Steph Farnsworth pulls apart the myth that certain identities are “less queer” than others.
The Gay UK running a poll asking gay people whether they would date bisexuals was just another dose of biphobia that’s come to be expected from gay (and LGBTQ+ organisations). The LGBTQ+ community is run on a hierarchy of who is the most gay, but no matter how you identify, you are queer enough.
Whether you’re the greyest of aros (although, please guys can we change the colour?), a bi woman who is in a relationship with a cis guy, Muslim and queer, disabled and gay, asexual, or vaguely wondering whether you’re genderfluid – it counts. There’s no test to pass to be LGBTQ+, despite what the community often tries to tell us.
The funding, prestige and acceptance within this world tends to go to cis white gay people. We can see that just by throwing a rock at the charity sector – although, admittedly, you’ll have to do that soon given the way austerity is bleeding LGBTQ+ organisations dry. Fitting the stereotypes of being out and fabulously gay in the cishet world is like having a target on your back, but within the community it’s often celebrated. For cis people to go against the norms, it’s usually something to be lauded. In radical lesbian feminist circles for instance, the more butch a lesbian, the more internal praise and external rage this seems to get.
It’s a peculiar situation because the LGBTQ+ community is far from homogenous. Women in the community still often are treated with contempt, but that’s nothing to how non-binary people are treated. There are conflicts and tension embedded within each LGBTQ+ space, but there is one rule: the more proud, the more popular you’ll find yourself.
There are conflicts and tension embedded within each LGBTQ+ space, but there is one rule: the more proud, the more popular you’ll find yourself.
A cis guy in leather will be adored at Pride for being so outrageously-in-your-face-queer for example, and while such acts should be applauded because of how painfully cisgender, heterosexual and repressive wider society is, there also exists a culture where if you’re not following the Harvey Milk strategy and 100% gay then you’re deemed a traitor to your community.
There are few people who aren’t gay within the community who haven’t been made to feel they’re not good enough at some point. The irony is almost callous; being labelled as a backstabber to the community is particularly insidious for those who have experienced Islamophobia, biphobia, acephobia, arophobia, ableism and/or racism by the very people tarnishing their identities. The term “traitor” is branded onto those who do not fit the exceptionally narrow definition we have of LGBTQ+. Barely anyone in the community actually meets such an ideal concept for them, but that doesn’t matter when the people who often push such ideas don’t want to share their power in running the community. They’re the gatekeepers of identity.
It’s okay to not have your identity nailed down. Sexuality and gender are infinitely complex. If you feel like your gender varies but you don’t know how yet, then you’re queer enough. Asexual and aro people are absolutely queer enough. LGBTQ+ rights were never founded on love or sex, but on the freedom to self-define.
LGBTQ+ rights were never founded on love or sex, but on the freedom to self-define.
The bi community needs to be bold. For too long, we’ve acted like the little siblings to the cisgender gay cause- but that isn’t enough. Identities can be fluid, they can fluctuate, and they absolutely are nuanced. It’s something we should be shouting about constantly. There’s been a major failing along the way when around one in two young people say they’re not completely heterosexual and yet don’t want to identify or have any association with the community. It’s not (only) prejudice, but it’s that we’ve spent our entire time talking in binaries. While cis gay causes are put front and centre, there are going to be those who are lost and feeling they belong nowhere. We need a more equal and open movement.
When you don’t quite fit in nor stand out proudly, your identity spoken over in the debates around rights. Sometimes it’s hard to wonder whether the community cares more about image at the expense of people. We celebrate what we see as fun political acts. A cis gay guy dressed in drag, will pack a LGBTQ+ bar. A trans woman wanting to have her gender accepted though? No chance. People of the same gender getting off with each other publicly is ardently cheered. Ace people staying home to snuggle (partly because LGBTQ+ venues aren’t often welcoming) though is brushed off as mundane and nothing radical. Sex is treated as the most defiant act. However, this doesn’t quite add up when most people pull the same baffled face when they’re shown a maths equation as to when they’re presented with what asexuality means.
We’ve become very good at marketing one type of existence to win rights. Being gay was presented as both racial with its love and yet normalised, as respectability won the day in the tactics to chase same-sex marriage and adoption rights. The packaging has taken greater prominence than acknowledging a very large portion of our population. Gay rights have made leaps forward but rights, acceptance and understanding of all other identities have juddered and repeatedly been ground to a halt.
People aren’t ushered into an exam room to define how queer they are. There’s no marks, no grade boundaries or brackets and no tutors we have to impress. Forget Harvey Milk, whether you’re out or not, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to rattle your labels off to the bouncers of LGBTQ+ clubs either. If you think you’re queer then that should be good enough for all of us.
Follow Steph (@StephFarnsworth) on Twitter.