If you Google a search string containing ‘queer’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transexual’, or ‘asexual’*, right now**, a rainbow banner appears above your search results.
I’m a gay man, pretty much, but I’ve long had a complicated relationship with my sexuality. I strongly consider some of my life circumstances and choices to complicate my feelings and comfort with my identity, including but not limited to origin anxiety,
I first met someone who identified as queer at university. I was irritated by them. At first blush, I thought this was because they were being a deliberate wanker. As I thought about it further, I grew increasingly irritated by their choice to refer to themselves by a word I’d had used against me at secondary school. Why would you want to identify yourself using a word that means ‘wrong’, ‘sick’, ‘perverse’? Why would anybody choose to diminish themselves like that? People had fought for our rights to call ourselves ‘gay’, a word meaning ‘happy’, which I fucking was! I was fucking happy, dammit.
What was I really mad about? I realised that it had boiled down to this: I still didn’t know who I was. I had come out rather late in the day for someone in my generation. On some level I’d known I was at least a ‘Kinsey 5’ since I was in secondary school, but I’d resisted it so much because I’d been bullied for it. I remember at one point, before she knew better, my mum informing me that Julian Clary, who was big on telly at the time, was gay by signing a limp wrist. Whatever my reasons, I felt overall that society wasn’t ready for me to be ‘out’, and I ended up hurting people as a result. How dare this person be out, proud, in a relationship and so sure of an identity at eighteen?
After that, my opinions sunk to the bottom of my proverbial thought ocean for some years. It was much later, after I had moved to London and was able to immerse myself in gay culture, visit queer spaces, see my first drag shows, and meet powerful speakers on the struggles of being transgender that made me quickly confront and destroy my old ideals. Sadly, a lack of exposure was also a clear issue for me, growing up in rural south east England.
A quest into queer literature
My fiancé and I have bought a couple of books on the topic of queerness. Our first foray into the subject was a book entitled Queering Anarchism, which is a collection of essays by, you guessed it, queer anarchists. At the time, I considered myself to be neither of those things (and I’m still not an anarchist), but the thoughts within on subverting identity politics sparked a genuine debate in me, and the desire to keep reading around the subject.
The second book is called ‘Queer: A graphic history’ which as I mentioned in last week’s #SensibleSunday has pride of place in the Throne Room. This book makes me wish I studied philosophy to some degree, but presents everything to the uninitiated (in queerness and/or philosophy) in easy to understand ways. It tackles related issues on performativity, feminism, gender norms, race, and more, in beautifully illustrated diagrammatic form.
I’ve barely begun my journey through queer literature, but I promise to update you with anything exciting I uncover in the coming months and years. Likewise, send any recommendations my way!
As discussed in my last post, I recently started painting my nails. This is not an accepted masculine thing to do, but when I continued with it, it sublimated for me from something I was just doing for #Pride2017 to something feminist, feminine, and powerfully gender-bending. It gave me immediate advantages and disadvantages: I now risk attack from xenophobes (from the gammon critics to the acid-throwing, smash-your-head-into-the-kerb extremists), but on the upside I can tell whether I’m going to get on with someone much more quickly by watching their reaction to seeing my designs.
This continues to be a subject of exploration for me, and I am still searching for the limits of what I feel comfortable in when I’m with my tribe. I’ve noticed I’m comfortable in flowy pashminas, scarves, hairspray, nail paint and eyeliner with my girls. I like my body to look masculine, but I like to layer that with a bit of feminine. In some ways, this is much easier today as it feels that fashion is moving in that direction; men’s skinny jeans are commonplace, and ‘guyliner’ is just a bit alternative.
I have also made my peace with the twang of negativity associated with the word. It has a resonance of something that is slightly broken, but that also sets us aside as different, together in our uniqueness.
What is ‘queerness’ to me now? While the internet can give you its own cold definition, as a linguist I prefer to push the awareness that words carry collective meaning – when you and I talk we compromise on our shared understanding of that word through dialogue. The meanings tend to sync because most words are pretty established; there’s therefore a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ definition for those words. But ‘queer’ is a relatively new term – in fact, in discussing its modern usage, it’s practically a new-born.
My initial understanding has evolved, from a vague otherness which suggests an unhappiness with being boxed into the categories that have been forced upon the LGBT+ community. One can apply a string of labels to oneself now if one so chooses – but like many others, I don’t choose that. For me, that’s because I know my journey is incomplete, and it’s just beginning. I’m engaged to my life partner, but still within that my identity grows and evolves. In the last year I have become more confident and felt more like myself.
I’m so interested in other people’s stories and journeys. I hope during this year’s Pride that we all continue to learn from each other’s shared understandings. It’s taken almost a decade to listen to and address the insecurities of my younger self, and the wisdom of all the people (who were the same age as me) telling me to be okay with it. I’m proud this year to say that I am more than just ‘okay’ with it.
It was an episode of Dear White People v.2 that made me think: ‘faggot’ is our version of the ‘N’ word; only we can use it, because it’s ours, and you can’t touch us.
* I tried each of LGBTAIQQ
** guessing it’s been up since the start of pride month, and I’m late to the party, #sorryboutit