Drew: It is a dilemma. So, awhile back you were feeling strongly about identifying as gay, but not anymore?
Winter: Yeah. Well, I never really wanted to identify as gay; it was just that I didn't feel like I had any claim in "queer" anymore. But I'm a really bad gay guy, as our generation tends to see it.
Winter: To be honest, if I could get away with it, I'd probably ID as a queer-faggot, or at least a queer-fag.
Drew: What makes you insecure about identifying as queer?
Winter: That's an interesting one. It's not so much that I'm insecure about my identity as queer, as that I feel like an interloper. Identifying as queer, I have to spend a huge amount of time coming out as cisgender to people who see a somewhat femme boy and read me as trans*. Which wouldn't bother me all that much except that the revelation that I'm cis bothers a lot of trans* and fluid people. And to be honest, it also bugs me because I'd love to take advantage of some cis male privilege to land some play with cis guys once in a while. Beyond that though, there's the issue of being excluded from queer space and culture, which has become really synonymous with the incredibly problematic and outdated "women and trans* only" spaces and culture. That bothers the shit out me. Not being welcome in those spaces and environments is way less of a big deal to me if I'm not identifying as queer. (More on this topic from Winter.)
Drew: I'm OK with "women and trans only" spaces, as long as they don't say, "Hey! Party for queers! Come have a good time! (Women and trans only)" No misleading advertisements, please. But I very much agree with you that "queer spaces" should make an effort to welcome queer-identified cis men.
Winter: I'm bothered by the number of "women only" spaces I see that allow or encourage trans* men to attend. It's a common thing, which is why more and more are using "queer."
Drew: The current sparse attendance of cis men in such spaces I'm guessing is because the number of cis men who identify as queer is lower than the number of cis women, and gay men have their own thriving community, which they see no need to branch out from; whereas gay women are still looking for those spaces, and therefore go to a "queer" space.
Winter: I guess the thing is that I don't necessarily think they should allow or welcome cis men. I'm OK with the idea that language has moved on and definitions change. ... If I may ask, before your transition, how did you identify your sexual orientation?
Drew: I identified as a gay man primarily. I had some confusing attraction to women, but it was mixed up with gender stuff, and didn't know if I wanted to be them or be with them ... but basically gay man. Then straight woman after starting to live as female. And now trans queer woman.
Winter: It's weird, on the surface one would think that gay identity would work fine for me, but it just doesn't. First and foremost, I had a long-standing relationship with a woman (who later turned out to be a man, but I didn't know it at the time). And I play with women in BDSM spaces, too. But beyond either of those points, I can't seem to embrace the ideas/ideals of masculinity and heterocomformity that are deeply entrenched within what we are told it means to be "gay" in the U.S. in 2012.
Drew: So you're stuck either way you go. If you identify as gay, you feel you have to work at redefining what people expect "gay" to mean in order for it to fit you. And the same is true for identifying as queer. ... Um, how about "quay?"
Winter: Quay sounds too much like someplace to tie up a boat! I just read the engrossing book Why Are Faggots So Afraid Of Faggots? and saw many reflections of myself in the essays therein, but the same can be said for more "butch" elements of gay culture. ... So why do you see cis male inclusion in queer space as important?
Drew: I think that the whole movement toward identifying as queer is one that so many people make precisely because it is such an inclusive, and thus, ambiguous heading/identity. The motivation for a lot of people is rejection of the gender binary. They recognize the fluidity of the gender and sexuality spectrums and want a term that can reflect all those possibilities. That is the purpose of "queer." So, when we start to see a prevailing demographic, or even worse, outright exclusion of certain people from identifying as queer, it goes against the very spirit of the term. I often call queer, "the label for people who hate labels." It has no set definition. It is defined by what it's not. It's not gay. It's not bi. It's not lesbian. It's not trans. It's not cis. What it is, is you. You decide what it means. "Queer" is a general starting point. You tell someone you're queer and they know you're open to possibilities, and if they want specifics they have to inquire further as to what "queer" means to you. It's a way of saying you're more complex than a single word. Once we're able to start being able to pigeonhole "queer," when it starts leaning toward a qualifying checklist, it will have lost its power. Right now, I think there's a danger of that. "Queer" spaces are heavily populated by cis women and trans people. We need more cis men to preserve the balance. If "queer" ever becomes an identity with a definable demographic, I will promptly move on to another, vaguer word. Basically, cis men need to queer up "queer" a bit.
