrimination that bullshit legislation is based upon — and I think people like Fred Phelps exist because of — people like my partner. People like RuPaul. People like Elton John. People who are quite visibly queer because of gender presentation. I look straight, therefore I am a good “queer,” and go unnoticed by the world at large.

No wonder I don’t feel attached to so much that the queer community feels attached to, because I don’t even feel like a part of the community. And I don’t know how to become a part of that community. It’s like this vicious cycle that I’m processing. I feel like a bad queer for not caring enough, and not wanting to watch some show like the L Word, and not really feeling like super excited to go to every queer event just because it’s a queer event. I feel like I am not doing enough to support the community I want to be a part of but yet, doesn’t feel like me.

And that’s a really strange feeling. It’s like, You fell in love with this really cute and nice boy. And she’s just the boy you’ve always wanted to date, and things are swell. And then she asks you to prom, and she gets all sussed up in her tux, and you all pretty in your dress, and then you go to the prom, and, well, it’s just not as grand a time as you expected. And you feel bad because you somehow should make it better for yourself. Like you made it bad by expecting too much.

The most excited I’ve been about anything in the queer community was a potential guerrilla action against a business for discriminating against someone due to his gender presentation. Bodies. I get bodies. That’s something I know, understand, have felt. That’s real and earthy to me. I can fight about the rights of people’s bodies all day long. It’s one of the reasons I came to feminism. Men shouldn’t be allowed to touch women’s bodies without their permission. The government shouldn’t be allowed to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Women should be allowed to sell their bodies if they want to. Advertising has detrimental effects on women’s perceptions on their bodies. People should not touch the bodies of people with developmental disabilities unless they give them permission. I have a right to have a fat body. Fat bodies aren’t bad. Fat bodies can be healthy. I have been fighting about bodies for damn well 15 years. Adding in a queer element makes a hell of a lot of sense. And, well, if that can be my queer niche, that would be real nice.

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15 Comments

  1. annaham said,

    February 27, 2008 at 12:19 am

    This post made me think a lot.

    I can sort of relate, both to the feeling like a “bad” member of a certain community (oftentimes, feel like a “bad feminist”) and to the always confusing politics of passing (that is, on those days when I feel well enough to pass, and/or when I can walk or look “normal,” or at least look like I’m not in physical agony, even when said agony is constant).

    Anyway, I am adding you to my blogroll. 🙂

  2. Amelies_myth said,

    February 27, 2008 at 6:05 am

    I really like this post.
    It’s really interesting that you referred to youself as a “good queer” by being an ‘invisbile’ member of the queer communty. Sometimes I feel like society views me as a “good queer” because I read queer. No Hetros are going to get any nasty surprises – I’m a big fat queer – they can therefore interact with me accordingly. I feel like I perpetuate the norm/other binary. It is ok for me to be queer because I present no theart to hetronormativity. Within a Hetro context I am the “safe” queer because noone has to enter into discussion with me to deliniate by sexual orientation.
    Is it really neccesary for me to mark myself this way? Am I a good or bad queer. Does my visibility empower me or am I simply pinning on the star of David?
    Nice thought provoking post.

  3. Femme said,

    February 27, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Yes, the trickiness of who is the “good” queer…I also don’t read as queer, and my partner is a passing FTM man, so I don’t even feel like I get to identify as queer through calling him “her”.

    A sense of community can be a pretty exclusionary thing, if we have the sense that a community exists, but that we don’t fit into it. Which is especially crappy when it’s, theoretically at least, an “us against the man” type of situation. Because, damn it, I want to join!

  4. jaed said,

    February 27, 2008 at 10:54 am

    therefore I am a good “queer,”

    Reminds me of the discussions about being a “good fattie” – which in this context I suppose would mean “not very fat, has an hourglass figure, heart-shaped face, nice skin, etc.” Attractive in terms of what those who like smaller bodies tend to find attractive.

    The thing is, there is nothing any more wrong with having that sort of body than with having a body that doesn’t meet those criteria. And I hope I never see the day when people feel like they can’t be part of the FA community because they have a politically-incorrect defined waist; that’s fully as fucked up as feeling like you can’t be a respected member of society because your body shape is thus and such instead of thus and such.

