Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Complicating Queer Community

Apologies for not posting (again) on Saturday. Minnesota has been having a heat wave of epic proportions and I found myself seeking refuge in the Guthrie (for the last time this summer, *sob*) and in a swimming pool at a friend's apartment building. It's still hot, but I've moved out of my apartment, waiting to move to the new place, and am currently residing at my parents' house which is blissfully air conditioned. And so, I'm going to attempt to tackle this blog post, even though it scares me.

Why does it scare me? Because I'm writing on a provoking topic which I don't have total direct experience with and, considering the strange and sudden increase of traffic on this blog, it's likely to gain me some harsh feedback (which I probably deserve). So I'm a little nervous about posting it, but I feel driven to anyway. Why? Because I think having a dialogue about issues is important - even if I'm wrong. And though this isn't necessarily a dialogue - because it's a blog post and it's all "me me me" - it's the best I've got. So here it goes.

I came across this post on Tumblr a week or so ago and it caused me to get suddenly upset and then very, very confused: 

First off, if you are new here or don't happen to know, I am a cis hetero female person (or: I identify myself as female, and I was physically born female. And I'm straight. And a human). Reading this post as a cis hetero female person, I was kind of taken back by this. I live in Minneapolis, considered by some to be a gay Mecca, and I'm often interacting with the queer community (yes, this is a label for a certain group; hold your thoughts on that - I'll get to that (eventually)). Throughout my experiences, I'd have to say that excluded is not something I would ever initially tie to the queer community. If anything, they are incredibly accepting. And so, I tried to parse out this very short but seemingly complex post in my mind, trying to understand what this post conveyed, especially to the people who had reblogged it (of whom there are quite a few). What follows are my thought processes in trying to understand it.
Before I begin that, however, I would like to state something right from the get-go because this is a very sensitive topic. I am no expert on queer studies, GLBTQA rights, being gay, etc.  I understand I am an outsider to all of this. The fact that this post is not immediately expressing some truth or known understanding to me may be telling in itself. But I am an ally and while I don't believe I should be commended for it ("gold star for you, you care about queer people!" - please, no, don't commend me believing in basic human rights) I do think that allies are important. I understand that often allies overshadow other groups, which is unfortunate (such in the case of the acronym GLBTQA, where is A is sometimes thought to mean ally, but is also supposed to stand for asexual and leads to asexuality being overlooked) and while I don't see the need for allies to be added into an acronym, I would also like to combat the assumption that all straight allies are cis-gendered assholes or presumptuous, glory-hungry allies who want a cookie for having gay friends. These are assumptions often made by the internet, and I don't much like them. Nor do I like the assumptions made about queer people or the queer community or the idea of a queer community itself.

Let's star there. The idea of a queer community is nuanced and complicated. There is no comparable facet for straight people because we're the hegemonic norm. There aren't straight clubs or a straight community because we're still considered the majority and thinking that we need a community like that when we can turn on the TV and see heterosexual relationships and kiss comfortably in public and people assume or significant others are of the opposite gender would be ridiculous. Thus, there's the idea of the queer community, a space for people who do not fit in this little box of hegemonic normalcy (which is extraordinarily restrictive, even for straight people) to better express themselves and rebel against the stagnation of a restricted way of being.

Of course, this idea isn't without its problems. In my personal experiences, there is no one queer community to rule them all. There are a lot of different, diverse, interesting people who identify as queer who have lots of different opinions and lots of different things to say. But too often I see the idea of queer community whittled down to something more simplistic and it worries me. For instance, the other day I saw a post on Facebook from a friend of mine. It was an article about athlete Tom Daley. My friend had posted it with the comments "For those who like Tom Daley (aka every gay ever)." Someone commented that most women also liked Daley and my friend commented back, "If you were a gay man, you'd understand how much of an icon he is in our community... " Okay, so I'm not a gay man and I don't know anything about Tom Daley, but if I did, I gather I could probably understand pretty easily why he's such an icon. But to the entire gay community? Ehhhhhh... I'm going to say no. Because when I think of the gay community, I think of a lot of diverse people. Including lesbians. Unless there is a group of lesbians that really support Tom Daley as an athlete - which there totally could be - then I'm going to have to strongly disagree with my friend here. Even just amongst gay men, there have to be gay men who are disinterested in Daley, because Daley represents only one kind of man. Sure, there are certain ideals just like there are in the straight community, but why focus only on that? Maybe I just want some more confirmation on this because I happen to be a straight girl who doesn't care about Tom Daley.

