Being a Bad Gay: Things That are Begging, Even Now, to be Quieted for the Sake of Good Company

by morgan w.

On (not) being queer.

‘In a land like Babel where language bubbles and bursts from hot headed needle points of knowing, who am I today?’
– e.m. ohargeayn

I am not queer.

I am gay. I am a lesbian. I am politically charged and funky and pierced and wear costume eyeglasses and believe in the spectrum of everything and hope to wear unmatched socks forever because life seems more appropriate that way. I believe in love of self and sister and space and brother and that it takes a wider lens than what I may have started off with. I believe in whoever fucking whoever and that’s okay as long as they end up respecting each other’s hearts and bodies and desires. I believe in safe spaces and safe people. I am mentioning these things as meditations on what I have understood to be championed in ‘queerness’, not as half-assed attempts of definition. Mismatched socks included.

One of the things that keeps me from calling myself queer, besides its etymology of literal peculiarity and/or strangeness is that it seems like a form of anti-representation. And outside of myself, I really like that. You don’t have to state yourself as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ you can just be queer and have that be another way of saying: radical in my love of ______ or, completely identifiably ____. To be queer is to be of the ilk that believes in safety inside of expression and lord knows, especially as it relates to brown spaces, we need safe, anything-goes energy anywhere we can find it.

It’s just that of all the spectrum riding, genuinely evolving, delicate fixtures of flight in my life, I so love my sexuality being articulated as concrete. And yes, even concrete gets uprooted and reshaped and cracked and stepped inside of (whoa, I’m losing control of this metaphor!)—but that isn’t the point. The point is I love being gay. I came to understand myself, my identity in spaces that did not lend themselves to the latitude of this city at this time in history. ‘Queer’ felt as distant to me as ‘butch’—a term I’ve slowly begun to integrate into my spectrum of personal representation. Being queer meant having a ‘partner’ or ‘lover’ and I wanted a girlfriend. I have been so grateful, over the last several years to be introduced to queer spaces and to understand queerness as a statement of person and not sexual-identity. Like ‘butch’, I’ve tested it in my personal language of late. It feels quite right in so many realms—when talking to groups or conjuring the notion of space where we all can make room for each other. But, despite my greatest efforts to be so—I end up just feeling like a gay-ass in a queer-ass’s clothes. Love me anyway. I love you.

Gender should exist and matter.

(Don’t shoot.)
It should just be as fluid or coppered as you need for it to be. Gender, the representation of the masculine/feminine (and everything in between) is not to blame for the limited visage of the world. In all things there is the embodiment of self—and self should fall wherever it wants on the spectrum. Gender is the embodiment of different elements of what it is to be human on said spectrum and we would do very well to incorporate them and attempt to push their limits (a la genderqueer) instead of banishing them into the box of ‘not real’ or ‘not necessary’. Gender should be pushed, spliced, turned on its head, mocked, made into expression, turned inward, worn outward—but it should not disappear. Nor can it.

ALSO ALSO ALSO what happens to work done to champion the rights of women (who include, trans, inter sexed women-identified peoples) done by women? Where does their work—for the strengthening of their circle–get placed? What are we doing to the backs of women, on which our greater civilization has been built? What are we doing to trans folk whose gender is a burden that MUST be recognized and contended with? What are we doing to masculine of center women who fight to be recognized as beautiful women? (Answer me, I’m really curious.)

ALSO ALSO ALSO the act of existing outside of the realm of gender (whether or not that is even *actually* happening…) does not speak in the language of the human condition. It is a privilege to imagine such a space and doing so, in my mind, leaves people out. The goal of progress should never be exclusion. The concept of removing gender as an identifying factor is exclusive because it is not a concept accessible to MOST of the world…particularly to women. In believing in its non-existence, what are we doing to the people who exist inside of this paradigm everyday?

And in my final bombshell, I announce, with no small amount of shame:

I’m over poorly rendered burlesque. Somehow this feels connected to being a bad gay. Either way, please New York City and the rest of the world, step it up.

-Mo

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For more inflammatory judgment about the world in and around her, follow Mo (the ‘mo) on Twitter @momannwill. Or, email equally judgmental inflammatory thoughts to morganmaw@gmail.com.

Originally published on bklyn boihood. Republished with permission.

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123 Comments

  1. First a friggin’ all– DAAAAAAAMN. i LOVE every single response y’all shared. i agree with at least half of you who disagree with me, i appreciate those of you who feel where i’m coming from and i’m genuinely going to take the comments/questions presented to this piece and respond to them. proooobably internally because that’s a whole lot of writing and i need coffee. seriously.

    also also also ;] — THANK YOU for the burlesque tips. geeesh. i mean, really. -@momannwill (FB/Tw)

  2. I identify as a queer genderfluid androgyne [transandro] dyke.

    I use queer because on several occasions i’ve been attracted to transmen and other trans* people and by using ‘lesbian’ it can potentially invalidate their identities. On the other hand, I’m a dyke because I’m a female-bodied person who is attracted pretty much solely to other female-bodied people, namely those who *do* identify as women.

