Someone asked me what Queer meant, and I immediately thought of frat houses and a friend named Alex who lived in one. He would wait in the basement during a party, and usually at around 3am some boy would catch his eye. He’d smile, faintly. In no time, they’d be upstairs in his room.
They were all “straight” boys, and usually that night would be their only visit. He’d see them later at parties with girls on their arms, and usually they’d ignore him.
Alex eventually slept with every boy his girlfriends dated. By the time I met him my junior year at college, he’d been with boys from every frat house except one.
If you figure out the math of his exploits, it suggests a lot more than 10% and really makes you wonder how many “gay” people are out there. To think many people still cite a “scientific” study done in the 1950s; millions of people have come out since then. And what about all the others--how many people have something to hide? Not counting those who are out, how many people are in the closet?
The answer: everyone.
And slowly, people are realizing this and understanding queerness. In many ways we already know it; we see homoerotics in every relationship between boys, in movies, summer camp, locker rooms, businesses... We know the whole macho act is a cover up, part of a fear of being called a fag, fear of being a vulnerable or emotional Man.
We know, or if not we discover, that a little over a century ago the words homosexuality and heterosexuality didn’t even exist. There was no such binary; instead, the rules lumped together all sex outside of married-penis-in-vagina-for-purpose-of-making-babies sex. Everything else fell into a big “Other” category, where all the sins [anal sex w/ anyone, oral sex w/ anyone, masturbation, kissing, petting a dog fondly] were nasty temptations open to anyone. Contrary to what many people today believe, heterosexuality--an opposite-sex act defining one’s being--is not a universal given.
Long before religion put restrictions on sex, people expressed desire in ways we’ve only begun to understand. Native Americans had fluid gender categories and no concept of sexuality as we know it. New Guineans had a system where men passed sperm down to young boys through oral sex as a rite of passage. The Greeks believed the relationship between man and boy was the highest form of love.
It’s crazy that everything you know, everything mainstream “history” teaches you, is only what’s been allowed to reach your ears by a homophobic few who’ve denied, ignored, or couldn’t recognize the rest of the information.
Could you imagine what would happen to so many structures of society if it was common knowledge that everyone was simply sexual--in whatever way they chose to exercise it at a given time? That, if we weren’t raised under these definitions of “gay” and “straight,” we might all be sleeping with, smooching, and loving anyone we met based on the beauty we found within ourselves and them?
We’ve been fighting to destroy racial distinctions [racism], gender distinctions [sexism] and sexuality distinctions [heterocentrism] for a while now. All of those still stand, though, because of fear. People’s heads are so full of incomplete information, they’re unable to accept themselves. They lurk in frat basements, waiting for someone like my friend Alex--someone who’s lucky enough to have “come out” from under the labels.
But coming out is not for a select few. Everyone is in a closet of erotic restriction. Often gay people come out of one and climb right into another, completely unaware. And without knowing it, they allow heterocentrism to continue, thinking they’ve already done all they could do. But coming out is neither an exclusive privilege or a one-time thing. There are many closets, and coming out of them is a lifelong process.
“I know gay is just as confining as straight, Mike, but I swear, I really only like guys,” you say. “I’d love to be bi, or pansexual, or whatever, but come on man, it’s just not realistic.” And it may not be. Because we were born into a world with the homo/hetero model firmly in place. [Remember, around 1900 the whole Western world got split into one or the other, and heaven forbid any blurring of the lines]. As soon as your mind pinpointed your first attraction to a guy, you defined it as a “gay” thing [if you consider yourself truly “bisexual,” you’ve no doubt seen the forces urging you to pick a side. It’s hard to repress someone who doesn’t fit neatly into place].
If you weren’t bi, you were in every sense subconsciously gay. Your mind told you, culture told you, that you were gay. Since your mind only had one option, you didn’t find women attractive. You didn’t even look at women that way anymore--why would you? You were Gay. Maybe now you have times when you think “hmmm, I could get with her” and your mind starts to think about what it wasn’t allowed to. Maybe you entertain the thought. Now imagine you’re someone trying to pull off a “straight” facade and your mind keeps thinking about what it’s not allowed to...
