Why is it a “queer” metropolis?

I’ve been posting links to these posts on Twitter and my Facebook page. On the link, I got a response from one of my friends, another graduate student, that I was using the term queer too loosely. I seemed, in his eyes, to be using queer as an umbrella term that stripped it of its radical meaning. Why call this project “Queer Metropolis” and not “LGBT Metropolis” or just “Gay Metropolis”? (Besides that the last one is the title of a book by George Kaiser following the history of gay men in America centered on New York City.) Largely, why use the term queer?

First, I identify as queer for the same reasons that my friend cited. I am queer, as opposed to gay, because I don’t see myself—despite being a fairly able-bodied white man from an upper middle class background—as being allied with the forces of homonormative assimilation.

Proposed by Lisa Duggan as a riff off of Michael Warner’s heteronormativity, homonormativity refers to the assimilationist impulse of sexual minority groups, especially those that are already privileged on other axes of identity. Homonormativity emphasizes neoliberal consumption and that sexual minorities are “just like everyone else.” The push for marriage and a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell within gay rights organizations are examples of homonormativity. According to Duggan, they “promise the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.” Homonormative gay relationships are a house in the suburbs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting children or marriage.

But, as the following picture of me over the weekend at Dyke March shows, queers resist the notion of equality as an end-goal. Equal to who? What do we get with equality? Queerness resists a world in which difference has been erased, favoring a world allied across oppressions for the liberation of everyone. Queers question why healthcare should be tied to marriage in the first place. Queers want all choices about children to be honored and supported. Queers are against equality.

Against Equality

For many, queer indicates these radical struggles and LGBT, as @Kristenpuhl responded when I put a call out on my twitter, “is nearly sanitized. Queer still sounds aggressively transgressive.” @Naamangr agreed, for instance, “LGBT accepts given gender identities…while queer is more fluid….Queer implies theory, link between struggles, and feminism.”

Yet, queerness doesn’t have to be explicitly about the political process and protest. In Respectably Queer, Jane Ward also emphasizes that there is a vulgarity to queerness that opposes respectability. When discussing her ethnographic observation of a pride festival planning committee, she connects the planning committee’s desire to keep the festival as a big party as a queer desire. While they didn’t want political speakers because they would be “boring,” they opposed the installation of a “children’s garden.” Queer doesn’t have to be overtly political, sometimes merely preferring public sex and debauchery over family values is a queer act.

Yet, I also use the term queer as an umbrella term.

First, I’m making a claim about what sexual minorities represent as opposed to heteronormative relationships. They are transgressive. They represent breakdowns from the traditional. While they have the ability to reproduce power structures within queer relationships—as homonormativity attests to—they involve a negotiation of that power. If even slightly, queer relationships necessitate a different power relationship and breakdown traditional heterosexual relationship hierarchies.

By this definition, it’s possible then to include some opposite-sex relationships that buck traditional norms within the queer umbrella. Poly, kink affiliated, child-less couples, or even seemingly traditional straight relationships that have explicitly discussed power within their relationships could all be considered queer. In my master’s thesis, I interviewed an asexual person who identified as queer, something the burgeoning asexual movement has been discussing. Not that ze needed my permission—ze can identify any way hir wants—, but I agree. Hir relationships are queer because hir asexuality creates room for discussion and difference.

Participants in my master’s thesis interviews regularly mentioned that they found the term queer to be the most general term. Sitting in a room with Sarah, she explained why she would use the word queer:

Yea I feel like there’s… Yea I feel like you can get really broad down to like a very specific thing. Like you could go from like people that identify with being asexual compared to sexual, so you could say that I’m a sexual. Then I could say that I’m a homosexual or not even that cause then that takes away bisexual. So you could just say that I’m queer. And then you could break it down further and say that I’m gay, and then break it down further and say that I’m a lesbian. So like I guess, it’s like a narrowing thing.

As you can see, while she personally identifies as a gay woman, for her and others, the term queer encompasses all of the different shades of sexual minorities.

That’s why I use queer. Because I want to be inclusive without having the resort the the alphabet soup of LGBTQQITAA (etc.) Queer also gets around the terrible clinical-ness of MSMs: Men who have Sex with Men. My project can look at the experience of people having same-sex sex without needing to specify which identity choice these men need to have. It emphasizes that the entire community of queer people helps shape the relationships and institutions of Boystown. Using queer emphasizes the role of both political resistance to homonormativity in Boystown and the changing dynamics around ‘respectability’–especially sexually–in our bars and on our streets.

I recognize that the terms has roots in oppression. I use it personally as a political choice. I use it for my project as a political choice. Boystown is at the center of an argument about what being a sexual minority should mean in the 21st century. It is at the center of  a Queer Metropolis.

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