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.



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 [email protected].

Originally published on bklyn boihood. Republished with permission.

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  1. this article is one of the truest things I’ve ever read.

    “Being queer meant having a ‘partner’ or ‘lover’ and I wanted a girlfriend.”


  2. I love love this interesting & beautifully written article. While I do use the word queer to describe myself, this makes excellent points about why the author chooses to not. This type of discussion of gender, sexuality, and identity is so important.

    • Seconded on the grounds that I personally can articulate no better response than this

      Word indeed.

  3. agreed! gender roles should be fluid
    I also feel that I shouldn’t be classified as a “boi” if i want to wear basketball shorts and a tee; or “femme” on a regular basis for wearing makeup and pretty outfits. I want to be classified as a girl, who likes girls, and guys.

  4. Maybe it’s just because I’m high, but this reads like a monologue from Waking Life.

  5. I tend to refer to myself as gay and/or a lesbian, but I’m actually REALLY queer. Like pretty much pansexual, but not really attracted to very many straight cismen. I don’t feel ‘in the closet’ about being attracted to men as well, but I don’t think very many people know about it.

    • I found myself in a similar situation during my coming out process. I switched to masculine clothing in smaller sizes and dated feminine women, but my attraction to men didn’t fade. That’s part of the reason why I chose to identify as queer and, eventually genderqueer, but that’s another long story…

    • This is me too. It’s a newish thing for me, having come out 5 years ago as gay/lesbian and had a long term relationship with a girl. Followed by some heartbreak and then eventually, a sudden, unexplainable physical attraction to a guy. Glad I’m not the only one. It’s hard to be “in the closet” or “out” when you can’t explain it to yourself (or can, but only poorly).

  6. This is super interesting and important and relate-able but ALSO

    that thing about poorly rendered burlesque. I think the gods of burlesque have abandoned us.

    • I felt like that too, and I *perform* burlesque. But I soon found that the gems are in the places least expected. NYC is pretty good even for its mainstream stuff, but if you want absolute gold – look outside the box.

      Since this article mentioned NYC, I will suggest Brown Girls Burlesque and Auralfixia’s monthly shows (look up Crimson Kitty/N the Only Letter in Burlesque). San Francisco also has great stuff, though you will need to look at kink parties and sex-positive events and stuff more offbeat.

      Look up burlesque performers of colour – Ginger Snapz, The Lady Ms Vagina Jenkins, Vixen Noir, Mangos with Chilli, Tangerine Jones.
      Look up performers who deal with queer identity, genderfuck, sexual mindfuckery. Jiz Lee does this from time to time (look up their performance art project twincest). Miss Maggie Mayhem, Madison Young, Sadie Lune, hell anybody that has been involved with Too Much Pussy! or their offshoot projects.
      Look up performance artists that incorporate the erotic or burlesque but may not necessarily label themselves as such. There’s more than you think, but again they tend to be hiding.

      Australia and the UK have a fair few too, though they tend to be more scattered and the mainstream scene can be overwhelmingly privileged. (And again the good stuff is camouflaged).
      For the UK try Lashings of Ginger Beer, and there’s another group that specifically bills themselves as lesbian-centered but I don’t remember the troupe name (two members are Twiggy Starlust and Willow Rose).
      As for Australia – Melbourne had Ladies of Colour Agency but the ladies themselves are doing more solo stuff more. Sydney has a few more in the queer scene – Zoo, Lilian Starr, Glitta Supanova (the QUEEN), Fancy Piece, a heap of transmale performers. In my city (Brisbane) there’s me and Truly Scrumptious who does goth burlesque but not a hell of a lot politically. I want this to change.

      As you can tell, this is my passion. I got fed up with being marginalised, feeling left out, being bullied for being upfront and loud and proud. My kindred spirits are all elsewhere for the most part, or moving. But I seek them out often and strongly.

  7. i like this article. i define myself as queer because who i find myself attracted to surprises me everyday.

  8. I like the term “queer” as a catch-all term for the community, in place of the increasingly cumbersome LGBTQIABCDEFG or whatever it is these days. But when it comes to how I identify, I am bisexual. I consider myself a member of the queer community, but I don’t like to refer to myself as queer. For the same reasons; I feel like so many other things in my life are undefined, it’s nice to have a clear label for my sexuality.

    • I feel strange about the term “bisexual”–this is just me personally! I have no problem with anyone who uses it to describe themselves–because of the prefix. “Bi-” suggests the gender binary, and I like a term that encompasses all genders. “Queer” works for me.

      • Aaand I want to make it clear that I definitely think gender is a thing and that that’s okay! But I also respect/love/want to get sexy with those who don’t wanna identify.

      • See, I use bi rather than pan because, as I said below, I’m not one of those “doesn’t see gender” people. I like different things in men and women. As much as I’ve been told the gender binary is bad bad bad, I feel like it very much exists for me when it comes to the things I find attractive.

