Tag Archives: reclaiming

Why Reclaim the Word “Queer”?

As a woman, the word “gay” does not describe me. I’m told gay is meant to be all-encompassing but if that were so, why do we say “gays and lesbians”? Wouldn’t that be redundant? It is similar to how women are told the word “man” is meant to apply to all of *mankind, yet I still get surprised looks when I walk into the men’s room.

The next solution offered for describing queers is “LGBT.” First, let’s admit that “LGBT” is hella awkward. It’s hardly the catchy marketing hook you’d expect from a people known for being fashion-forward. More importantly the acronym LGBT goes to the heart of why there is a need for “queer.” We need a word that summarizes all the gender and sexuality misfits and tacking together a long string of letters is hardly the best way to do this. “Queer” does not state someone’s sexual preference or gender identity. It doesn’t say which letter they are to be categorized under. It merely asserts that one doesn’t fit into the norm.

I will staunchly defend whatever sexual identity an individual claims—who am I to say I know their loins better than they do? You know that limp-wristed straight guy who carries a man-purse and keeps his eyebrows meticulously groomed? In LGBT circles there’s an ongoing debate about when this fellow will accept who he is and come out. This is a shame because the whole point of this movement is to give people the freedom to be whatever they want to between the sheets. Not that I want to encourage closet cases, but pressuring people is not going to make them more comfortable coming out. The word “queer” gets around all that. I can say, “Sweetie, you may not be gay, but you are definitely a little queer,” where queer means what it has always meant—divergent from the norm. If he takes offense, then we can have a conversation about why it’s OK to be different—fun!

Perhaps what I love most about the Pride movement is that it teaches Johnny Hetero and Susie Vanilla that there’s more than one way to be sexual, and that that’s ok. When Johnny accepts that some boys like boys he can admit his own hetero fantasy of being dominated.  Recognizing the validity of queer desire can help Susie come to terms with the fact that she can only get excited when she’s being secretly watched. Thus even Mr. Hetero and Ms. Vanilla can see the personal value in the Pride movement. While ninety percent of folks are straight, there are very few people who harbor not a single kink in their desires. Deep down, we are all queers.

Reclaiming “queer” is more than a political statement, it can be tremendously helpful to the outliers. This includes not only the perpetually undecided adolescents but also the middle-aged bisexual woman who’s been married into a straight relationship for twenty years. “Queer” still describes the gay male who suddenly finds she is “straight” when she comes out as trans. “Queer” describes the intersexed and the hetero cross-dressers and the whole genderfuck lot. Adding more letters to LGBT is not the solution, because that way of thinking continues the idea that we know all the ways to be an outsider. It puts the emphasis on classifying when the truth is that so many of us came together because we are tired of being classified. In the past there has been in-fighting about whether these people are gay enough, whether they counted. I bet there wasn’t a single person at the Stonewall riot who would have turned away someone sincerely asking to join the fight and gain acceptance under the queer umbrella.

I say “queer” because I don’t want to get hung up on which box to tick. I say “queer” because it is more inclusive and in a game of Us Versus Them, we are stronger when Us is bigger, more diverse. I say “queer” because of all the beautiful people I have known who are not quite straight and not quite gay, but certainly part of this movement. I say “queer” because it reminds people that sexuality is as complicated and personal as the individuals it describes. I say “queer” because there are as many ways to diverge from the norm as their are colors in the rainbow.
Queer Little Ponies pic thanks to Zak Hubbard.

*For example, does Oscar here describe all people, or only men? “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” –Oscar Wilde

A Feminist Click Moment

Or: How Feminism and A Love of Drink

Saved Me From the Perils of the Devil

I was a teenage satanist. Under the tutelage of Anton LeVay's The Satanic Witch, I didn't think women needed equal rights. Women were already the most powerful creatures in the world because they could get whatever they wanted through the subtle, irresistible guile of a woman's sexuality. You could not convince me that men got all the jobs and the money because Satanism had taught me that for one sniff of a woman's musk a man would change his mind about foreign policy and hand over the keys to his Porsche. We didn't need to be in charge, at least not officially. Of course by this view, the men immune to the stuff between a woman's legs, gay men, should've been at the pinnacle of the power pyramid. Nor did this view take into consideration how complicated sexuality and attraction are, nor numerous other aspects of inequality like vaginal mutilation, domestic abuse, etc. Satanism didn't address the subtle messages that young girls receive telling them they are princesses in need of rescue. Doubtless the message that all I needed to succeed was a cunning mind and a short skirt was ripe fodder for a cherry bomb raised on fairy tales. If Marilyn Monroe didn't need feminism why would I?

