How Very Queer By Bill Burleson
“That’s so queer.”
What does that mean? To be sure, it means very different things to different people, and very different things depending on the circumstances and the messenger.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities have been trying to come to terms with the word “queer” for nearly a decade now, and we seem no closer to consensus than before. Some would argue that queer is the wave of the future; an allencompassing word for all the different parts of the GLBT community, united in their societal role of outsider. Others argue that the scars run too deep; they remember all too well the schoolyard taunts and hate-filled connotations.
Me – I like the term, and use it often to describe myself. That said, it appears to me that it isn’t going to work for all BTLG people, and not just because of the past connotations either.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A couple of years ago a Pride friend (you all know what a pride friend is right? A person you only see at Pride once a year where you scream and hug and promise to get together soon only to not see them again until next year) asked me for the umpteenth Pride in a row to come over and hang out on his boat. I
thought great, let’s make plans and do it this time. When the day came, I arrived at the dock and we set out. Once we were out on the lake (and too far for me to jump overboard and swim back) he told me that he needed to make a quick stop on this island he and some friends partied on the previous night to pick up the trash. And pick up the trash we did. Neatly wrapped bags and off we went? No no no. Policing up the grounds and cabin for hours. The end of the story is that after several hours we hoped back in the boat and returned to dock. Elapsed time in the water? Oh, about twenty minutes. The moral of the story is there is a reason why they are only Pride friends.
But back to the point. During our stay on the island, several of the partiers from the night before came by— not to help, of course—but to pick up where they left off. Now, on the face of it, that wasn’t a bad thing, right? Well, in this case, it was. Bottom line is that I was stuck on an island with ten of the biggest rednecks ever to grace the GLBT community. We are talking white guys in reflective rap-around sunglasses, belching contests, crushing beer cans, smashing things, and Republican politics. Lets just say Queer Eye for the Straight Guy this is not.
At one point, the discussion went to an old topic in the community: the use of the acronym LGBT. One guy said, “GLBTQWXYZ, what’s with all the letters, anyway (BELCH).” To which I replied, “For me, I like the word ‘Queer.’” All ten guys stopped and stared at me in wonder. No one said anything; they just stared. At that moment, I had an epiphany: never, ever, ever, not in a million years, will these guys ever call
themselves “queer.” Not because the school yard insults, but because they are decidedly NOT queer.
Queer is more than sexual orientation or gender identity. Queer has a politic that did not apply to these guys. Queer reflects an embracing the “otherness” in us. These guys on that island were not about identifying with their Otherness.
There’s another reason. I like queer is because I wish for an all-inclusive term for the greater TBLG community that doesn’t involve initials. I long for language that promises more than mere coalition but instead reflects a truly big tent for oppressed sexual minorities. But the fact is there are those who don’t like queer for the very same reason I do—that it is inclusive. An old friend of mine told me long ago that she didn’t like queer because it included bisexuals (such as myself) and transgender people, with whom she wasn’t interested in being included. I should have said a former friend.
It is clear to me that this former friend is more in the mainstream than I on this issue. Language is meaningful and organic—if English speakers wanted an inclusive term, if the BTLG community was truly one community, we would have one. Nothing is stopping us but the inability to wrap our minds around the idea.
So go ahead, call me queer; I like it. I want to be part of a larger movement that is about inclusion, not exclusion. But if I have to take sides, count me in with the trans folk, leather women and men, Radical Fairies and poly community, and not with the wrap
around sunglass Republicans. For them, I guess we can always be Pride friends, allegorically and literally.
So if I don’t see you before, I’ll guess I’ll see you at pride.
Bill Burleson is a local writer, and no, he won’t go out on your boat. Burleson is the author of Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community from Haworth Press. Visit www.bi101.org for more information.