        Which is not to say I couldn’t get down with a genderqueer person, but I haven’t met any so I have no idea. (I have met trans people I’ve found sexy, but I don’t consider that the same thing.)

      • Personally, I identify as bisexual not because I’m attracted to men and women, but not people outside the binary, but because I’m attracted to people who are masculine, feminine, or both. And let me tell you, I’m definitely attracted to people who are not binary-identified. As someone who identifies outside the binary genderwise, I think it’s a bit silly to say that someone doesn’t see gender when they’re attracted to someone. Unless you grew up without any human interaction, you’re going to see gender. The gender you see might change depending on your experiences, and the way you use that information in relation to attraction and friendships definitely will, but to say that you don’t see gender (presentation) is to lie and to not accept the entire person you’re interacting with.

        …sorry I ending up having more feelings than I originally thought.

  9. I totally agree with the privilege of saying gender isn’t a thing. Gender is, in fact, for the vast vast vast vast majority of humans on this earth, a thing. And we can be all post-feminist and post-gender and post-whatsit, but most people are pre-rights, and don’t get to be post-much.

      • I also agree. I feel that the word Gay is also misused and that ‘we’ whoever ‘we’ are, are keeping people from being able to unite. However well written, i dont consider myself queer because of the need for a lover, i do it because that is how i feel best represents my sexuality. I am a lesbian and i also am black…. i understand that some people dont like ‘black’ but that how i identify because as a black American i feel that it better represents my personal struggle… in life. The fact that some people can use African-American to rep. there struggle is the same to me… We are so privileged to able to atleast fight for our cause yet we can even love each other where we are at is why we are writing about things that promote sides in some senses than tearing down walls… the community is fallin to pieces because we cant truly be inclusive unless everything is over defined. why is this i want to know? why cant we just share the struggle no matter what word we use to describe it? i might be completely off in my interpretation of this article, but why cant we just get over it and fight together for a cause and not over words?

  10. I also think another way in which I’m a bad queer is that I’m a bi person who uses bisexual rather than pansexual. To me, pansexual has always had an air of “I don’t see gender.” See, I do see gender. Personality-wise, I like the same things in a man and a woman, but looks-wise, I have very different preferences in each sex.

    • Dear R.,
      You never have to apologize for who you are attracted to. You can love, accept, appreciate and celebrate trans men and women/genderqueer individuals and not be sexually attracted to them. To me, this does not make you less evolved.
      love, MdHP

      • I’ve been attracted to trans people before, but I saw them as whatever gender they identified as, not as inbetween genders.

        And thanks. I always feel weird when people talk about bi- or pansexuality like “I love people, not a gender.” I’ve never felt that way. It’s always made me feel like a bad bi.

        • I feel you. In this call for post-gender world I feel a bit left behind. I am black,a very gay bisexual, a woman, a femme even, and all those things have meaning to me and give clues about my place in the world. So to say we should just do away with it all and be fluid grey matter is not the answer to me.

    • What exactly consistutes a “good” bi? Because, sistah, I feel the same way ’bout the gender differences. And it’s not a bad thing.

    • I totally do a similar thing. More because I had to explain what bisexual meant to my mom (and she’s not too conservative, I was surprised she didn’t already know) and most people at least have a basic understanding of bisexual and would be so confused about “pansexual” (I was for a while).
      Though I’m pretty sure I am pansexual..

  11. This made me think. I think I like this.
    I wish I had time to write a more articulate response.

  12. i want to talk about a lot of this b/c i love it but all i can say right now is that i really agree w/r/t burlesque

  13. I had to check the author on this because I have all of these feelings and I was weirded out because I do not write this well. You go Mo.
    I like being a gay. I feel like queer has been used as an insult too many times in my life for me to be proud of calling myself that. (My school kept a lid on fag and the traditional hate-speech terms but didn’t seem to think queer was a problem)
    Gender. It feels like a thing. It’s a big issue for my trans friends and calling it not a thing makes their struggle seem petty and fake, and it is the farthest thing from it.

    Last thought: this was very poetically and beautifully written and made me think in the beginning it was a sneaky last addition to pure poetry week. sniff. I’m sad it’s over.

    • I think taking a more negative view toward gender doesn’t imply it’s “not a thing.” I’m a trans woman and being in a highly gendered society hasn’t exactly been a basket of roses. I don’t speak for all trans folks, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if gender–even if it didn’t entirely disappear–was at least greatly reduced in importance. Being forced to live as a guy against my will kinda sucked. If people had taken more of an “ehhh, whatever, none of this is important anyway” approach it would have been greatly appreciated by me. But people seemed pretty emotionally invested in seeing me as a guy for some sick reason.