Winter: I totally agree with your point. I see two issues: 1.) Do cis guys want to identify as queer, and if so, what distinguishes them from cis guys who identify as gay, bi or pansexual? 2.) Can the queer community and queer spaces be persuaded to be accepting of cis men?
Drew: 1.) Well, you're a cis guy who wants to identify as queer, and I know a few others, too. I know a cis male-cis female poly couple and they both identify as queer and no one doubts their legitimacy for a second. Once you meet them you see that it totally fits. I think more cis men are starting to recognize it as an option. As for what distinguishes them from pansexual people, I think not much. I'm all for pan-identified cis men in queer spaces. Bi and gay, I'm not so sure, because queer and pan are very much rooted in their openness to everyone on the gender spectrum. Queer signifies that you're capable of attraction (not just fetishization and objectification) of trans and gender nonconforming people. Though, I'd say if you identify as bi or gay, but are still open to trans people in that way, I'd be happy to welcome you to queer space. If you're not bound by the binary, I'll extend an invitation to queerworld. 2.) Ay, there's the rub. I think they can and I hope they can. That's one of the main reasons I wanted to have this conversation.
Winter: See, I'm not sure I agree with you that queer identity requires one to be open to all genders in terms of attraction. It depends on if queer is more a modifier or a distinct identity. Whereas I'm distinctly uncomfortable with pan-identified people who only are attracted to one or two gender identities, with a queer person, I really don't care.
Drew: Actually, I think you're right -- queer spaces, now that I'm thinking about the difference between modifier and identity, should be open to all non-straight folks, I think. I was wrong there.
Winter: But then, it does bother me when someone who is only attracted to the opposite gender IDs queer, so maybe I'm full of shit.
Drew: A straight cis person identifying as queer you mean? A cis opposites-only straight person?
Winter: Sure. I know some queer-identified people who are very open about the fact that they'd never engage sexually or romantically with someone of the same gender. But then, why do we draw a line at straight folk? (But by all means let's keep the fucking line.)
Drew: Because they're not queer! (Laughs) Are they cis and opposites-only? And have they been their whole life? If so, I call bullshit under the Social Component of Identity principle. What about this person is queer? They're a tourist. They've never been with anyone who wasn't the opposite sex. Never will. And they're cis.
Winter: But they are poly and kinky, which causes as many problems with straight identity for them as it does for gay identity for me. It bugs the crap out of me, but I find it hard to argue with in some ways.
Drew: Maybe I'm being insensitive here, but -- boohoo you poor straight cis person! (Are they white, too?)
Winter: But aren't we then walking dangerously close to playing the oppression Olympics? You're making the same argument I hear about male privilege and excluding cis men from queer identity.
Drew: So now I'll give the one exception to my former rule about "queer" needing a lack of definition. Queer is inherently an LGBT-derived identity. Queer is sexual- or gender-identity minority. Again, the social component has to be there.
Winter: But if what distinguishes LGBT people is who we love and how we play, it's hard to separate that from poly/kinky people, who love and play differently, too. Argh! Reality is so damn fuzzy sometimes.
Drew: Let me think ... They may be limited by society in their hetero polyamory, but not to the level that LGBTQI people are. We're still fighting to gain the rights that hetero poly kinky people already have. And we are targeted and identified as "minorities" or "radical" to a much greater degree and more widespread than they are. If we're going to be so concerned about line-drawing, why not non-poly kinky people? They love and play differently, and there are laws on the books that deal with assault that affect them. In that case, we've just opened up "queer" to everybody who's ever bought some fuzzy handcuffs and delivered a sound spanking. I maintain: queer must be a sexual-orientation or gender-identity minority. Poly is not sexual orientation. It is relationship orientation. It is not inherently about the who, but the how many. If you are poly and have partners of many genders, then, separate from being poly, you are a minority based upon sexual orientation, and therefore, queer it up if you like. The same is true of being kinky - it's not about the who, but the how. If, separate from how you're fucking or playing, the partners you're interested in range in gender, then you're queer.
