I can remember my first San Francisco Pride Parade vividly. I was 18, I was wrapping up my first year of college and I was out and ready. In my young mind, this was the way to celebrate my identity. I was excited, but grew pretty quickly disappointed and socially anxious with all of the bodies and, more than anything, with how straight it was. I still joke — though it’s not that funny — that Pride is one of the straightest places I’ve been.
Around every corner were bros asking me if they could “join” me and my girlfriend, who were holding hands, or straight couples proudly and loudly (and drunkenly) declaring their “allyship.”
The straight claiming of queer space is often more subtle.
A lot of the queer spaces I’ve entered since have been more of the same dynamic. But lately, it’s been more visibly cisgender, heterosexual (cishet) folks and activists who identify as “politically queer” (or sometimes just queer).
In one of my recent articles, I wrote about how queerness is not solely an identity (i.e., a state of not being heterosexual or cisgender), but also a politic of transgressing and resisting dominant narratives. To me, queerness is not only about who I am attracted to and how I present my gender — which has direct, daily implications for my life — but also how I choose to exist within or resist oppressive systems.
I reflect often on how tired I am of “LGBT” spaces that are not politically queer or intersectional. For example, the same-sex marriage movement left behind many issues facing queer and trans people of color, and represents to me an assimilation into heteronormative society. And so on.
All these things stated, and being true to my politics, I’ve also noticed more conversations about “choosing queerness,” about the identification of straight, poly relationships with queerness, about the pushing of gender boundaries in hip-hop, etc. And while each of these examples push the binaries of the dominant society, they also have layers of privilege that I don’t have in my daily experiences.
The “trying on” of queerness can feel like appropriation and lacks the insight acquired from a lifetime of bullying, harassment and violence on the grounds of gender and sexual identity. While I think there is a lot more to queer identity than being “born this way,” I also know that those of us who’ve struggled to come to terms with who we are, for most of our lives, did not “choose” those aspects of our queerness.
And while trying on queerness can be where some folks eventually are affirmed in their queer identities, there are political implications associated with claiming a community and those experiences.
Allyship is important, but different than, identifying as queer. When I see folks who are outwardly in heterosexual, cis relationships and marriages advocating on behalf of queer and trans communities, I feel some type of way. Not because being in a heterosexual relationship erases queer identity, but because our experiences are on far ends of an expansive spectrum. I have trouble voicing this discomfort because I don’t want to deny someone their identity, and because I know how many femmes and others who don’t visibly “look” or “act” queer are invisibilized.
These conversations are complex and multi-layered, but I think intention behind language is important. Queerness is differently defined from person to person, and to me, it is both radical, intersectional politics, and sexual and/or gender identity. What is queerness to you?