  14. i love this post so much i just want to hold it in my arms at night under my electric blanket while drinking tea with it.

  15. Applause, applause. For the whole wonderfully energy of this piece and also, especially, for this: “I’m over poorly rendered burlesque. Somehow this feels connected to being a bad gay.” Right On.

  16. I really appreciated this piece, and you made so many compelling and thought-provoking points.

    I’ve been struggling in the past year over whether to identify as bisexual or queer. I do identify with many of the main tenets of queer ideology and appreciate that it enables expressing that I’m not just attracted to two binary representations of gender (often assumed to be cis). At the same time, I don’t want to give up fighting the good fight for bisexual representation/visibility. I don’t know. I obviously have a lot of feelings.

    My #1 feeling right now might actually be a wholehearted YES to this statement, though: “I’m over poorly rendered burlesque.”

    • Ahhh I know exactly what you mean! Lately I’ve just been going with queer because it makes things easier, but sometimes I just want to say something else even though I know it will confuse people.

      • Ahh, yeah, I’ve mainly been using queer lately, too. It seems to need more explanation with a lot of people I’ve talked with, but it works out to be a pretty good litmus test for whether that person and I will probably get along.

  17. I like gender being a thing. It’s just a complicated thing that should be whatever you want it to be.

    I am always confused when I read things about Identity. Yes, with a capital “I”. This article was wonderfully written and very interesting, to be sure. But I think it’s the writer in me, the part that strongly dislikes using the same word twice in a short amount of space, that fuels the way I identify. I throw Gay, Lesbian, Homosexual, Dyke, Queer, Homogaygaygaysexual, Lady-Lover, and the occasional Fag around like I’m getting paid for it. I just have fun with it and go with whatever I think sounds the nicest with what I’m saying.

    I think it’s great that some people give their identities a lot of thought; I really respect it, although I don’t always fully understand it. But I also don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me treating my own identity the way I do.

  18. I don’t think it’s even possible or desirable to live in a genderLESS society, because gender is how we make ourselves intelligible and how we relate to one another. Thanks for highlighting that in this piece! We can’t live OUTSIDE discourses – what would it be like to live in a world where no one meant anything to anyone else? The problem arises when a certain performance or meaning or look or whatever is attached to privilege. Undoing gender isn’t about erasing it, but detaching it from privilege and from the meanings that make life, and being recognized as human, actually impossible for some people.*

    Also, I feel your feelings re: queer. I have tried to use it because I am a femme-presenting person and I feel like people try to use lesbian or queer to describe me. But I feel GAY!

    *Thanks to our good friend Judith B. for this

  19. I don’t understand “queer.” I really don’t. I’m a lesbian, gay lady, whatever. I’m not queer.

    But then, I realize maybe not everyone feels like me, but I still don’t understand why anyone is queer. I experience life in spectrum. Either I’m working my ass off or I’m not doing shit. Either I’m ingesting zero trans fat or cholesterol or I’m eating deep-fried cheese. And there gay and straight, and I’m on the extremely gay end of the spectrum (just in how much I love the lady folk, not necessarily by how I present myself.) I can’t imagine how people live any other way. Plus, the word queer is just sorta confusing. At least everyone basically understands what bisexual is, even if people like me can’t fathom the possibility.

    • @magiclovemuffin:

      I’m similar to you – I operate pretty much at extremes – lazy as hell in some respects but I work crazy long hours, eat exceptionally healthily – until I eat unhealthily and then I do it in excess. Don’t drink often, but when I do then I can’t stop once I start.

      But I do think of myself as queer – in that to me, queer means to not be the heterosexual standard. I’d consider quite a few of my straight friends to be sort of queer in that respect too – in that they don’t follow gender conventions.
      I’d consider myself 100% gay, but then because I’m always at extremes, I’m almost so gay to the point of being camp – which makes me seem quite bizarre as a lesbian – and that’s why I think ‘queer’ fits me better

      • I think maybe that’s why I don’t understand queer — the idea of labeling myself “not the heterosexual standard,” which could mean a whole plethora of things I definitely am not.

        I do feel like I’m different than the rest of the world, the heterosexual standard, as you say. I don’t fit into to the heteronormative way of society. But in another way, I feel like I’m exactly like everyone else and I just happen to be gay, which is this big thing, when it’s really not. The heteronormativity that makes me feel like I don’t belong is based around this idea, this assumption, that straight is just what exists and it’s a given that’s how things work. That’s the only problem, other people being close-minded. The problem is not the idea of heterosexuality and whether or not I fit in with being straight. People just need to consider and realize people are, in fact, gay many times, which is what I am. Other than liking girls and maybe not wearing dresses, I’d say there’s nothing all that different about me.