    I’m an androgyne (my gender, I suppose) because I don’t feel like a woman nor a man, but rather some androgynous third-gender. I’m transandro because I do experience body dysphoria and have other trans* related experiences. I put it in brackets because I don’t think there’s really anything I could do to my body that would make it match up to my mind.

    I’m genderfluid in both my gender AND gender expression. While most of the time I feel third-gender, sometimes I feel like a woman and sometimes I feel like a man. In relation to genderfluidity, again, mostly I feel/look/talk/act androgynous, but depending on who i’m with and my circumstances and whatnot, my gender expression changes to be more feminine or more masculine.

    That’s why I’m queer though, because the conventional terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘woman’ don’t apply to me. I adopted it rather reluctantly though; I really wish I was just a lesbian and just a woman, since it would make life easier to a certain extent, but I’m simply not.

    As a side note and something to think about, what is considered feminine and masculine (or in other words, gender expression) varies so much throughout the ages and different cultures. This is not set and always changing.

  3. THIS THIS THIS YES.
    I strongly believe that gender matters, isn’t what’s keeping us down. I am a woman interested in women; that’s how I want to identify. Team lesbian, or whatever. But queer doesn’t cut it for me.

  4. Thanks for this article and all the people who took the time to write thoughtful comments.

    While it took me over a year to make peace with the word “queer”, I’ve come to like it for the same reasons you don’t: its an anti-representation (not heteronormative). The word is independent of sexuality or gender, inclusive, and easy to use.

    As a lesbian, I dislike being referred to as “gay” and don’t really identify with the term because it’s often used to generalize the male experience as a universal one. Admittedly it’s less clinical than “homosexual” and more generally palatable than “queer” so I find myself resorting to the clunky “lesbian and gay” (I’m referring only to homos here, not the whole queer spectrum).

    I especially appreciate that you recognized concrete sexuality. Whether concrete or fluid or somewhere in-between, it’s another spectrum along which people fall. Some people move along the spectrum, some don’t. One experience doesn’t invalidate the others.

    W.r.t. gender I’ve never been close to being a stereotypical girl yet I’ve always identified as female. While it could be painful (constantly feeling harangued to be more feminine by my Mom, some peers, and all media) and awkward (OH. HELL. NO. was I going to prom with my bf if it meant I had to wear a dress), I never questioned whether I was female or longed to be male. I was willing to obstinately wait for the world to catch up to my knowledge that I could be female AND authentically me, that the either/or it offered me was artificial. Eventually, it did.

    • I’m not sure I agree with your statement about “gay” being a generalization of the male experience. Although I understand the subconcious roots of bigotry/the pervasive power of language/the overriding arc of american misogyny, i don’t think a.) straight people think about their own opinions on the worth of female-female sexuality half as much as we think about their opinions of the worth of female-female sexuality or b.) anyone is purposefully robbing us of our sexual experiences by using a word they think we might prefer, you know? I mean, I personally prefer gay. It widens the net I cast myself under, and considering the fact that as a lesbian my legal status in this country is just as shitty as a gay man’s, I don’t see why we shouldn’t embrace some unifying linguistics, you know?

      That being said, I’m all for people calling themselves whatever the fuck they want. Seriously. But its one thing to say “This word makes me feel this way.” and another thing to say “This word is this way.” Language is the most basic facet of human cognition, and I think what morgan was trying to say is that forcing linguistic generality on any given person can be just as opressive as forcing linguistic specificity on them. Plus, I find the phonetic combination of “z” and “b” is kind of fucking scary but I’ve always loved words that ended in long a’s. So I’m Gay. A tired, digression-prone Gay.

      • Camilla, I agree with all the points you made, right down to the phonetic.

        When I said I thought the word “gay” generalized the male experience, I should’ve said “gay male experience”. I say this because I’ve yet to meet a non-activist/educator gay man who had more than a cursory knowledge of issues more specific/relevant to women than men and most had zero knowledge whatsoever; who didn’t presume the primacy of “male” in an organization’s agenda and use of resources (e.g. health); who didn’t presume the primacy of the male perspective on issues effecting both men and women; and who didn’t dismiss the very idea that an organization could be referred to as gay if it didn’t include (a lot of) men. All of which has left me feeling that “gay” is about as representative of women as “he” is a universal pronoun. So I’m still not gay, even though adopting it would make for easier unifying language.

        *Obviously* I don’t know all gay males and am I *not* generalizing my experience to all gay men or anyone else. *Nor* am I trying to police language. This is how *I* use it. I completely agree that people should call themselves whatever the f*ck they want. To me, the raison d’être of language is to communicate. Some people tend toward precision, others more toward generalities. Some are exacting, others like to mess with convention. Whatever floats your boat.

  5. I love this article and all these responses. Sorry I can’t formulate a more articulate comment myself… I love reading people’s contributions, especially when they expand my perspective. It’s also really reassuring to know others are stumbling over identities and linguistic labels too!

