I hate to be the bearer of bad news, fellow not-straights, but being queer does not make us better human beings. We have to get that notion out of the way right now. We aren’t automatically on a higher plane of existence than, for example, the bread-baking elderly hetero couple down the hall, or that first cousin who had the SpongeBob-themed wedding, or Straighty McStraighterson, the barista on the corner, because of our queerness. Maybe we have surpassed these people in other ways, but that is not going to be one of them.
Yeah, yeah. It’s all been said before: the sex is amaaaaazing and everyone has better haircuts and hey, NO HETERO = NO OPPRESSION. Plus, we’re so inclusive, everyone is beautiful, and GLITTER!
It would be marginally better, maybe, kinda, if we did not continually tout ourselves as a community, one that is ‘safe’ or ‘safer.’ We aren’t; it isn’t. It’s cruel irony on top of everything else, an extra dose of harmful. There’s the white queer person who speaks out against gaslighting then turns around and cries ‘reverse racism’ at a person of color. There’s the gay man who purposefully will not call his FtM cowoker ‘he’ and ‘him;’ the person who uses an imbalance of privilege as an excuse for their physical abuse of a partner; the lesbian so-called feminists who refuse to allow trans women into their music festivals, gatherings, bookstores, and support groups; the trans woman who claims a group is ‘erasing gender’ when efforts are made to use language that includes non-binary people. Not to mention the Trump-voting LGBTQ folks. Yeesh.
For all this pissing and moaning, I’m here and I’m queer, too. It’s been a long road for me. When I was growing up as an obviously not-straight kid, the landscape was comparatively bleak. No one in my orbit truly knew what transgender meant; ‘trans,’ as far as most people were concerned, was short for ‘transvestite,’ a term that caricatured cross-dressers as perverse and pathetic (not true, and not true!). The queer teachers at my ostensibly progressive school could still feel the aftershocks of The Children’s Hour, I guess, and it makes sense, under an unofficial DADT-style gag order from the admins, they kept me at more than an arm’s length. This overarching kybosh extended to me in bigger ways, too; teachers and staff were instructed not to call me by my chosen name, and my parents were dragged in for hush-hush meetings to be told I was “questioning [my] sexuality” (no duh, said my parents, and?). This school was a block from The Center; no, half a block. More cruel irony, before irony was cool.
But: there was a freedom alongside all that. As a freaky, faggy kiddo, there was no one there to tell me I was doing it wrong. Sure, they could and did tell me I was wrong, but, twisting away from that, my version of queer grew on up like a sandlot weed: strong, and of its own accord.
Kids seem to still be forming that way, and maybe they always will. Maybe that’s the way of children, I don’t know. Thing is, now there’s a Big Queer Rulebook, an unwritten Emily Post for the undershave set, both for a more diverse audience than ever before and in turn ruthlessly adhered to. Movements and cues are meticulously drawn, quartered, and categorized, and for some, it’s a godsend, an embrace. But for outliers, the predominance of it stings, it misreads, it pushes us aside with a surprisingly heavy hand. The harshness of this is compounded by the fact that it comes from those who might, who ought to, who could possibly understand the acute struggle of a cohort queer. It can be a nasty shock; once, in my very early twenties, a lesbian some decades my senior told me, “don’t be a herm; stay butch.’ This person had known me, albeit from afar, for most of my life, a rare witness to my early childhood forays into transition. I can’t remember the context of her statement, and it took me a little while to sort out what she was talking about. What’s a ‘herm,’ I wondered. Later, much later, an embarrassing amount of time later, I got it: her + him. ‘Herm.’ I was not aware that there was a word, many possible words, for what I was – non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid – and in hindsight am thankful. Those words – don’t be a ‘herm,’ don’t be a ‘herm’ – would have gutted me rather than just left me confused.
It’s death by a thousand cuts, sometimes. When I was attempting to date after a disastrous quasi-relationship, I found myself ill equipped to navigate the nuances of life as a queer about town. At best, I was just a little lost, a traveler with an outdated map; at worst, it felt like trying to paddle a three-person canoe with a shoehorn. Anyway: I had been out with a woman who was subsequently dropping hints about a second meet up yet didn’t pose the question herself. I knew I’d missed the cue when finally, she explained her behavior. “Sometimes the butch likes to do the asking,” she said, over email. I blinked at the screen. Butch? Huh? Other than my appearance, I couldn’t figure out why she’d make the classification – never mind that it was quite obvious how painfully shy I was when it came to date-asking.
This incident was minor; very minor. But it’s death by a thousand, often not badly intended cuts. Some are silly, really; I’m teased about the black bandana I wear in summer to wipe the sweat off my neck – flagging heavy top, I see! Others slice deep, like when queer friends insult and deride nonbinary people. I guess I’ll have to bind my tits to get in now, a former pal, who is a trans woman, once said on Facebook, after a leaving a women’s group we were both in because it had become more vocal about including non-binary folks – of which I am one. Together, it’s maddening.
And who says a butch person always likes to make the first move, anyway?
Micro or macro, big picture or small, The Universal Magical Land of Queerness is a myth. “Queer magic,” as I’ve seen a few people describe our collective would-be understanding, is not the best magic for all of us. Our queerness does not ensure that we are more compassionate, more loving, or more fair, or that we are kinder, stronger, realer people. My queerness doesn’t make me more interesting — you, either.
So why in the hell write about it?
Here’s why: there is a real god damn danger in thinking, somehow, that a queer person, space, or community exists in a vacuum and is immune to the pitfalls of the rest of the world. Queer folks can be just as biased, dismissive, hurtful, mean, or violent as our straight counterparts – and, with one another, we can actually be worse. Queer venues and events are not free of discrimination, bad politics, or poor judgement. Nor is the community.
It’s true — shit does happen, it’s normal, duh, etc. Nothing and no one is perfect, sure, fine. That’s not the thing, though; the thing is that we really can’t afford to behave as though all things queer are immune to all this, to anything, to everything. We stand to hurt too many people this way. We HAVE hurt too many people this way. And the longer the rose-colored glasses stay on, the less progress is made.
So, let’s dismantle some of this, shall we? One bit at a time? We can start small.
Hell, we can just START.
RF Jurjevics is a native New Yorker, writer, and art dork. When not drawing scenes of funny animals late into the night, Jurjevics is most often at work at Ye Olde Design-y Day Job, attempting to appease two rambunctious cats, or taking off for a beach day whenever possible.