        I think queer muddles the issue a lot. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a woman in a relationship with a man can still be queer. Whether the goal is visibility, or just outside understanding and acceptance, I think if you’re gay, simply calling yourself gay is the preferable way to go. Anyone can call themselves whatever they want, but if someone’s a lesbian, what’s wrong with just being a lesbian?

        • I see what you’re saying – and I definitely agree with parts of it – society I feel is changing and certainly where I live (near Manchester in the UK) is very gay friendly and liberal. Sexuality and gender aren’t used to define me, in my work place – I could be 100% straight and it wouldn’t make any difference to how people view me.

          But, for me at least, being queer is a self-definition, and a description of something other than sexuality. My gf on the other hand, who is very similar to me in background/education/personality *doesn’t* consider herself queer. She’s a person who happens to be gay, but it doesn’t define her in the slightest.

          I had a different experience as a gay person than she did, experienced more homophobia, and I think that’s the part that made me feel ‘queer’. Seperately I do call myself gay, I think it’s a good description of my sexuality, but the ‘queer’ label is something different – a cultural label I suppose?

  20. Awesome article, especially on the part about a gender-free society being an idea born of privilege. I totally support people who feel gender-free, but not those who want to force it on everyone else and try to erase my experience as a trans woman.

  21. i agree so hard with this whole article. thank you so much for writing it and thus validating my own feelings about being a “bad gay”.
    im a lesbian. SUCH a dresses-and-lipstick-and-pearls-even-to-the-grocery-store-gold-star-uber-femme lesbian. and im okay with that! i like my identity! i dont feel comfortable labelling myself as queer, and i doubt i ever will.
    so thank you.
    and also for this: “Being queer meant having a ‘partner’ or ‘lover’ and I wanted a girlfriend.”
    THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL. i love having a girl to call my girlyfriend. (i know its even more sickeningly sweet once its girlYfriend, im sorry)
    infact i ended up switching doctors because she INSISTED on using the term partner and i could not stand it.

    you rule. <3

  22. So much love for this article. I think anything I would want to say has pretty much already been said but yeah, I love this. Even though I (usually) identify as queer I still totally get what you’re saying.
    ALSO: “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.”
    I’m always nervous that someone will think I mean queer as in strange instead of queer as in not-straight.

  23. Your binary privilege is showing. Some of us don’t have nice “concrete” labels like gay or lesbian, even when we’re monosexual.

    • Yeah, I was pinging on that too. Gay or Lesbian just does not work with me – a girl (for most purposes cis) in a committed relationship with a man but sexually intimate with women and attracted to just about anybody. Queer is the only thing that fits, and just barely.

      I can get though that “queer” also has certain subcultural expectations – on dress, mannerisms, politics, style, pop culture references, whatever – that don’t work very well with people from marginalised backgrounds. It’s come to signal a package that doesn’t really fit so well.

      But what is one to do when the English language fails you so?

      • “But what is one to do when the English language fails you so?”

        Take that language into your hands and use it on your own terms, again and again, til it finally stretches to means what you want it to mean :)

        (apologies for the starry-eyed idealism)

  24. this is really an amazing article — thank you so much for your thoughts.

    i have to say that i like being “a queer”. i feel like i’m not put into one of those check boxes/set of expectations that come with the labels ‘gay’ lesbian’ ‘capricorn’. but i digress…ALSO i admit that i do not use the term queer around my family because they view this word as a curse word. my parents’ generation use(d) it in a derogatory way, and well, “we just shouldn’t talk like that” as my mother would say. they ALSO whisper “lesbian” so i guess i’m gay.

    one more ALSO — about gender. i understand what you are saying and i appreciate it. i have to say that my whole life i have battled against the phrase “that’s not very lady-like” and i have embraced my genderqueerness (again, not so much with the fam. they’re good with the gay, lets not rock the boat!). but that battle (in my dreams) would diminish if this construct of gender would just dissolve. perhaps i am just dreaming.

    thank you again for your thoughts. much appreciated.

  25. I call myself queer because it’s the closest word I can find to describe what I am. I’m not gay, I’m not straight, and I feel that ‘bi’ is a much too simplistic word to describe the things I feel and stand for. Most times I avoid using words at all, or I say ‘same sex attracted’ (which ain’t the sexiest) because I guess I feel that my heart is too big (and too changeable) to be constrained by modern language. This is not the case for everyone.

    Also, I just want to say that while I get that most of us live in gendered societies and therefore cannot imagine life outside of the confines of gender, there are societies that do not operate in the same ways that we do. There are languages that do not include gendered pro-nouns, and societies that do not use biological sex as a way of structuring social roles. Not to mention societies that have gender systems that are in no way dichotomous. To suggest that there can be no world outside of gender is to ignore these societies and the actual real people that exist within them.

    “gender should exist and matter” – Whose concept of gender should exist? And how much should it matter?

    • I wish I had something more substantial to add, but I would just like to say:

      Yes. Yes to all of this.