Winter: Is that disenfranchising?
Drew: I don't think it's disenfranchising; it's claiming what is ours to claim. The only exclusions we're talking about here are hetero cis people. This is akin to a white person complaining about "reverse racism." You're the majority, the privileged. We're the minority. We have our own community. No, you're not invited. We need our gathering places for us.
Winter: I feel like we've landed right back at the arguments I hear in favor of excluding people with cis male privilege from queer spaces. We're slamming face first into the fundamental problem with the incredible open-ended nature of "queer." It is a fungible word, defined by its users, rather than an outside element.
Drew: We can't exclude a queer person (as I've previously defined it) just because they have one privilege or another -- a trans person with passing privilege, a lesbian with white privilege, or a black gay man with cis privilege. While they may not be oppressed in one area of their identity, they are in others.
Winter: That's an interesting way of looking at it.
Drew: You can have certain privilege and still have "minority due to sexual-orientation or gender-expression" apply. I have white privilege, passing privilege (when I want it), and class privilege. And I'm very aware of how far those things have taken me. But I'm also openly trans and not at all straight, and therefore, a giant fucking queer. A queer cis male is still marginalized due to sexual orientation. He is still LGBT.
Winter: I've got cis privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege. But I'm also not remotely straight. Which is how I ended up identifying as queer, but what takes someone from LGBT to queer? Or is that something only the individual involved can know?
Drew: Right, that's personal. Like we were talking about earlier, I think it has a lot to do with its ambiguity, and rejection of the gender and sexuality binary.
Winter: See for me, I feel like it has a lot to do with a rejection of the HRC-dominated narrative of what it means to be gay.
Drew: I think that fits in with the general "queer" notion of rejecting preconceived roles that we should play. I think that sort of is encompassed in the binary.
Winter: Huh, I guess I'm so bound up in gender land that it wouldn't have occurred to me to classify rigid expectations of what it means to be gay as within the binary, but I can totally see it.
Drew: So, the one crucial thing, and maybe we should end with this, is how to encourage cis male acceptance in queer spaces? I think we both agree we'd like to see this, yes?
Winter: I would, and because 1.) it sucks being excluded, and 2.) I think that our community can benefit from having one identity that is inclusive.
Drew: Hear hear. And here's where my weakness pops up. I'm not so good with solutions. I'm more of the theory end of things.
Winter: Solutions actually kind of are my thing. But my brain juices run dry on this one every time.
Drew: There's no easy answer for it. Outreach into gay male communities?
Winter: The thing is, Drew, outreach into gay communities just isn't going to work in my view. The men who will or do identify as queer often aren't comfortable there, and the men who are, are NOT interested in queer spaces. Take it from me as an event organizer! Gay men don't want to go into mixed gender sexual spaces (i.e. leather/BDSM).
Drew: I'm thinking the only thing that might slowly work is recruitment through personal relationships.
Winter: Unfortunately, I feel like one thing that needs to happen is cis guys who consider themselves queer need to advocate for inclusion into queer spaces. But I don't know how that works, and personally don't have the spoons for it.
Drew: Baby steps, I guess.
Winter: Equally important, there would need to be another reframing of "women and trans* only" space.
Drew: How so? (And by the way, my greedy id loves that there are women and trans only spaces.)
Winter: We aren't trying to say that those spaces shouldn't exist (personal feelings on my part aside), but that they don't get to claim "queer" for their own, narrow vision.
Drew: We're agreed on that. You can have women-and-trans-only events and spaces, but don't you dare claim "queer" is women and trans only.
Winter: Right, that's what I mean.
Drew: Well, there, we've solved everything!
Winter: Next week: the budget deficit!