  6. I love that the author discussed the whole ‘elimination of gender’ phenomenon. We would disregard all the wonderful feminists/women’s rights activists and their work, as well as exclude most of the world, all of those people who are perfectly content to identify as male or female, man or woman, or somewhere in between. I identify genderqueer, but still use female pronouns, because that is what makes me comfortable. Also, I am fine with my female body, and checking female on forms for things not geared toward the LGBT community. So, in short, I totally agree with the part about not doing away with gender. I am all for all kinds of progress, but that idea has always seemed absurd to me.

    As for the use of ‘queer’- I like the word, and apply it to myself, but understand why the author of this piece opts away from using it. Very well written, thanks for the perspective.

  7. Interesting dialogue going on here. I recently wrote on my blog why I’ve decided to forgo all labels, even queer. That said, I understand why many people embrace the word (or not). One’s identity is a personal choice and if we choose to change it at any time that is OK too. :)

    Also- I’m not big on using the term partner to describe my SO (I am single btw), and don’t understand why legally married people do that. YET- boyfriend/girlfriend sounds too high school for me…If only there was a more mature, yet romantic term available…lol

  8. And I totally <3 this sentence, btw- “Gender should be pushed, spliced, turned on its head, mocked, made into expression, turned inward, worn outward—but it should not disappear. Nor can it.”

    I’m all about turning supposed roles upside down.

  9. when i first read this i had a lot of feelings and i wanted to wait a bit so that i could articulate a coherent response.

    the main point to me is that being gay / lesbian / bisexual is not mutually exclusive to being queer. to me, gay / lesbian / bisexual is a sexual identity and queer is more of a political stance. an ethics or way of life if you will. an ideology that rejects assimilationist politics for an unwavering commitment to social justice. it’s not really an identity so much as it is a critique on identity; a way to look at things differently.

    being queer does not mean that you reject gender nor does it mean that the existence of male / female is not acknowledge. rather, it acknowledges that there are variations to these gender expressions within our society that should be recognized.

  10. this is a beautiful article. i don’t have answers to a lot of questions. gender does exist, and we need the words and the vocab, but like anything, to define a thing is to cage it- to limit it. At least, in my experience. I try to see without judgement. I also differentiate between “judgement” and “I know what I like- as in my personal taste”. anyway.

    i hate that feminine is associated with being weak, and i’m tired of machismo. i am a strong woman, and i’m not afraid to admit that. i find that people don’t know how to respond to it.

    crying is not a sign of weakness, it means the body is healthy. but i am a private person, and i prefer to cry in private. i think that is fair, too.

    I am a woman. I know that. I think all women are beautiful. I think movement of the body is beautiful, and I think everyone can dance.
    I think to be natural is beautiful. Natural, confident movement is a beautiful thing to witness.

  11. Since when did being queer mean wanting to eliminate all genders and labels for the sake of a fluidity-utopia world? Isn’t queer a label, too, hm? Furthermore, why are we even comparing the identities of gay/lesbian and queer in a good vs. bad way? They are completely different, and taken on for different reasons.

    As a queer/genderqueer identified person, I don’t feel alienated at all. Nope, not a bit. :/

  12. “The goal of progress should never be exclusion. The concept of removing gender as an identifying factor is exclusive because it is not a concept accessible to MOST of the world…particularly to women. In believing in its non-existence, what are we doing to the people who exist inside of this paradigm everyday?”

    One of those moments where someone else articulates something I’ve been thinking for a long time without developing the ability to articulate. Good on you, morgan w.

  13. First off, if anyone is saying to you that to like ladies you must also identify “queer”, then they’re wrong, and you have every right not to identify as queer. But as someone who does not indentify with a gender, I must say that I did not like this article.

    Maybe your point isn’t getting across to me. Maybe there’s some miscommunication here. But the fact is, pretty much the whole second half of this article offends me.

    Personally, I think gender exists to different degrees for different people. Yes, the majority of the human population (cisgender or not) identifies with a gender. And I have no problem with people who identify with a gender. I, however, do not have a gender. And I feel as though this article is saying that that is wrong.

    I particularly dislike the line “Gender should exist and matter”.

    So you’re saying that I SHOULD have a gender and that it SHOULD matter to me what gender everyone else is? Well guess what? I don’t. To me, that sentence is like saying to a lesbian, “you SHOULD love a man.”

    There is no “should” in the world of sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression.

    Everyone should be free to express their gender (or lack thereof) in their own way. As a genderqueer person, I do not want to eliminate all genders and labels from the planet, as this article seems to assume. Just because I identify as queer doesn’t mean I think everyone else should abandon gender. That’s like saying that just because I have a vagina and like women, I must want everyone with a vagina to like women as well. Which is obviously bullshit. I would never force my identity or beliefs on anyone in that way.

    If you feel trapped in a box by the term “queer”, then by all means, don’t use it to describe yourself. But it seems like you’re basically saying that the word “queer” is just a box that traps people. It’s not.

    TL;DR: Just because I identify as queer doesn’t mean I want to “remove gender as an identifying factor”. Your gender is evidently necessary to you. Mine, however, is not necessary to me. Please don’t make me feel like a bad person simply because I don’t indetify with a gender.

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