    • Thank you for noting that other cultures have very different paradigms and languages around gender. I once read a tweet where someone said “All cultures are cis-sexist” and I’m thinking fuck you, not every culture works with gender the way the English-language-speaking world does.

    • “…noting that other cultures have very different paradigms and languages around gender…”

      So what other cultures are you referring to?

      • The hard part about this is that almost all these cultures weren’t natively English-speaking, so a lot of nuance gets lost in translation. Add colonial influence in the mix and it gets even more muddled. Also, I can only speak from the experience of being an observer; I am in no shape or form an expert or one that has lived significantly within these cultures. But I’ll try my best.

        There is the South Asian hijra, which are somewhere between trans women and a third gender of people. Quite a few Asian regions are slightly more tolerant of sex changes than they are homosexuality, so what you sometimes see are gay men who don’t actually desire to be women per se but do so to make their relationships validated.

        Growing up in Malaysia there was a lot of visibility around mak nyah, which are similar to hijra except they’re closer to just being bog-standard trans women (rather than having the magical qualities hijra are believed to embody). It was personally surprising for me to see so much visibility around trans men in Western culture (after moving to Australia) because in Malaysia you don’t see them at all.

        In Albania you have the sworn virgins, which seem superficially equivalent to lesbians or trans men in that they take on men’s roles in society. Afghanistan has something similar I believe but sometimes these women are forcibly pushed back into their feminine roles.

        Samoa has the fa’afafine, Aboriginal Australians have sistagirls, the rest of the Polynesian area probably has a bit more. Notice here that a lot of this is also tied to *societal gender role* – not just how you feel about yourself, but how you fit in with the rest of society.

        There’s also the Native American Two-Spirit people, which is possibly the most well known.

        As for language – in Malay there’s only two pronouns: “dia” for humans and “ia” for everything else. You can’t tell gender straight off from conversation. (Thats as far as I know :P)

        • Just FTR, Aboriginal Australians are not Polynesian. I’d be really hesitant about making cultural comparisons between indigenous Australians and other Poly cultures. (However, you’re right that a lot of Polynesian cultures share the fa’afafine gender – off the top of my head, Māori, Cook Islands Māori, and Tongan cultures share it, with some variations.)

          OTOH I’d be wary about suggesting that this comes with a significant change in gender behaviour. IME Polynesian cultures can be as highly gendered, and in similar ways, as Western ones – although obviously because of the effects of colonialisation and the widespread uptake in Xtianity among those cultures it’s hard to say what comes from where (for me, anthropologists might know).

          • Whoops, I was trying to indicate the Oceanic islands area but obviously used the wrong word.

            As for highly gendered: sure, but again that depends on how the cultures conceive of gender in the first place – which often doesn’t neatly correspond to Western ideas. There has been some research and reports on how prejudice against gender/sexuality deviance only really came in with Victorian colonialism and British law; it wasn’t a big deal before (some of the articles I linked to refer to this).

          • Thank you for the reply! I just read my comment and it kind of sounded like I was being a smart- ass, but I really just wanted to know. :)

  26. oh boy. i am one of those people who wish gender wasn’t a thing. so i am going to spill my feelings. i am glad to see that my fellow gender-anxious persons have come out of the woodwork since i first read this article and started writing this.

    i wish gender would go away forever. i wish it would disappear along with ‘spontaneous generation’ and ‘phlogiston’ and the ‘ether’. i wish it wasn’t a scale on which i could even be measured or find myself on. i wish it wasn’t a guiding light in the sky that i was supposed to use to find my way.

    i wish that clothes, sex characteristics, the hobbies you have, body language, personal traits, who you fuck, the toys you played with weren’t all conglomerated into this THING that you HAD that is somehow both inside your most innermost private part of your brain and inevitably disclosed and flaunted and ogled when you strut/saunter/mince into the grocery store.

    i struggle with these FEELINGS because i know gender is very important to most people, it is a big part of the way many people structure their relations with other people (and inevitably i do this as well because i have been brought up in this system). and i don’t want to erase things like women’s history or a transperson’s life narrative. i understand people have to work with what they got and what the vast majority of people got is a gender. but i don’t “get” gender, i can’t see it as a beautiful thing, i don’t even know what it is supposed to be, really. i’m not saying i’m totally confused and can’t generally recognize a woman, a butch woman, a man. but i know what gender isn’t more than what it is: it’s not ESSENTIALLY AT BOTTOM clothes, sex characteristics, the hobbies you have, body language, personal traits, who you fuck, the toys you played with. gender is supposedly a performance, an identity, a political stance, but it’s a different thing from other performances, identities, and political stances; being a “woman” is a different sort of thing from being a “hippie”.