This may seem really minor, but it does worry me. I had the understanding that the queer community formed to get away from assumptions about identity and sexuality and to celebrate diversity that was not being seen elsewhere. However, it seems like certain kinds of diversity are continuing to be excluded. Gay women, queer people of color, people who are transgender, asexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, I could go on. The idea of a queer community is supportive and can be positive, but it can also be very limiting. I may not have first hand experience, but I'm a person who doesn't fit into the queer community but doesn't really thrive in the hegemonic norm either. But I thought the whole point of a queer community was to not be exclusionary, to be diverse. The problem with heteronormativity and hegemony is that it isn't diverse - it supports a niche idea, and that's it. I don't want the same thing to happen to the queer community, where in order to gain popularity they exclude people or color or queer women or other identifying groups. And some people don't even like the label queer or gay because they find it a pejorative and would prefer something else, or no label at all.

This brings me to another concept present in the Tumblr post: exclusion. The post talks about excluding cis hetero people and perhaps I'm hung up on the verb of this more than anything else. While it's true that cis hetero people don't need representation in the queer community, I don't think exclusion is the proper word to use. It's an active word and I think the separation is more passive. Generally, I think that many cis hetero people don't care much about the queer community and that caring more and wanting to be involved (note: involved with, not identifying with) would be a positive thing. However, this engages with another issue - the difference between acceptance and tolerance, as well as mainstream versus subculture.

Right now, I believer that the queer communities (plural because I want to complicated the idea of it) are a subculture working towards tolerance. However, I see a lot of action that seems to point towards the desire to be a mainstream group that has acceptance. There is a difference - tolerance would allow for basic human rights, less to no discrimination, and fair treatment. Acceptance is a much more complicated issues. No group has ever fully reached acceptance in the United States of America (and many, still, haven't fully achieved tolerance). Acceptance is a wonderful goal, but it is also difficult to achieve. It rests on the the hope that everyone can love and accept everyone else which, unfortunately, the human race doesn't have a very good track record for. I'm not saying that striving for acceptance isn't possible, but I believe it's important to see the difference between the two - especially when there are cis-hetero people who are still being widely discriminated against based on race, faith, or nationality. While it would be wonderful to see queer people represented as much on TV as heterosexuals and treated the same by the media, it is also important to recognize how few groups have achieved this and that the queer communities do not exist alone in a vacuum - they are all engaged with race, nationality, faith, economic standing, and so forth. While there is a push to label things as a "queer issue" or to be constantly vigilant about queer rights, I think it's important not to get a narrow focus and live for only one cause. The world is wide and broad and complicated and everything ties together. The reason I support queer rights so vigilantly is that I can see how they tie in to so many other issues and philosophies and things I believe myself. A class I took in college talked about how once all of our causes were more integrated and now they are splintered off into separate issues and it seems you have to give your back to just a few instead of several. I'd love to see a movement back towards combining feminism, racial equality, queer rights, and other back into one main camp. I think this is possible, but seeing things only through the scope of a "queer issue" could be limiting. I'd also like to acknowledge that for some, being queer isn't about ever being mainstream - some do not care about ever reaching acceptance. Perhaps if acceptance were ever reached, it would be come as limiting as heteronormativity because groups would have to be overlooked in order exist in such a state.