    If your community isn’t comfortable with you because your appearance isn’t what it expects and stereotypes…maybe it’s not you that has something wrong.

  5. thoughtracer said,

    February 27, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I don’t know if it’s the community that’s rejecting me, or if I just don’t feel like a part of the community because I don’t look like it and don’t identify with its struggles because I don’t look like the part of the community that typically has all of the problems imposed upon it by the people who look like me.

    That’s confusion.

    I look straight. I don’t look queer. So I wonder this: Am I not identifying with the queer community because I don’t look like it, are they not identifying with me because they don’t recognize me, is there a cognitive dissonance for me because I can still claim straight privilege because of how I appear and therefore don’t resonate with queer oppression, or, have I just not found my niche? I don’t really know.

    What I do know is I imagine this is a part of growing into one’s identity. So I am willing to be patient about that.

  6. Orodemniades said,

    February 27, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I get it. I’m not gay, but I am mixed race, identifying as black (because my skin isn’t light), yet I have great difficulty thinking of myself as being like other black people.

    If that makes any sense.

    Part of it is that I grew up in the whitest state in the nation. Part of it is that my culture is white culture. Part of it is that there are a lot of things about black culture that I detest. Part of it is that I just don’t care about the same things.

    My freshman year in college I tried to fit in with the other black students (all 100 of them!). I lasted about 6 weeks before freaking out and sitting with the white kids at lunch and dinner, chilling with my friends, because honestly, I just had more in common with them (yes, even with the racism and prejudice I’ve experienced).

    I have no idea if this is making sense to anyone else but me, however, I just wanted to say…I get it. I’m not wearing your shoes (unless they’re Dansko’s), I haven’t walked your path, but the trails have similarities. Yeah.

  7. thoughtracer said,

    February 27, 2008 at 11:48 am

    I do get that. And although I am not black, or anything other than whitey white, I would imagine there’s gotta be a lot of people who may be pissed that you’re selling out. Maybe not.

  8. N said,

    March 1, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    How do you view the “queer community”? Who are they? what do they do? why don’t you feel apart of it? do you want to feel apart of it or do you feel like you’re supposed to want to feel apart of it? have you found your story reflected in the queer community and is that more or less alienating? lots of questions. . .

  9. thoughtracer said,

    March 1, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    My story isn’t unusual, that’s true. I have found it reflected, and I read books about it during the time when I was coming out. Would I stay married? Would I not? How did women in my position navigate this? I’ve passed through that phase. Here I am. And the women I have talked to, which seems to be few and far between, have all gone on to experience life differently. We were tied by that one event: we were married heterosexually, and now we aren’t. It’s especially an interesting piece of identity because for many women, straight marriage is its own issue of identity. I knew for myself, I didn’t “arrive” as an adult in the world, especially to my parents, until I was married. Even the language speaks to that: The dad “gives away” the daughter to her husband. So in a way, my identity in terms of how the world viewed me as an adult woman, depended on my partner, and now my identity as a queer woman, in terms of how the world sees me, is partner dependent as well.

    As a straight person, you don’t think about “straight community” because you don’t have to. It’s everywhere. As a white person, you don’t think about white community. But when you all of a sudden go from being a member of the dominant culture to minority culture, community becomes a huge deal. Everyone’s talking about it all the time. Someone I know said: I want 90% of my friends to be queer. To me, that’s limiting. It becomes so insular, and I do understand why: there’s safety, there’s common experience, etc etc. I just want to have friends who aren’t douchebags, really, because I seem to be challenged in the arena, being a scorpionic loner and all.