    i guess this is a personal thing for me, and i don’t have any right to deny anyone else their gender, but if gender remains a system anything like it is now there will always be people who are gendered against their will, who fall out of the category space, who will fall short of the norms provided. i have no faith that there will ever be some super-liberal dragspace where gender is this happy lucky land of glitter and plaid and doesn’t signify anything except for pure personal expression. if gender is a playground, there will always be kids who will get pushed off the swings.

    as i said this is super personal i guess, because i don’t really know what my gender is, or whether i have one. obviously i act out a number of gendered tropes in my day to day life, and people treat me as a gendered being. nominally i am some variety of female; i check the “F” box on forms when the other choice is “M”. i don’t know if i *identify* as female though. “female” doesn’t feel like my home. but i don’t know what else could be my home. i don’t ever feel in a way i could qualify as masculine or feminine. i mean, sometimes i wish i could remove my breasts and sometimes i don’t, sometimes i like being called “lady” and sometimes i don’t, but those are just feelings that happen. i don’t know how to turn them into this great big pattern of understanding and acting that people call gender. i don’t know how to look inside myself and find that kernel of gender identity that everyone else seems to carry around inside their head. sometimes i flirt with calling myself “genderqueer” or “androgyne” or “neutrois” but those feel to me like saying: here is this system, here i am with a part inside that system, here is how i act things out. i am on the gender playground and now i am on the slide, now i am on the monkey bars, now i am in the tunnel. and i don’t feel like that, i don’t even know what it would mean to have a “location” or a “label”, i don’t know how to tell whether or not i am an “androgyne” or an “androgynous female”, whether on monday i was feeling feminine or masculine or genderqueer.

    my only solution at this point is to keep doing my thing, keep wearing what i wear and keep walking how i walk and keep loving who i love, but as long as gender exists i have to put a thing down on the forms. i have to put a thing down on the form even if it is at the LGBTQ center and there are 20 options. i have to deal with the cashier who calls me “ma’am”, and my mom who wishes i would shave my legs, and the dude who talks over me at seminars, and i have to figure out how i feel about these things and how i should respond and from where i should respond. i have to know whether or not i am allowed to Speak From Experience at a feminist conference or a trans* forum online. i have to figure out whether i can manage my feelings about wearing a dress enough to go to the award ceremony or to a church with my friend. i have to exist in and navigate in a world where people will inevitably categorize me under some mode of being i don’t even understand.

    i wish gender didn’t exist because if it didn’t exist i wouldn’t have to deal with these things. i wish gender didn’t exist so my breasts didn’t signify anything to anyone. i wish gender didn’t exist because it sorts my life into sets of possibilities that i can’t possibly find relevant. i wish gender didn’t exist so i could be an intellegent human or an expressive human or a human who wears sensible shoes and i didn’t have to worry about whether i was a femme human or a butch human or a manly human or a womanly human. i wish gender didn’t exist because i wish i didn’t have to feel like i am beating my head against the wall every time i pick out clothes in the morning. but probably, i just wish gender didn’t exist because i am jealous of all the people out there who know who and what they are, i am jealous of all the people who find joy in heels and makeup, i am jealous of the butch woman and the faerie man who stand for their woman and manhood, i am jealous that mo can say that “gender should exist” with such confidence, such pride. i am jealous, i am bitter, i am alienated, i have feelings. what do i do? AUTOSTRADDLE, WHAT DO I DO

    • I think I love you a little bit for this. because really, the idea that breasts or vaginas or wombs or levels of hormones or chromosomes should have any bearing on social roles and relationships (and the toys you play with) is a little absurd. your feelings are completely valid. <3

    • I also love you for this…you beautifully articulated what people struggle with but don’t have the words or nerve to speak about it. I know first hand because I have an unusual family with many gay members (my mother is bisexual, I have flaming lesbian aunt and half my cousins are gay), and at some point gender labels become irrelevant. I am a fairly girly kind of girl but I have a male cousin who is more “girly” than I am and sometimes I ask him for tips on makeup and clothes. I know he struggles with “am I a girl or a boy” and he talks to me about how he daily has to struggle with gender labels. Its trite and completely inadequate to say “just be yourself” when we are surrounded by gender labels from bathroom doors to little boxes we check that constantly remind us that we have to fit cleanly into one of these. Its like we have to be forced to “choose” when either label male / female seems inadequate and incomplete. My heart goes out to you, and I can only suggest to lean heavily, and I mean very heavily, on people you can trust to discuss this.

    • /i wish gender didn’t exist so i could be an intellegent human or an expressive human or a human who wears sensible shoes and i didn’t have to worry about whether i was a femme human or a butch human or a manly human or a womanly human. i wish gender didn’t exist because i wish i didn’t have to feel like i am beating my head against the wall every time i pick out clothes in the morning/

      This omg. This exactly. I hate having to try and translate myself/imagine myself translated into the gendered world’s language every fucking minute of every day. It’s like there’s you and then then there’s THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD reminding you all the time that you don’t fit, from the little boxes on the forms to the happy people in high heels.


