Why the F*$% are You in a Gay Club if You’re not Gay?
Earlier this week there I posted a link to this sassy etiquette guide for heterosexual people in gay bars, then queerty did a piece on how they didn’t necessarily agree with the entire guide, but conceded that heterosexual girls celebrating a bachelorette party in a gay bar is very, tremendously, exceedingly poor taste (duh).
That’s 3 queer rage memes in a week. Certainly, what with the internet and all, responding is a little bit easier and faster than it used to be editorial-wise (see Shit (adjective) (population)s Say meme), but I’m gonna pay special attention to this because anti-assimilatory attitudes have been on my mind lately.
I was having a conversation about “community politics” with a guy that I was seeing for a bit and he told me that he didn’t like the idea of identifying as “Queer” (he identified as pan or bisexual), because, to him, it signified a way of separating and politicizing an identity as counter to heterosexual society and how that was a bad strategy to win the rights and privileges we desire. And I was a little bit in love with him at the time so I didn’t go the whole “that sounds like white-cis-male privilege to me!” route immediately; after some less than gentle goading, he arrived on his own:
“Look at me. I don’t want to cut you out. I never want to cut anyone out of this conversation, but you have to understand that you can’t come with me to where I am. You can’t understand because you’re bisexual and you weren’t conditioned gay in society. Growing up queer—in America at least—is being punched in the stomach every day and being expected to act like it’s fine, to get up each time and keep going. When I came out my parents first said that they loved me, and then made me aware that I am not allowed to be myself at all times, that I need to be extra careful, that being myself can mean getting killed. When I went to college my grandfather took me aside and told me not to tell anyone that I was gay or jewish, to hide myself until I knew it was safe to come out. I came out at 16 after so much depression and anxiety related to being closeted, and suddenly I was just inculcated into this world of defensive living where, if I was too comfortable, I was going to be 1. Murdered for being gay 2. Raped by an older gay man because I am a young gay boy or 3. Get AIDS. And then it becomes second nature to look over your shoulder every minute you spend on the street in a new place, or not be yourself in heterosexual company and then you just live inside your head. And that’s a successful coming-out with no tears and no rejection. You just expend all this energy trying to live normally.
“Then there’s political violence; there’s all of these people who make it their literal business and political platforms to create laws denying you rights and privileges afforded your heterosexual, normal counterparts. And you hear it every day; your identity is up for debate every day. It’s grating and tiring. It’s being yourself with your queer friends and hiding some parts of yourself with others. It’s violence all the time. I choose to identify as Queer because I need to take up space; I get angry and upset and vigilant because we’re just fighting to take up space. I need to position myself against the heterosexual majority because I am pressed and assaulted by them and theirs every day of my life and I feel like sometimes yelling is the same as breathing.
“So that’s why I am suspicious of your “community politic” assessment. And, again I’m sorry, but you just can’t get to that place because you aren’t coded as gay; you primarily date girls. Do you see?”
“Oh… yes; I feel that way sometimes when I am with you—that unsafe feeling. And I don’t do all of the things I would do with a girl in public with you. I am sometimes uncomfortable to be physical with you in public. Ok.” (He said that. Verbatim).
I think the angry memes are indicative of where queer world is with heterosexual world on a spectrum of acceptance. We’ve worked very hard—over centuries—to have our own safe, public, queer spaces that we can frequent without knowing a password, getting raided by the police, or just being ourselves in public. We’ve also made mistakes along the way. Historically, one of the largest strategies to gain “acceptance” in society for the LGBT community has been assimilation; the gays of the Mattachine society and the lesbians of Daughters of Bilitis did it in the 50’s concurrently. The trend caught on. It wasn’t a bad strategy for the time—y’know, where it was totally legal and encouraged to raid gay bars, arrest the patrons, publish their photos in the paper, get the fired from their jobs consequently, and verbally and physically assault them in the process. It was probably the most aggressive option at the time too to say “we are gay/lesbian AND can be normal. Just. Like. You.” The “just like you” argument had unintended consequences, however, when “just like you” erased the trans community and queer people of color, because “you” largely referred to white men in power who had the power to validate the gay and lesbian identity legally. Assimilation, in the end, made our spaces too accessible, apparently.
Fast forward to now. We’re legally protected in a lot of states, we can marry in some, and we are gaining more and more presence in the public eye. This is good. Don’t let it fool you though. The anti-gay vitriol is getting more and more violent, they’re getting more and more attention (The amount of appearances that Tony Perkins, Maggie Galleger, and Brian Brown are offered on television or radio baffles me), and I’m still called faggot for being myself on the street. Kids are still killing themselves. Presidential candidates are still trying to pray my identity away.
We’re in a lag period, which I would define as a period between people becoming aware and applying that awareness to real life. This period is normal; it took me a good 6 years between identifying my difference, realizing how politicized my difference is, and acting accordingly. It’s normal. It just sucks because it means a total lack of understanding of what is and is not permissible in queer spaces and we don’t want to put down a drink to bring you up to speed on what sexuality is—especially while we’re trying to relax with our friends, or just hitting on someone we want to see naked.
Because it’s good to be with other queer people; it’s fucking great to go out to a gay bar and not be asked “which one’s the woman” or “can I ask you a question? Do you like giving or getting?” or “… But how do you guys… do it? Does one of you have a strap on? Do you both?” or “I know a gay person. After talking with you for 12 seconds I can tell how well you both would get along on a romantic and sexual level. I know. I’m a great match maker.” It’s relaxing. Despite the bass and vodka red bull, it’s soothing.
So heterosexual people, please read the guide before you enter my space. Because I like a lot of you, really. But a good lot of you are goddamn disrespectful. Just stay in and watch the game with your bros/hos, okay?