Now all this is not to say that people who call themselves “gay“ or are part of a “gay community” are wrong. A sense of community is crucial to freedom, visibility, and well-being--not to mention family--for many people. Some are more a part of a culture than others. The Radical Right painfully reminds us, everyday, how important it is to stay unified under a “Gay” political umbrella until all this oppressive bullshit is gone.
No matter where we place ourselves, we can remember where these little words came from—“gay” was created by “straight” in order to segment and persecute. We can shatter labels and make the structures of power unstable by being queer--in mind, in ideals, in the way we view our world. With queer, no one can hide! No liberal heterosexual can “accept” the “homo minority” while resting safely on their own unchallenged and normalized majority status. That very status is undermined by the notion of queer.
By setting a queer example, we can help others learn about their own queerness. Some people may never want to look that direction in their lifetimes; others are just waiting to learn how.
What’s so frightening to me is that even the people we consider sympathetic or objective in society keep oppression in place. We look to scientists for answers while forgetting they’re born into the same prejudices we are. Under the guise of “objective truth,” they actually solidify harmful structures and make them tougher to dismantle.
Simon LeVay and others will tell you gay people have a gene that makes them that way. These so called “studies” are terribly dangerous because they divert our attention from the real issue: the origin of the “gay/straight” framework itself. They don’t even question it--and in turn they validate it, halting further inquiry. Jonathan Ned Katz writes in his book The Invention of Heterosexuality, “[to assume] biology has determined our “historically specific sexuality”... is misconceived intellectually, as well as politically loathsome. For it places our problem in our bodies, not in our society.”
Our bodies are so unfairly defined for us by “science” that many have to take measures later in life to reclaim who they feel is their true self. Thousands of children are born hermaphrodite each week and are surgically “corrected” to fit into male/female ideals. If you’re transgendered or intersexed, you know what it’s like when people search for the right pronoun to use for you...even our language confines us. It’s taken thousands of years to get these rules and structures built, and it’s going to take a while to dismantle them.
I’ve met so many people who tell me “I don’t need to come out, I don’t believe in labels.” That’d be great, if labels weren’t already flying all over the place. So what you’re saying is you’re privileged enough to have dealt with everything, but you’re going to sit there and let everyone else assume you’re straight? You’re going to let gay-bashing continue because you keep your mouth shut? You’re going to let 70% of teen suicides continue? Matthew Shepard, anyone?
As hard as it can be, we all have to do our part, in our own little ways.
I know a man and woman who are dating but do not have a hetero world view. They are publicly “out”. They don’t correct someone who guesses they are gay, except to say they are neither gay nor straight. In their words, they are “sexual humans free of a het chastity belt.” They most certainly are queer.
Queer means—simply--anything but “straight” [confined to sex exclusively with a perceived opposite gender, and a similar world view]. That’s the only “rule.” But Queer is unlimited. A true rainbow of possibilities! The ideal potential within everyone. To be queer is to be proud of being alive, to create a unique identity, to spend every day dis-cover-ing every buried aspect of Love within ourselves and our world, and resisting the powers that keep them buried.
Heterocentrism is so crushing sometimes it can make us feel as though everything but us is straight. But just as we reclaim the hidden queerness in history, we must reclaim it everywhere. In our science books [no, animals aren’t “straight”, they’ve just had het human interpreters], in our classrooms [challenge your teachers!], in our cereal bowls, in our skateboards, public restrooms, bible scriptures. Everywhere! Don’t be afraid! As soon as you think, “no, Cain and Abel couldn’t have had homoerotic tensions between them,” you’re letting homophobia slip back over your mind like a shawl. Yes, that sidewalk you’re walking on is queer. The house you were born in is queer. The air you breathe is queer.
Anytime you find yourself policing your thoughts, ask yourself where that sense of “wrongness” comes from. I know some of you might be thinking “Mike, you’re fucked, you shoot down all these labels and then offer another one.” Not really. The word Queer is merely the current way of representing deconstruction, specifically in the realms of sexuality, eroticism, identity, and love. [By definition: a word without definition]. And deconstruction is merely the academic word for an open mind that recognizes and breaks out of its confinements, a mind that doesn’t believe a single thing it’s been told without examining it first. Including all that I’ve said here.
So get to work “boys.” --Mike Glatz