Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who's queer?

This may not be news for some of you, but did you know many asexual people consider themselves queer?

It's possible that that sounds very weird to some of you. But especially for those of us who either spend a lot of time in queer spaces or have an identity besides asexuality that is also on the queer spectrum, it seems pretty natural. And even some of us who are heteroromantic and cisgender still feel that "queer" fits us. Why is that?

Believe me, the pushback is astronomical sometimes. If you're an asexual person whose partner is a different gender and you're perceived by society as a straight man and a straight woman, exactly how is that queer, you might ask? Well, I think asking that question assumes that queerness requires visibility and negativity to "count." And if you're aromantic (like me) and/or you're not actively partnering with anyone the non-queer world would interpret as a same-sex partner, some folks will say you have no right to use the label "queer."

For those people who have been labeled queer as an insult or against their will, it certainly sounds bizarre for anyone to embrace it voluntarily. I can understand that. But since it is also becoming an umbrella term (and has been for years) for community, especially for those who fit under several rainbow stripes or whose identity is complicated, I think it's not ultimately helpful to interrogate and exclude people whose identity isn't one of the more traditional four letters of the LGBT. Not to mention that the B and the T are not universally accepted in the LGBT community either, considering how frequently bi folks are accused of not being queer enough if they are less visibly queer or have a partner who is or is perceived to be cross-sex and considering how frequently straight trans people who are commonly mistaken for cisgender are told they no longer have a reason to be supported by their community if they're "stealth." It doesn't make sense to base need for support or community on other people's perception of whether they can experience violence or oppression. (And in my experience, if we say we DO experience it along axes they haven't thought of, we are often told that it isn't painful enough or that we are lying about it.)

If you want my opinion, asexuality is inherently queer. We're raised in a society that tells us our sexuality should look a certain way, and when it doesn't, we can and often do experience shaming, coercing, harassment, and subjection to rejection that mirrors homophobia. We're told we're unnatural and we're treated like we won't be fixed/happy/normal/satisfied unless we learn to be properly straight. And the actual experiences of aces in our society are not what they're often portrayed to be; sometimes people react with bafflement at this, saying "nobody cares" if we "don't have sex," but the act of abstinence is not what people are reacting to, and "not having sex" is not the definitive aspect of most asexual people's orientation. We are NOT, by and large, regarded as virtuous or pure for not having sex (which again is not necessarily what defines us as asexual), and if anyone thinks we're just pretty much left alone or ignored over our sexuality, they are not listening to us.

But the harassment and potential violence we can and sometimes do experience is not what defines queerness, even if it's one of the reasons many of us want the support of community. Queerness would have a meaning even if homophobia and transphobia disappeared tomorrow. I believe it marks a sometimes transgressive search for identity, and that it calls into question assumptions that many straight cis people have never had to think about, and that it necessarily requires self-examination of a flavor that doesn't compute for cishets. That's not to say queer people are enlightened in a way non-queer people are not--that's not at all what I'm suggesting--but when we have seen the Way Things Are in expected sex and relationships and it seems wrong or exclusive of us somehow, we are forced to either find another place to fit in or create it ourselves. Well, that or hide and pretend. 

When the picture of a happy future painted in nearly every piece of media and demonstrated by nearly every relationship around you fits what yours looks like, when it resonates with you, that is not a question you ever even have to ask yourself. Though you might. You might question whether you're queer and determine that you're not. But if you're cisgender and straight, I'm saying you probably did not have to do this and it was easy to skip that step during whatever your journey is/was. It doesn't mean it was therefore easy for you, or that you were guaranteed to succeed. It just means that was never an aspect of your search for happiness that you had to resolve, because the default answer fit you already. 

It's like if your body is sized and shaped for common clothes on the rack, and you've always been able to find a variety of items in your size that also appeal to your taste and style. You may have never thought about friends or family of yours who find very few items off the rack that fit them, or those who have to get everything they buy altered, or those who cannot buy off the rack at all and must go to specialty stores that cost more or have little variety. And you may have never thought what it does to a person to have them think, every time they have to buy clothes, that they must be unacceptable in some way if they have to go to unusual amounts of trouble or cost to get clothes when other people don't have to think about it. And then you'll still see conversations that sound like "well my life isn't easy either, I have to roll up or hem every pair of pants I buy because I'm short!" "oh yeah? I can't buy off the rack at all, so miss me with your whining about hemming." You see people trying to avoid acknowledging greater struggles by drawing attention to their own lesser struggles, and you see people denying that lesser struggles are worth discussing or supporting at all because some people suffer greater clothes-related indignities. And you might even see tall people claiming they can't help being tall but fat people can help being fat so the big-and-tall stores shouldn't extend their support to fat people sizes since it takes resources away from outfitting the tall people. Welp. Or we could acknowledge that in general it sucks to struggle with clothes shopping, and we can stop putting moral value on struggle. We will probably have more luck changing the system if we lobby for clothing companies to acknowledge and design for body diversity, period. Though that is not to say we can't talk about these things within our communities--about why being too slim for common clothes is a different kind of message and has a different kind of effect than being too fat for common clothes, and how not fitting in clothes off the rack easily is not the same for everyone.

There are absolutely people within the queer community who experience, overall, less hostility, and some of that is always going to be intersectional with their other gender and sexual identities, their class, their race, their ability/disability/illness, and where they live. I don't believe it's useful to single out any subgroup of queer identity and say "YOU--you do not experience oppression along this axis, so you do not belong here." And some people who are asexual may feel that the queer community is not the place for them and do not feel asexuality is inherently queer. Or maybe they have no use at all for that term and don't personally have enough connection to LGBT spaces or individuals to feel that the label has any meaning to them. (Just like, you know, there are trans people and same-sex-attracted people who aren't out or aren't loud and proud and don't join queer organizations.) 

In my opinion, nobody should be gatekeeping who relates to such a broad term and who can be present in broadly defined spaces. In more specific subgroups, I think it's fine for someone leading an organization or group to call the shots on who they accept, but there shouldn't be a blanket block on cisgender asexual people who don't have same-sex partners, any more than there should be a block on bisexual people with a cross-sex partner or straight trans people who are primarily read as cis. Inclusion will generally result in better, safer spaces, and though there are exceptions to this, they should be made on an individual basis. Certainly not as a shaming technique to banish people whose queerness isn't enough like someone else's.

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