last spring, there was an anonymous bit of writing floating around the internet on the topic of queer invisibility. it was written by an anonymous woman who identified as queer–specifically, bisexual. she was a femme lady who had mainly been in relationships with women, but her piece was about how she was currently in a relationship with a man, & she had noticed that she no longer got the “queer nod” from other queer folks she passed on the street. people looked at her & saw another straight-looking lady on the arm of a dude. she wrote at length about how this invisibilized the complexities of her sexuality. she went into detail about how she used to “sneer” at straight couples in line with her at the movie theatre when she was with her girlfriends, but now she was that straight-seeming woman being sneered at (though she did not actually say that anyone sneered at her). by the end of the piece, she was practically weeping magical lady internet tears over how her fellow queers don’t bend over backwards to validate her sexuality now that it is not apparent to all & sundry that she is “in the choir” (to quote the emcee at this local GLBT summit i attended the other night; he must have said “in the choir” at least 47 times).
a lot of my queer-in-relationships-with-dudes-lady friends really liked this article. they were linking it on facebook & on their blogs & talking about how it “spoke to their hearts” & such forth.
i did not understand. this seemed like a CLASSIC example of wanting to be accommodated rather than adapting to different circumstances. the thing about being queer is that no one knows you are queer unless you come out, by saying, “hello, i am queer,” perhaps, or by walking down the street holding hands with a person identifiable as being of the same gender as you. if you instead walk down the street making it apparent that you are in an intimate romantic relationship with someone of the “opposite” gender (in quotes because we all knows there are more than two diametrically opposed gender) as you, some people are going to assume you are straight. hopefully there will be some people who do what i do, which is perhaps make an unconscious note of two people being in a relationship without making assumptions about how they identify their sexualities. but i think we do need to ground ourselves in the reality that a lot of people are going to go ahead & think you are straight.
& that matters because you will then enjoy the privileges that come with being straight. you will probably not be gay bashed if someone thinks you are straight, for example. probably no one will hurl a homophobic epithet in your direction. there’s a fairly good chance that if you & your partner decide to get married, that will be a legal option that will be able to pursue without much difficulty. & such forth. perception matters because privilege is real. & while you may prefer to live in a world where those privileges don’t exist because the attendant oppressions that others face also don’t exist, this preference also does not negate the privilege. even if you are enjoying a privilege that does not correspond to your actual identity…the perception of others is still what counts.
the crux of this anonymous woman’s article was that she wanted to continue to be perceived of as a queer, without having to do anything to expose her queer identity & compromise her straight privilege. she wanted to have her cake & eat it too. she wanted the other members of her queer community to validate her oppressed status while she enjoyed all the perks of the oppressor status. how exactly is this shit speaking to anyone’s heart? i mean, i guess it’s cool that people were so willing to admit their basest, most solipsistic tendencies. it’s not everyday that a whole crew of folks interested in social justice can all band together & sing out as one: “yes, i am incredibly selfish & devoid of critical thinking skills!”
when i brought this up with a few friends, they flipped the fuck out. two friendships were lost to the arguments that ensued from my criticisms. i was somewhat taken aback by the lengths people will go to in order to avoid considering the possibility that they may not be as awesome as they think they are 100% of the time.
i sometimes struggle with striking a balance around issues of oppression & privilege. i generally feel that if you can’t make a cogent argument without falling back on some snarky remark like, “your privilege is showing!”, you probably don’t deserve to be having the conversation. but there are times when people are willfully, obstinately blind to their privileges. i also wrote recently about the way oppression is often used as currency & cachet in social justice circles. a marginalized identity is not a trump card to be busted out when you want to win an argument…but some people use it that way anyway. how many times has some radical somewhere prefaced their smug, self-satisfied remarks with the words, “as a pansexual pagan descendant of an authentic cherokee princess…” or some variation thereof? about a million times. but then, there are times when some nincompoop is going on about, “working class people think thus & so & then they do this & that,” & it only seems fair to jump in & say, “as a working class person, let me tell you why you’re full of shit.”
basically, i guess i think a lot of this language has been corrupted. & it functions as a kind of secret code, to keep conversations within certain safe, ineffectual boundaries. example: last night at feminist book club, we were talking about how parenting expectations fall disproportionately on women…STILL. men who contribute to parenting, by, say, taking their kids to story hour or changing a diaper, are either applauded & celebrated for fulfilling the most basic of parenting functions, or they are viewed suspiciously, like maybe they are pedophiles for wanting to hang around kids, or maybe they’re trying to get with the moms on the playground. this weirdness, which is totally a function of patriarchal maternal caregiving expectations, was familiar to pretty much everyone at book club, except one woman who was all, “we have lots of great dads who come to story hour at the library.” that’s…cool? we weren’t saying great dads don’t exist. even great dads can fall victim to being over-celebrated for knowing their kids’ names or being given the stinkeye by the swingset. it’s not about their actual quality of care. it’s about their gender & the baggage that goes along with it. i don’t know. it’s like suddenly the air was taken out of the sails of the conversation by the realization that not everyone was up to speed on the subtext or something? it was weird. i just don’t know how to proceed sometimes.