  10. N said,

    March 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Do you feel like you lost the community you had before you came out? I know straight people don’t generally talk about community the way queers do but it does exist and you may have felt apart of it even if you hadn’t named it. Did you lose that? For me, I don’t need 90% of my friends to be queer but it is true that more of my friends are queer than not. I don’t think I ever felt a loss of straight community because I felt like a fraud when I was viewed as straight by my peers but I definitely felt a sense of, well, rejection isn’t quite right but it'[s the best word I have, by my straight peers. All of the sudden they didn’t quite know how to relate to me anymore. They wanted to be supportive and I knew that but they saw me as different and didn’t quite know how to talk about that. I never did really get that connection back with those people. Some of them I still talk to but it’s different now. But then again those were folks I knew from high school.
    Sometimes folks get so uptight about being PC that they forget how to talk to each other and ask each other questions. I can feel straight and cisgendered folks tiptoeing around queer/gay/trans topics because they worry they will say the wrong thing. I understand it and think it’s unfortunate all at the same time. I know white people do it around race issues too. We don’t want to offend anyone by saying the wrong thing so sometimes we don’t say anything at all. dumb.

  11. thoughtracer said,

    March 1, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I don’t feel a loss of community, per se. Because I was never the sort to fit in, really anywhere. When I think of places that I have fit in well, it’s generally been about not something of gender, or race, or anything. It’s been about work, or music, or something like that. It’s not about identity at all. I mean, you can potentially claim an identity around anything, I imagine. “I’m a journalist.” “I’m a social worker.” “I’m a house head.” But those are not as entrenched in political and divisive meanings as “I’m a queer.” or “I’m fat.” Meaning, you don’t have parades and fundraisers and such specifically for members of that identity orientation. Not usually, anyway. Because you’re not fighting for, I guess, “rights.”

    The straight friends I’ve had, for the most part, have generally been pretty open minded about queer/trans/race/poverty/feminist/name the lefty issue at hand. And I would expect the queer people who I hang out with to be the same. But of course that’s not the case because people are individuals. I know queer people who refer to straight people in derogatory terms, which bothers me, because first, I identified as straight for a long time, and as that person, I would have never said anything so hateful about queer people, and neither would any of my friends. In my coming out process, the people who supported me most were actually my straight friends, and I’ve never heard them say horrible things about queers, even before I identified as such.

  12. Colin said,

    March 7, 2008 at 11:35 am

    For the record, I’m wicked queer (and even used to ID as a dyke) and I’ve seen, like, 3 episodes of the L Word. Similar cultural ties are important, yeah, but one thing about the “queer community” is that there are so many of them.

  13. phledge said,

    March 7, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I’m glad I found this post, because I’ve been thinking a lot about queer community and self-identification and all this. Do I apply for membership when I’m not sure I meet the criteria for the club? I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say I’m more anxious about talking about this with GLBT folks than I am with straight folks.

  14. thoughtracer said,

    March 7, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Phledge! Yes. Thank you. N and I had this conversation, both online, as you can see, and in real life. Yes, there’s lots of queer communities, just as there are lots of straight communities. I know that my queer identity is evolving. There’s always been a perpetual sense of not fitting in, for me, anyway. Anywhere in my life. I always was, always have been, somewhat of a drifter. I don’t know if I just haven’t found my niche, or maybe if I never will. Maybe I haven’t met the right people? Like, I just want to be ME, whomever that ends up being. I remember when I told some of my closest straight friends that I was “turning queer,” or whatever phrases I was using at the time, and they were like: “Oh, ok! Good for you!” or whatever. I mean, no big deal. Getting divorced was a bigger deal because he got most of our friends; my own work friends I kept and they remained supportive and didn’t care who I was sleeping with.

    Then this person I knew started talking to me about gender stuff. And about potentially coming out as trans. And her hard-core dyke-identified friends basically said: “Well, it was nice to know ya!” as in: we aren’t interested in being your friend unless you identify in this particular way. The end. And I felt sad for her. And conflicted. How could my straight friends, the enemies in so many queer folks’ eyes be more open minded to trans issues and me all of a sudden “switching teams” (as the lingo goes), than this person’s long-time friends who had been immersed in the queer scene for years? It ended up reinforcing to me that people are people, and what people’s so-called identity is doesn’t say much about how open-minded, accepting or tolerant they really are — no matter how “diverse” or rainbow colored their “lifestyle” is supposed to be.

  15. gnomeprincess said,

    March 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Most of the characters on the L Word are like you, femme looking, basically present as straight if it wasn’t for their partners or events/places they attend.


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