Inspired by Dylan Ryan’s post on the Good Vibrations blog, I’m taking the time here to answer the same question: What it means to me to be queer.
So often in women’s sexuality, we define ourselves by what we’re not into rather than what we are. Many women-loving-women have had the experience of being hit on by a man. What do we say when they ask to buy us a drink? “No thanks, I’m a lesbian.” In this scenario, the word lesbian means “I don’t dig guys” more than it means “I love women.”
“Lesbian” is a word of exclusion, too, because of internal biphobia and heterophobia in the lesbian community. So often “lesbian” implies a complete lack of attraction to the opposite sex OR at least the outward denial of such attractions when they do arise.
“Queer” is a word of both exclusion and inclusion. It’s a word people gravitate towards when the other words available to us just don’t work. What does Queer exclude? 1) People who feel quite comfortable with any of the labels already out there (like gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, swinger, slutty, trans, etc). 2) People who see the word “queer” as the slur that it once was.
Queer, by its very definition, is a word for the fringe. It represents the “off,” the strange, the not-quite-anything. Queer is both an adjective and a verb. To queer something means to skew it, recontextualize it, or remediate it. Sometimes this means to apply a strictly queer sexual context to something, as in “queering art” by laying over a canon a queer sensibility (such as skewed gender roles, homoeroticism, or kink, for instance).
Sometimes, it means taking something out of context so that its essence can be better understood.
Thus, queer is both an addition and a subtraction, inclusive and exclusive.
I am queer. As soon as I was able to understand my sexuality, I identified as “bi.” I believed that gender didn’t matter as much as the person it was attached to. After I graduated college, I realized that gender very much DID matter to me when it came to dating and sex. Most men repulsed me, mostly for social/patriarchal reasons, but there was also the occasional issue of odor. Over the years I began leaning far more towards woman all the time. Yet, the word lesbian never fit. To me, claiming a lesbian identity meant I would have to deny my past loves with men and negate the possibility of a future with a non-woman identified person. Not all lesbians feel the need to do this, but I did. The word didn’t work.
But queer, then, instead of bisexual?
This is a loaded question, because the term bisexual is so fraught in our culture. The whole bi issue is a topic for another post. But I will say that I don’t identify as bi for a couple of reasons. First, the word bisexual implies a binary. It’s right there in the first two letters= “bi” meaning “two,” making the term mean sexual attraction to two sexes or genders. I am of the mind that there are not simply two genders, so calling myself bisexual doesn’t fly. Also, I don’t identify as bi because I grew up thinking that bisexuality indicated a certain impartiality among gendered attraction. To be bisexual, in my mind, meant that the sex of the object of one’s affection was irrelevant to the attraction. Whether or not bisexual people consider this to be true, I don’t know. Regardless, because I have skewed so strongly towards women for so long, calling myself “bi” feels false.
I’m now in a polyamorous relationship with a cis-gendered man. Other than him, my intimate relationships are nearly exclusively with women, gender-queer folks, or trans-people. If I called myself a lesbian, it would be hard to maintain my love life in an authentic way for outsiders. I still consider myself a dyke, as dyke implies a cultural and political bent in addition to sexual proclivities. Overall though, I consider myself a big ol’ queer.
Queer works because it works. Its ambiguity is its strength. It casts a large net and in doing so, creates a solidarity among those within it.
LGBTQIAA – the acronym gets longer every year, representing the further fragmentation of our community. While many may feel safe to have a letter that represents them- to have a standard they need to live up to or into, each letter separates us from each other.
Queer, though, queer is everything. As a cis-gendered dyke in a polyamorous relationship with a queer cis-man, I can live under the same umbrella as het gender-queers, fairy-butches, trans-fags, femme bi mamas, kinky daddies, and so on. We get to live together, play together, and fight for our rights together, because that’s the whole damn point. Fragmentation may be good for solidarity at the beginning of one’s journey. It’s important to be able to spend time with people who look and think like you do, to establish a solid sense of identity. Beyond that, though, is the realization that our fights are connected. That racial injustice begets gender injustice which begets sexual injustice. Queer is an identity that links all the non-normies together under one big freak flag.