Monday, 25 August 2014

On queerness

Image source here

I came out as a lesbian when I was 17 and in the throes of my first relationship (which was with a girl) and then had to crawl back into the closet a few years later, after we'd broken up and I started dating men too.  Bisexuality, as an identity, did not seem terribly appealing.  I'm a words person and there's something about the unpleasant sibiliance of it - bi-sex-shual - which sounds as if it's being drunkenly slurred.  Not to mention that bisexuality is an identity constantly debated, belittled and mocked by straight and gay people alike.  You'll forgive me if I wasn't desperately keen to come out as bi.  But it was all I had in terms of terminology, so that's how I, reluctantly, ended up identifying.

It's only in the last decade that the term 'queer' has begun to gain traction in the UK.  Long used as a homophobic slur, it was reclaimed in the 80s and 90s by activists in America and began being used more widely in the 00s as a catch-all for the various identities that fall under the LGBT banner. Where I found bisexuality a limiting identity and an unpleasant word, queer was to provide an alternative.

Queer is political, radical, a term much used by activists.  There's an inclusiveness about it that is rather lovely, the way in which one word can encompass and embrace a range of identities from lesbian, gay & bisexual to trans, asexual, intersex and genderqueer folk.  And let's face it, even in its original meaning it's a fantastic word, bespeaking all manner of oddities and weirdnesses.  It was liberating, a few years ago, to find this new identity.  Instead of being pigeonholed in the 'B' of LGBT, I could glory in being part of the whole queer family.

And then I fell in love with a man, which rather put a spanner in the works of my glorious second coming out.

I've never, not even when walking hand in hand with a girlfriend, been visible as queer.  No matter how hard I've tried at times to butch up, I'm femme through and through and I just don't 'read' as queer.  In many and numerous ways this gives me enormous privilege, vastly reducing the risk of my falling prey to homophobic abuse or violence.  But  it can be problematic, too.  Many's the time I've had to 'prove' my queerness in order to gain entrance to a gay bar or club (being able to give a detailed account of the plot of The L Word usually works).  It can be hard - in the absence of what people regard as common visual markers of queerness - to convince family and friends that yes, I really am queer, not just pretending.  And now that I have a male partner, someone I hope to spend the rest of my life with, it can sometimes feel as if the queer bit of my identity is disappearing.  If only I know it's there, does it still count?

It can also feel to me that by entering into a life partnership with a cisgendered man, I'm fulfilling all of the worst stereotypes about bisexual women: that we're just experimenting and not really queer; that what we really want is cock; that in the end, it's just straight girls playing at being gay.  I feel sad that, by being with the person I love, I'm seen (and perhaps see myself) as less queer than I was before.

Part of me mourns for the loss of my queer identity.  Part of me feels like I'm no longer part of the gang, like I've lost part of what made me me.

But a much larger part glories in the miracle of being able to wake up every morning next to the most amazing person.  A person who completely accepts the copies of Diva magazine littering the house, who puts up with me perving over Ellen Page and Kat Moennig (and who, in fact, when he sees a woman he thinks I'll fancy - I have a very definite type - will point her out to me).  A person who isn't, and shouldn't be, defined by his gender or sex but by the fact that he's perfect for me and to me. I think I need to wrap my head around the fact that being with him doesn't make me less queer. It just makes me incredibly lucky to have found someone amazing.  For anything I've lost, I've gained far, far more.


  1. I love this post. I think for anyone finding someone who accepts you wholly is amazing. And essential to a healthy relationship. I get that identifying as bi must be fruaught with problems. Comments like 'oh you're just curious' or 'I think all women are a little but bi' must get pretty waring! X

    1. Thanks! Strangely, my bi-ness has been more of an issue for women I've dated than for men. I think bisexuality in women is fetishised in society and has a certain mainstream cachet (for instance, a number of famous women are out as bi; no men are). But it's definitely a more problematic identity within lesbian & gay culture, which is why I prefer 'queer'.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head in that last paragraph, sexuality and gender doesn't matter, you are happy, that's the important thing. If people struggle with the whole queer thing then that's something they'll have to deal with, you know who you are, your boyf does too and he loves you too :)

  3. Brilliant post! Its great that you've found someone amazing who accepts you for who and what you are, and I love how you're still embracing your queer identity. I do think it seems to be 'trendy' for women to class themselves as bi these days but I do wonder just how genuine they are. Isn't it bizarre how you had to 'prove' you were queer?! Its as if society is coming round to accepting queer folk, but only if you fit into the special box/stereotype that's been created for you. I've been in a relationship with a bisexual person, and it never bothered me in the slightest. I'm glad he told me, because it let me see him exactly as who he is, but it made no difference to the relationship.

  4. I saw a postsecret along the lines of this. I assume (from what little you can fit on a postcard) that it was about a bisexual woman feeling discomfort that she never had to 'come out' as such, because she fell in love with a man. I've known few people who struggle with the desire to 'be' an identity fully, often it seems it is easier to play down an interest in the sex that is different from the one you're dating.

    Also the butch/femme thing - "straight women think that if they were a lesbian they would be attracted to women that straight men would be attracted to, but in reality that's not the case", said someone to me once (in reference to Kat Moennig being a queer woman's choice but not a straight woman's hypothetical choice) Well, no, I disagree. Women attracted to women can be attracted to any kind of woman, not just ones that are or aren't 'typically' lesbian.

  5. Also, your comments about Thomas are lovely without being too gooey. You so lucky!

  6. Great post! Society loves to pigeonhole and label people but its great to hear that you follow your heart/own path and have found an individual who makes you very happy. x