13 August 2009

My Queer Identity

As a queer person, when I'm asked to self identify or someone chooses to apply a certain label to me, I consistently feel like I'm not being given the right options, or not enough, or the suffer for an ability to mix 'n match. Nor is it generally considered legitimate that on Tuesday I'm definitely a gay man, but by Thursday I'm genderqueer and a little bi-curious. Or a lot, for that matter. Sometimes I get hit on by a really hot dyke at Sisters and the fact that we'd smash everyone's preconceived notions about our respective identities adds to an attraction that is already real, present, palpable. (At this point I should confess: sorry straight girls and boys, but you rarely turn my gears. The truth is, I'm not attracted to gender half as much as I am to queerness in its own right.)

This is the primary reason that I identify as “queer” and not really anything else. As far as labels go, it's the non-label. It's identity by negation insofar as it's a bit like identifying as “not straight.” A friend and I were discussing her disinclination towards self-identifying as such because “queer” originally denoted being an outsider, odd, peculiar, the “other.” My response to this is two part: Firstly, I feel that we have largely reclaimed “queer” from being a pejorative word which is something I like to do anyway. Secondly, I am personally comfortable taking on an identity that continues to connote a certain outsider quality. I can socialize with anybody but when it comes to feeling at home, mainstream gay folks don't feel any more like family to be mainstream straight folks do. Or as I recently put it to a friend quite bluntly, “It's not just that I'm a faggot; I'm really fucking strange too.”

However, my identity as a queer man in the world is actually less about me than it is a desire to be inclusive of all who identify outside of heterosexual attraction and/or the binary gender system, or are transsexual. This summer at Philadelphia Pride a comedian who I generally enjoy paraded out the tired old “Where are bisexuals? OK put your hands down your all greedy.” schtick. It's not funny, it's not original, and it definitely has no place on a day that is supposed to celebrate the joy, the freedom and the pride in determining our sexuality and gender for ourselves. I'm always afraid that I'll miss someone in the growing alphabet soup that is currently hovering between LGBT and LGBTQIAA, depending on who you ask.

This leads me to my final conundrum of queer identity: what about people who I would consider queer but would not self-identify as such? The first example that would come to mind is a transsexual person who considers themselves heterosexual, successfully passes as the sex which they identify as, and choose to “go stealth” after their transition, ie, simply present as a person who was born as that sex. To me, the whole point of identity is that it is a deeply personal process and I will not ascribe any identity to a person which they object to. Because I see such a valuable opportunity for trans people to teach all of us about the false nature of binary sex and gender, I always find it sad when a person chooses not be out about it, and even sadder when they cannot, for whatever reason, be out. However, given the hate crime statistics regarding trans people and my place of speaking from many, many levels of privilige – white, male (from birth), college educated and raised in the upper middle class in a state that consistently has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country - it is hardly my pace to judge who can or should be out. At the end of the day, queer identity is something I continue to explore for myself and with others who likewise self identify.

Since it's always talk with you and not at you, I invite comments, questions and your own experience with identity politics, queer or otherwise.