With that mindset, perhaps that's where the exclusionary aspects are coming from. Perhaps there is a need to exclude straight cis-people because there is a worry that things are becoming too "mainstream" so to say or watered down with people who are not part of the gay community trying to invite themselves into queer culture, or issues with acculturation. Gay rights has suddenly exploded into the mainstream, especially through music such as Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and Macklemore's "Same Love." I get the feeling that generally people care more about queer rights and are becoming more accepting (then again, I live in Minneapolis). But I can also understand the fear that people just want to care about gay rights because it's trendy or they want a gay friend because *insert stereotypical idea here*. I don't think this is happening broadly (happening in some situations, certainly) but it's something to be aware of. I think that more visibility is better than none, but it will take effort to maintain complexity (which is why I began stressing the importance of keeping the idea of queer communities diverse). That being said I'd like to further engage with ideas of acculturation.

While acculturation would better suit a culture that is perhaps more distinct from the mainstream than certain facets of queer culture(s), I can see how it would be useful there. For example, there is a club in Minneapolis known as the Gay 90s. It is recognized as a gay bar but is not as popular for GLBTQA people to hang out because it has become popular and trendy for straight people to come to. You begin to see how this is an issue.
As a person who spends an absurdly large amount of time in gay bars, I feel guilty about this. However, I don't go to gay bars because they're popular and trendy. I go because the friends I go with happen to be gay. During a celebration on July 31st for the activation of the marriage equality amendment at midnight, my friend Kelsey asked, "How does it feel to be the token straight friend?" I realized that out of my friend group, I was the only straight person. And I loved it. I go to gay bars because that's where my friends want to go. Maybe this is some kind of infiltration that I'm unaware of, but it's not like I'm forcing my presence there. I'm just... there. And it's cool.

There's much more to say about the straight people at gay bars thing, but for now I'm going to table that discussion because I don't get the vibe that this post is commenting on acculturation really. If it is, it isn't clear to me how that is. Instead, I'm going to move on to the comparison part, which is the issue that really has be concerned and I find it the most isolating for people both in and outside queer communities.

The comparison of the queer community to homelessness is strange and frustrating to me. I know that it's meant to liken straight cis people to millionaires who have power and luxury (which is something a lot of straight cis people don't have, actually), but the comparison to the queer community as the homeless is odd. While there are both terrible stigmas attached to being in the queer community and being homeless, homelessness is something that is considered transitory, a state that one does not want to be in forever. While there is nothing wrong with being a homeless person, the situation of homelessness is not a positive thing. Being GLBTQA, however, is not meant to be transitory - it is permanent, final. Baby, I was born this way. It is meant to be celebrated and cheered on. Homelessness is something that we want to end; queerness is something we want to expand. However, this post shows both as negative and seem to insinuate that queerness should be changed and appears to actually argue for what it should be against. 

The post is probably trying to say something about how straight people and millionaires don't care about GLBTQA members as well as the homeless and thus exclude themselves from their issues and don't try to help their causes. But I find this a very odd way to express this idea. And at this point, I no longer know what this post is trying to say; I'm just offended.

What confuses me further is that the same user who reblogged this post also wrote this text post:
This post I completely agree with. The issue with social justice online is that it often attracts people who only think the same things and thus all of the same ideas are discussed. Maybe I don't understand the other post because I don't know the sort of people who would support that kind of idea. Maybe if I did I'd still think they were wrong. I can't say. I am, however, curious about it and want to better understand it, even if I do continue to think they are wrong. It might seem strange that I care so much about a little Tumblr post that's only twenty two words, but I care because it was reblogged over 4,000 times. These things matter - it clearly resounds with a lot of people. Some voice and sentiment is being stated here and it is supported in some way. I'd like to know what that is. When I don't understand something, I want to go out and explore it, not be told I won't understand it or be shunned away from it because I don't belong in that group. I would like to see that what I've theorized on the post is wrong - and if it's wrong, please kindly tell me why. But on the off-chance that I'm right, I'd like the ability to try and complicate discussions about queer communities, GLBTQA rights, and working with allies, not to demean what they are doing but to better the work and widen the scope. Being human is complicated - and I'd like to see representations of GLTBQA communities that are complicated as well.

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