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"Queer Signifiers" Are Not A Horrible Joke

Illustration for article titled Queer Signifiers Are Not A Horrible Joke

There are a bunch people bashing on the article about signaling your queerness on the MP, essentially saying, as Mayati put it, "Clothes? Signaling orientation? NO WAY, I deny queer culture its signifiers!" I get that a lot of them are trying to be allies, and they're just thinking, "omg, what is wrong with your ugly stereotypes!?" It's just that things are actually way, way more complicated.


"Gayness/queerness-as-ethnicity" is a thing, and one a lot of lgbtq people actually really like. Aside from being a hugely successful political organizing tool, it provides a culture to people who are otherwise mocked, shat upon, or erased from culture. That culture can be used for many different things, from finding potential partners (hugely important, because the right to have sex and marry doesn't mean shit if you don't have someone to do those things with), to having other queers to be able to talk about your sexings and relationship ups-and-downs with, to being able to easily find lawyers and doctors for largely unrelated issues who won't give you lesser treatment upon finding out that you're queer. And it's just flat-out nice to have a culture where you can share interests and references and humor styles, know that you will consistently be represented in a non-derogatory manner, and can easily start working blue without worrying if anyone's going to suddenly become uncomfortable with your gay, gay sex.

While it is true that queer ethnicity can reinforce ugly stereotypes about lgbtq people, it's been my experience that the vast, vast majority of people involved in it are also the most aware of how socially constructed this community and identity is. Queer Theory 101 classes tend to have a metric fuckton of ethnic queers. The people who are one minute talking about how totally queer a canon-straight character is because of her boots are the same people who are, 15 minutes later, clearing their throat and saying in a stern voice, "no, really, the ancient Greeks were not actually gay, and just because some man has a lot of sex with men now doesn't make him gay, either; please go read The History of Sexuality stat."


This is the biggest way in which Jezebel and the commenters (and frequently, all of mainstream feminism) are really actively homophobic. There's a very strong tendency towards, "ok, you can have your marriage rights, and we'll recognize that you should be included in discussions of sex in the advice columns, but you need to abandon your culture and your theory (and subsequently, large portions of your identity), and recognize the inherent superiority of the dominant, straight supremacist culture and theory." You can identify as gay or lesbian, or bisexual, or even possibly a queer, but you cannot be a dyke, and definitely not something like a leatherdyke. You can be feminine, so long as you aren't too feminine, and still be lgbtq, but you cannot be a femme; you can be a bit more masculine, so long as you aren't any more masculine than Hillary Clinton in a pantsuit, and you cannot be a butch lesbian, and you really really can't just be a butch.

If you really, really must insist on identifying those ways, your various lived experiences and thought processes should fit into the mold that Jezebel and mainstream feminism already has; if you try to have your experiences and thoughts recognized, the only way possible is to understand them exclusively through the prism of queerness, so as to make straight cis commenters stfu and Check Their Privilege. Nothing can ever be queer-ish, or have a queer tint to it. Your decisions cannot be made up of various experiences, only some of which were in any way queer, and those that were, were queer like the way musical theater and fanfic is queer, not like the way drag shows are queer. Because how dare you suggest that the brilliance that is Wicked and a well-written Drarry fic not be equally for everyone, or that those things could potentially signal some things that not everyone was trying to signal.


I suspect this is why Jezebel's queer population (and at least one of the Jezzie spin-off groups) is overwhelmingly made up of bisexual women, with lower Kinsey numbers, who mostly date and have sex with men, often realizing their same-sex desires after getting married to a man. Heteronormativity basically works for them, and they have little to no need for queer culture and queer theory. Indeed, very often, queer culture represents nothing to them but denial of their own queerness, so they do not see it as potentially empowering or subversive. As one commenter once put it to me, "instead of smashing the patriarchy, we should be smashing the gay-culture-archy."

To these women: please, please do not read this as me doubting your desires. However, there is something about the process of being in a queer relationship, and being out about it, that forces you to examine a great deal of everyday homophobia and heteronormativity, and that forces you to understand your queerness in certain ways. (So, no, "sometimes my husband and I have threesomes" do not count in the same way, neither does "I have taken a couple women home from the bar and not told many people about my one-night stands.") It frequently creates a need to find queer culture, and then being a part of that culture again forces you to confront subtle, insidious forms of homophobia and heteronormativity. Just as sexual orientation and sexual identity are not the same thing, one can be sexual-orientation-queer, but not ethnic-queer.


I really do not wish to invalidate anyone's sexuality, because I know the inner turmoil that comes with it (and the therapy bills and destructive life patterns that come with that inner turmoil.) But I think it is very deeply problematic that the majority of lgbtq people on this forum are the most assimilated members of the group, those least likely to challenge the status quo, often out of ignorance. It's also problematic when so many of these commenters are unlikely to call out homophobia and heteronormativity beyond the Human Rights Campaign's agenda, but extremely likely to call out any potential biphobia from a lesbian.

I had hoped that Jezebel would start cross-posting articles from Autostraddle, and despite my disappointment in this article (for totally different reasons, see my copypasted comment below*), I still have high hopes that cross-posting from them can help chip away at some of the homophobia and heteronormativity on this site. But that only works if people are willing to accept that queer culture is A Thing, that it is valid, and that it is a site of resistance and empowerment for many lgbtq people.


So on that note, to make it perfectly clear to anyone who hadn't yet picked this up: When I say something that is controversial, or deviates from the consensus, I am normally drawing on the work of other lgbtq people. When I defend Choice Feminism, and your right to express your gender expression however you damn well please without having to recognize that your expression is more socially constructed (and thus less valid) than other, more natural expressions, I am drawing on other queers, like Julia Serano, s.e. smith, and Ozy Frantz. When I defend femininity as potentially subversive and empowering, that is because I have read and admired Joan Nestle, and Amber Hollibaugh, and Julia Serano. When I defend sex-positivity, and kink, it is because I have almost everything that Patrick Califia and Gayle Rubin have ever written on my bookshelf, and have devoured The SM-Feminist blog. Basically all of my controversial thoughts on domestic violence and rape come from researchers doing same-sex intimate partner violence research. It horrifies me that these positions have become such common targets of mockery, so easily strung up as strawfeminists, and I know that a big part of that is because queer contributions are erased from history. But intended or not, the effect is to maintain the straight supremacist stranglehold on feminism, and to continue to use mainstream feminism as a force for subordinating queers.

Photo credit of Fit for a Femme.

*My comment from the MP article, on why it was fucked up:

I saw this on Autostraddle, and it just bummed me out real hard. It has such potential, because femme invisibility is a real and serious problem that I have a very personal stake in. But all of these tips are basically, "be a little less femme, and a little more butch and/or alt." I tried that already, it was fucking awful.

At best, some of these are, "this used to be a butch-only thing, but try making it more neutral by wearing it while femme, yet still using it to quietly signal your gender variance", which is a weird combo of denying norms and embracing two different but opposite interpretations at the same time. (I suppose you could argue that many queers would really love that, but I tend to feel like embracing logical contradictions and giving people cognitive dissonance in the name of poststructuralism isn't actually all that helpful.)

So, thrilled to see Jezebel crossposting from Autostraddle, and I hope you guys do this more frequently. Just incredibly disappointed that the first thing posted was the one article in months from Autostraddle that had given me some serious, serious sads.

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