    • This, one thousand times over.

      I wish I had answers, but all I have is jealousy and feelings that seem to change by the day, by the moment, as well.

    • Thank you. Thank you a million times. This explained, so eloquently, why I feel anxious just putting on a goddamned outfit in the morning, why I feel like I’m tricking people somehow when they call me “miss” in stores…just everything.

      “If gender is a playground, there will always be kids who will get pushed off the swings.” Yes. And there will always be rules of the playground, whether they’re enforced or codified or not.

      “i wish gender didn’t exist so my breasts didn’t signify anything to anyone…i wish gender didn’t exist so i could be an intellegent human or an expressive human or a human who wears sensible shoes and i didn’t have to worry about whether i was a femme human or a butch human or a manly human or a womanly human.” THIS. All of this.

      I’m going to save your reply and read it when I need some encouragement or reflection, I hope that’s okay with you.

    • A lot of what you are expressing here really makes sense to me and appeals to me, a lot more than when people say things that seem to celebrate gender or talk up gender. As a trans woman, I haven’t been too pleased with the sorts of gender expectations society has tried to force on me over time. I do see myself as a woman though, and I don’t see this self-awareness as a problem. Personally, I’d like to see a world where gender continues to exist but is greatly reduced in importance. Gender could be like bicycling. A lot of people would have a gender just like a lot of people would have a bicycle. A lot of people wouldn’t have a gender. A few people would be really into gender, but for the most part gender would be just one social phenomenom among many and not of that much overall societal significance. Bicycling certainly isn’t used to structure the whole of society, and I see no reason why gender should be used for that either.

      Of course, the only way this wouldn’t fuck over trans people like myself is if the idea of so-called “biological sex” also got completely deconstructed. People do have a variety of biological characteristics. But there is no reason to have a socially enforced dichotomy between characteristics that are supposedly “sexual” and those that supposedly aren’t, nor between people who supposedly possess “male” characteristics and those who supposedly possess “female” characteristics. If one wants to view oneself as female because one has a vagina, or whatever, that’s fine, but I think that should be a personal thing and have as little overall societal weight as gender should be.

  27. I just wanted to ask this so long but i realy feel scared bcoz some ppl may take it in wrong way. Plz its just my curiosity. I am a total homosexual woman who realy don’t feel any attraction for the opposite,so does that make me a bad person? Bcoz now i see that nobody is okay with a total lez girl n they want her to be a bisexual-lesbian, a pansexual-lesbian, an occassionaly hetro or whatever but not a homosexual-lesbian. Its like the most inappropriate thing now-a-days if particularly a WOMAN (bcoz gay men don’t seems to give it any fu..k if anyone don’t like their gayness) says that she is simply homosexual. Wherever i went unfortunetly i was treated badly for being ‘too gay’ and not even occassionaly going down on a dick. I was called ‘goldstar’, ‘right wing’ and what not but this is my truth that i realy do not feel connected or attracted to men. Is it some ABNORMALITY? I mean do i have to go down on some dude to look human? Will i become a vampire if i only like the female of humanity? And if gender ain’t an issue then why they freak out if i say that i am totally happy with my women? Why they want me to at least ‘trx’ the ‘other’ if there ain’t any gender thing? Why is there still so much homophobia that women even get raped in the name of correcting them out of their homo tendencies? Why are we fighting for same-sex marriage equality if we don’t want ‘labels’ like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender? If they are mere ‘labels’ then there is no need to fight for them, protect them or demand equal rights? There shouldn’t be homophobia in the first place if there was nothing like homosexuality? Don’t take me wrong, i am not saying that ppl don’t feel sexualy fluid, some do. But it just that if somebody ain’t sexully fluid but a homosexual and feels okay or even proud of it then why everybody piss off and starts calling him/her with names and specially if its a woman who does this? I have probs with only one thing when ppl stress too much on fluidity and wanna project all homos as fluid. Not everyone is fluid, some are homos and they are realy happy with that. But its like some ppl aren’t okay with only gay. Isn’t this also a type of homophobia among the LGBTs which is more dangerous then the homophobia of ignorant hets? Plz don’t misunderstand me, i am just a lesbian who is bashed by everyone on net for not being a pansexual and just being a black or white, label loving, ugly, feminist dyke. I was realy upset and curious about soo many lesbos shown in shows/movies/blogs being sexually fluid, as if its a medical sin if a woman is only attracted to women? Coz i realy never felt any fluidity, am up 30 and quite settled with my lesbianism. I realy don’t feel cofused, abnormal or queer but just fu..king homo. Oh goddess! I hope i am not ‘abnormal’ or ‘inhuman’…

    • Huh, where I come from it’s the opposite – no one will look at you if you’ve had relations with men. Let’s swap.

