2013-07-07 18:17
[personal profile] flexibeast
Nowadays i don't actively identify as 'queer'. If someone calls me 'queer', i'm usually fine with it; but otherwise, i tend to avoid using it to describe myself.

My first encounters with the word 'queer' in a positive sense were of people seeking to reclaim it as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual identities1,2. This seemed to me to be a potentially useful approach to alliance-building - emphasising commonalities rather than differences, all the better to challenge het-supremacy - and so i happily started applying it to myself, alongside 'bisexual'.

Of late, however, i've come to the conclusion that 'queer' is becoming so broad as to be effectively useless.

Firstly, i recently learned that in New Zealand, 'queer' doesn't just refer to non-heterosexuality, but non-cisgender genders as well. In this usage, one could be heterosexual but transgender, and thus 'queer'. This differs from the usages i've encountered here in Australia, where 'queer' on its own - i.e. outside of constructs like 'genderqueer' - is taken to be a statement about sexual orientation/preference, not gender. That is: in an Australian context, if i labelled myself 'queer', i would expect people to understand that to mean i'm non-heterosexual in some way, without any implication about my gender. If i were to do so in a Kiwi context, however, it could mean i'm "heterosexual but non-cis" or "non-heterosexual but cis". To me, there's enough of an issue with people believing that 'trans' is a sexual identity3 as it is without a term that actively tries to elide the distinctions between sexual orientation/preference and gender.

Secondly, as i note in this tweet, "[a] difficulty with umbrella terms is that they often evolve to become synonymous with the group under the umbrella with the most #privilege." In my experience, a number of people use 'queer' as a synonym for 'homosexual'. So i've witnessed situations in which women gripe about a guy coming on to them "even though I've said I'm queer" - a usage of 'queer' which conflicts with the (in my experience, common) usage of 'queer' to mean 'non-heterosexual', i.e. to mean not only lesbians and gay men, but those who are bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual etc. as well.

Thirdly, though, and most critically, people seem to increasingly be using 'queer' to mean something along the lines of "differing from at least one societal norm". In this usage, one can, for example, be 'queer' by virtue of being disabled, even though one might be heterosexual and cisgender.

"But by that logic," i've said, "everyone is queer."
"Yes!" has been the happy reply, "Exactly!"

i assume what's being attempted here is a demonstration that, because we're all queer in some sense, society simply needs to stop being unpleasant to certain people on the basis that they differ from the (statistical or asserted) norm; instead, society should simply start happily proclaiming "Viva la difference!"

Uh huh.

i feel systematic privilege, discrimination and oppression can't be ended merely by presenting a sufficiently succinct and clever argument. To believe otherwise is to assume that it occurs primarily due to innocent ignorance, and that there is little to no material benefit for anyone involved. To me, this is manifestly not the case.

Moreover, by collapsing into a single term the wide variety of forms that privilege, discrimination and oppression can take, it becomes more difficult to witness the fact that one can be benefiting from one system of power differentials whilst at the same time being hindered and/or harmed by another. For example, having disabilities - CFS, major depression, fibromyalgia, OCD - doesn't give me some right to downplay my thin privilege on the basis that "Hey, i suffer from discrimination too!" And this is without taking into consideration the "umbrella term effect" i described above.

Still, this is the direction a number of people are taking the word 'queer' - to in practice make it synonymous with 'human'. In which case, calling myself 'queer' doesn't convey much information to anyone other than those who thought i was some form of AI.

i interact with people from multiple continents and nations on a daily basis. The variation in intended meanings of the word 'queer' now feels to me to be too great for me to want to actively use it to describe myself. No label is perfect, of course; but i feel there are many more precise labels to apply to myself than 'queer'.

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1. ETA, 2013.07.29: Cf. this piece on the word 'queer', by Yasmin Nair; i have been heavily influenced by the early-90s usages of the word 'queer' she describes therein.

2. i recently read an exchange where someone attempted to 'educate' someone else that the word 'queer' was offensive, apparently unaware that there are many thousands - if not millions! - of people who publicly proudly use the word to describe themselves.

3. So that, for example, i have on several occasions encountered forms where i have to specify whether i'm 'heterosexual', 'homosexual', 'bisexual' or 'transsexual'. :-/

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