On Not Being Queer
trying to untangle some stuff about a word and ways of being
And thank you, Lord, for forgiving me of my wrongdoings, which you know are not who I am.
- Jesse Gemstone, The Righteous Gemstones
"You know the difference between me and you? I bleed red and you bleed green. I look at you these days, String, you know what I see? I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there."
— Avon Barksdale, The Wire
I find myself thinking often of this piece by Dan Brooks about his stepson's (and culture at large's) fondness for separating people's identity from their actions. I'm generally with the apostle John on this one: let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. Generally speaking, I tend to look more dimly on people claiming something of themselves that is not evidenced by action. I'm not a political activist because I talk about being one. I'm a political activist because I have for years gone to meetings, gone doorknocking, delivered leaflets, done the slow boring work.
However, the stuff in your head demonstrably also matters. You are e.g. gay because you are attracted to people of the same gender, whether expressed or not. I would consider myself bisexual, but I'm in a monogamous heterosexual relationship, so unless I were to mention it, you'd have no way of knowing. In fact, the context in which I tend to discuss it is chiefly the way that I feel between two stalls in terms of the way that different groups behave.
A lot of my friends are excitingly dressed gender non-conforming poly people with some kind of coloured hair. This is perhaps one of the reasons I hesitate to identify as "queer"—to me, that combination of factors is what that means, and I'm not really any of those things. At the same time, I'm not "straight", I'm just quite boring. This is one example, but it's something I feel across several axes of my life. I'm caught between my disinclination towards enough norms of various identity groups to not feel super-comfortable in any of them.
Even beyond issues of presentation, I'm not "queer" in the sense that the term seems to be used; everyone I know who identifies that way has a lot of shared referents and assumptions that I just don't have. A friend of mine has lightly mocked me for using the phrase "technically not straight" and fair enough, it's a goofy phrase, but I definitely sometimes feel like there's somewhat of a gulf between me and my queerer friends. For a community defined by inclusivity, it can feel somewhat exclusionary if you don't relate to some of its norms—aesthetic, sexual, humourous or otherwise. In the same way that e.g. Mastodon is a platform that has a vibe, being queer has a vibe. It might just be the people I know, but I have literally been to other continents and met people like this.
There is, of course, no "right" or "wrong" way to be a particular identity. It is very difficult, however—in the absence of some kind of social script, some kind of path that shows you how something can work, a way you can be—to know what to do. And instinctively we retreat to familiar ways of thinking, ways of doing, because that's safer, that's easier. McKinley Valentine talks here about "expanders", people who expand your idea of what you can do or be. I've definitely known people who have done that in some ways for me. Sometimes, though, it doesn't quite work like that, and you just have to muddle through, hoeing your own road and hoping that if it works for you, maybe it'll work for someone else too.