Going to Women's Center meetings in college didn't shake the feminism into me. On the contrary, the women present were all extremist stereotypes and I relished disagreeing with them. They told me women were silenced but so far no one had managed to shut me up. They spoke of empowerment but I didn't need to be reminded that women could be capable and strong because my mother told me I was these things and I was still only a girl.

No, the feminist seed was watered by copious alcohol. Specifically the game Asshole. If you haven't played it, a key aspect is that the winner of the previous game could tell anyone else to drink whenever they wanted to for the entire next round. As a Freshman at one of the leading party schools, I'd become an adept and frequent President, dishing out sips to jolly drunks. Many men who could game amiably threw temper tantrums when I came to the President position. It had happened enough times to become predictable, til it got to the point that I avoided playing the game with any man I was dating.

Back in class we were studying the feminist implications of M. Butterfly and Ibsen's A Doll's House. My feminist “click” moment came during one of those discussions where it was theorized that abusers were actually, deep-down-inside, insecure. I was rolling my eyes because that particular reversal of thinking has always struck me as a stinking cliché. It was right up there with “bullies are just scared” and “he pulls your hair because he likes you.” As if cruelty were perpetuated by helpless cute puppies. Such claims were brought with no evidence save wishful thinking. Yet where was I left but without any lunch money and an aching scalp? I'd seen domestic abuse up close and if those guys were insecure, they weren't any more so than plenty of other guys that don't beat the shit out of people.

We read an essay on the topic. It was either by Judith Butler or it began with a quote by Judith Butler (I regret that my googling was not able to come up with the essay or quote). It surmised that the insecure abuser has been taught that he is inherently superior to all women. What does a man do in this position when a woman bests him? How does it make him feel? It wouldn't be the same as being bested by a man. If you believed that women were inferior to all men then to be outwitted by a woman was in essence to be put not only beneath her but beneath all men. Either she was not truly a woman (or she couldn't have surpassed you) or he was not truly a man—and cognitive dissonance would lead most men to the former conclusion.

This rang true for me. It explained why otherwise ordinary men couldn't handle losing at Asshole. They were acting out the same seething rage the essay described. It wasn't merely that they didn't like being told what to do by a woman, it was that the orders were coming about because they had lost to one. I actually played with one guy who, gaining the presidency in a later round, insisted I shotgun an entire beer for every penalty sip. Of course I'm not suggesting this gent was a wife-beater, but his anger was real, tangible. He wanted to punish me for winning.

Why was this the “click” moment for me? Why did this essay linger with me and transform me into the totally bad-ass feminist writing here before you today? I think mainly, it felt fair in a way none of the Women's Center rhetoric had. Most of the feminist arguments I had previously heard made men out to be villains. It was easier for me to believe that women were secret satanic goddesses than to believe that half the population consisted of dickheads going out of their way to fuck over the other half. Besides, I'd met some dudes in my two decades and they weren't terribly menacing. Compared to my own foreboding demeanor, most of them were downright pansies.

But it was the quote that stuck in my brain. Again, regrettably I cannot reproduce it, but the gist of it was this: simply because men are the enforcers of oppression doesn't mean they aren't subject to its rules. Maybe men didn't want to be better than women. Just because they were born into the role didn't mean they had any desire to perpetuate it. Superiority is a lot of work, especially when it is a lie. And there were so many incompetent men out there! How exhausting must it be to be forced to interact with woman after superior woman? Here we satanic sex goddesses come along, minding our own business but being awesome all the same, and this guy has to feel like dirt just because it is so painfully obvious that he's our intellectual inferior. Surely it wasn't too unreasonable to think some of these guys would get angry at some of these women eventually. It was all very sad for all parties and the only cure I could see was for the men to somehow learn that it was OK for a woman to be better than a man. I had to recognize that as an inherently feminist position.

What is striking to me about the epiphany that led to me to entering the fight for women's rights was an interest in what is best for men. Perhaps the truth in the argument appealed to my sense of integrity (e.g. it was not about my self interest as a woman gaining something for women). The basic idea that men may not relish their role could be applied to many circumstances besides the domestic abuser. What of men who wanted to stay home with the kids? What of men who wanted to knit and sew? What of men who wanted to be pursued, protected, nurtured? Which is not to say that they had it worse than women—anyone could plainly see they got the sweet end of the candied apple. And if the system wasn't even in the best interest of men, who was it working for? The musky supermodels, turning themselves inside out to fit a generic high-impact sexuality? Hardly. When the final piece clicked into place, I could see that the whole framework of gender rules was at best unnecessary. Ah-ha and then some: feminism will liberate everybody.

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