dear straight cis people who are dedicated to deconstructing & reinterpreting hegemonic sexualities & gender roles,
instead of appropriating the term “queer” as a self-descriptor, why can’t you use the term feminist?
As someone who needed the self-descriptor “queer” as a means of processing the clusterfuck that is my sexuality before I came to own it as I do now, I feel the need to give some non-policed space around this issue. Maybe we can think of that very special place as a sort of queer-mentality or, to use the old inside-but-respectfully-outside form, pro-queer.
I don’t know how you identify today, I do think that most interpretations if queer & lgbtqa etc have special places for people whom are in the process of actively questioning / figuring out their sexuality. I cannot think of a gay space that hasn’t welcomed (young) people who just don’t yet but are eager to find some resolution.
If you are hetero & cis gender, it’s incredibly appropriative to use the term queer though. By doing so, you are removing queer from it’s context & rendering it meaningless.
Feminism is also inherently pro-queer; calling yourself pro-queer & a feminist is redundant. To use pro-queer instead implies that a political framework that is not anti-homophobia/transphobia/other social injustices counts as feminist when it does not.
I am a cis-gender queer man. When I began using the label “queer” to describe myself it may have been for a lack of a better way of describing my clear understanding that I was not straight nor heterosexual (if you separate the two as I often do in certain situations) but also clearly not “LGB.” Queer was at that time, and still is, just as much an identity label of my gender expression and sexual “orientation” (I’m bristled by my own use of the word), which has morphed through many places, as it is an ideological/spiritual rejection of a totalizing system made up of heteronorms, sexual scripts, scientific institutions, etc, that discipline sexualized behaviors and the body.
So now that I have delivered my coming out monologue, I have to disagree with you on two points. Hopefully I will speak to them on your grounds, and you won’t think any of less of me (because I fricken love your blog and rad posts).
First, although I recognize that “queer” has got to be one of the most capacious terms since it’s used by so many different people in so many different situations (and I’m totally Wittgensteinian when trying to define things, which drives me up the wall). With that said, if we describe “queer” as I described in my own identity above, then I see nothing productive with pinning “hetero” and “queer” as at odds with each other. In my use of the “queer,” there needs to be a rejection of the scientific categorization of bodies into “hetero” and “homo” just as much as there needs to be a movement away from thinking of ourselves as either LGB or straight. I live in the indescribable grey areas, blissfully lost in the cracks between the manifolds of normative sexual identities.
Second, I disagree that feminism (another one of those uncannily capacious words) is necessarily pro-queer. Every day I find my personal variety of feminism at odds with someone else’s. There could truly be as many feminisms as there are feminists if we (myself included) stopped policing the self-directed use of the term. For instance, let’s look at Sarah Palin: she is a feminist. She’s a neoliberal, pro-capitalist, anti-choice, pro-family, anti-gay, racially and ethnically bigoted, shoot-a-wolf-from-the-hip, cultural feminist. She is a feminist because she believes in equal opportunity for women, especially in descriptive political representation. What she and I have in common is some self-defining link to one or more subjective remembrances of the infinite forms that feminism has taken.
So where does that leave us? For one, if someone tells me that they are queer, then I try to adjust myself to see them as queer. Likewise, if someone tells me that they are a feminist, then I nod my head, and take them for their word. To speak from experience, that little bit of validation is precisely what allows me to step into their space and ask more questions, gauge their perspectives, and be the critical queer, radical feminist that I am (for whatever that means).
Okay, here is the thing. Queer is a slur that is directed against people who fall somewhere in the LGBT umbrella; I am extremely uncomfortable re-defining it to mean “non-normative” or even as a rejection of heteronormativity. For a slew of reasons, I think that it’s really dangerous when we (and by we, I mean queer culture at large) begin conflating sexual and / or gender identity with a set of politics. Sexuality and gender identity often influence how we observe and relate to our environments, but they certainly do not make us progressive or radical or critical or less of a shitty person.
With that being said, I am not about to tell an individual who feels a strong connection to queer than their identity is wrong or inappropriate (unless a person is pegging themselves as queer in a blatantly appropriative context, which is something that I’ve totally seen happen on multiple occasions - ie totally straight people experimenting with kink one night & proudly calling themselves queer the next day) because that is an attack on their personhood. When somebody tells me that they are queer, I also take their word for it. It is not my place to regulate other people’s experiences or perceptions of themselves, and I am well aware that I can never know another person’s full background or history.
The larger issue I see here is that queer carries much more social capital than feminist, especially amongst progressive circles. And that many progressive folks are hesitant to take ownership of the f-word because it is interpreted as passé, mainstream somehow, and inherently “ist.” I cannot help but to think that the “I’m not a feminist but…” complex is, in many cases, a direct result of deeply-seeded internalized misogyny.
I advocate for a feminism that is inherently radical (in the “of roots” sense – and that, to me, means deconstructing & dismantling “straightness” as well as the gender binary) & respectful of all people’s humanity. In other words, a feminism that is queer-friendly. I refuse to qualify my feminism because for me to use prefixes such as “queer feminist” or “lesbian feminist” - that implies that anything that is not inclusive & anti-injustice counts as “feminism” when it does not (or at least should not).
Feminism, to me, is a set of politics and actions whereas queer is a sexual and / or gender identity. Feminism is therefore something that you can challenge / question / sometimes even police. I have no qualms saying that somebody like Sarah Palin does not exhibit feminist behavior, even if feminist is a term that she has claimed for herself. Similarly, when I’ve made claims in the past that have been rooted in my white, cis, socio-economic privilege, people who are close to me have asked if I’m exhibiting feminist-like sentiments (meaning, am i doing / saying something that isaligned with my morals & politics). That type of “call out” has helped me to re-direct my behavior.
I would never substitute feminist or queer by asking others to question whether a sexual behavior or out-of-line comments makes them a “good queer” (“is that really queer-like behavior?”) because that becomes about challenging somebody’s identity as an individual rather than a behavior / action. And telling somebody that they as person are as shithead rather pointing out a specific set of behaviors they exhibit which are fucked up never does anything beneficial.
(With all of this being said, I certainly hope that neither you nor any of my other followers think that just because I may disagree with somebody on a certain issue means that I will inevitably hate or think less of them. When it comes to anti-oppression stuff, we are all trying to figure this stuff out. It’s not like school or other institutions teach us how to be non-shitty people. We may disagree or be in different places, but we have to learn to be compassionate. Anyway, none of us have identical opinions and that’s totally fine so long as we are doing our best to act as moral individuals…)