    • I don’t entirely agree the above. But I do think the the gay community is so self-conscious about being an open-minded, it can get to the point where gay isn’t just gay anymore. It’s a million other things. It’s transgender, it’s queer, it’s pansexual, etc. Dude, I’m a lesbian. That’s it. Did I want to see storylines about straight people on the L Word? No, I didn’t. I also didn’t want to see Max’s storyline (horrible acting/writing notwithstanding). I know, what a horrible person I am. Sometimes I wish gay things for the gay community could just be gay and stop trying to include everyone who happens to deviate from plain vanilla heterosexuality. It’s a big pet peeve of mine. LGBQTetc. How about just L sometimes?

    • Finally someone says it, thank you!

      Sometimes I wish I were a gay man as they don’t have to deal with this “sexually fluid” “bisexual lesbian” BS. I’m sick of being told that I must be bisexual and not 100% lesbian and I’m sick of having bisexuality shoved in my face (especially when I visit so-called “lesbian” websites). If someone is bi, good for them, but I’m not and I shouldn’t have to apologize for that, it’s who I am.

      I just wish actual lesbians got more visibility and not just pansexuals/genderqueers/ominisexuals/sexually fluid people or whatever other term for bisexual they refer to themselves as. I guess it’s just not trendy to be a lesbian.

      Perhaps controversial but I think there are many lesbians who don’t identify as lesbians because they’re scared of what society thinks of them and even more scared of being accused of hating men just because they don’t want to have sex with them/date them, being into women = OK in society as long as you still like men (most tv/film portrayals of “lesbians” supports my hypothesis). But if you’re into women only then you won’t be accepted. I think many lesbians need to grow a backbone and stop letting misogynistic idiots decide how they label their sexuality.

      • Do you find the lack of lesbian visibility irl or online? In my rural real world it’s the opposite of what you’re saying: gays and lesbians are pretty much taken in stride. Sure, we can get grief and the queer kids get bullied but any adult who doesn’t identify as hetero or homo is more likely to get two tons of crap piled on them. So they’re stuck choosing between a hetero lie or a homo lie, which really sucks for them.

        Especially online I’ve had no trouble finding plenty of lesbian-only content and visibility. So much so I had to make a point of seeking out a broader perspective when I realized I had created my own little insulated bubble.

        When I lived in a major city there were plenty of gay guys who wished sexuality fluidity was more of an option for them. Admitting they also wanted to sex women caused a “shunning” that was much worse than anything bi-/pan-women experienced from the lesbian community.

        The only time I get chuffed is when people say things like “I’m a lesbian who sexes men” or “I’m a male lesbian”. If you identify as a man or you’re a woman open to sexing both men and women, you’re not a lesbian (homosexuality between women). Rather than erasing the lesbian experience to incorporate these experiences, I’m all for people raising the visibility of, and owning their own, differing sexualities. It lets people be authentic and makes communication more honest. We still have our queer love of women in common.

        • Sappho liked both dudes and ladies, and Lesbos was the island she hailed from. Bi ladies have as much claim on the word Lesbian as anyone.

        • Shaed, societal roles in the era and area Sappho lived in dictated that people must marry and procreate. Otherwise, people weren’t “doing their duty” to their country.

          You’d think Autostraddle readers as much as anyone would realize being with men does not equal being attracted to men.

          That’s also pretty moronic logic for “having a claim” over a word, to be honest. Gay people aren’t actually more cheerful than straight people. Does that mean that happy people can erase gay history and culture? Black people sometimes have lighter skin than tan white people and rarely actually look “black”. Do light-skinned black people have less of a right to call themselves black? Can tanned white folks label themselves “people of color” now?

  28. I’m gay, queer, butch and a dyke. It’s not like they’re mutually exclusive.

    I call my girlfriend my partner and my partner my girlfriend. Different situations may call for different words.

    When you’re trying to communicate with another person, it’s not only your definition of words that matter, but theirs as well. What word does it take for them to understand where you’re coming from? That’s what matters, as well as context.

    Take the phrase “gay marriage.” Some people don’t like it because they think it excludes bisexuals or erases lesbians or maybe trans folk. But that’s just because some people interpret “gay” as only being an identity for a person and not an adjective that describes a thing (not a person). The “gay” in gay marriage does not describe the identities of the people in the marriage, it describes the marriage…which is same-sex marriage, homosexual marriage, or gay marriage.

    Simply put, when we’re talking about legal rights regarding sexuality there aren’t actually separate laws for gay men, lesbians, queers or bisexuals.

    But if we’re talking about something like health issues, it becomes necessary to address different groups because most gay men don’t have an increased risk of ovarian cysts. I say most because there are trans gay men, but then they encounter health issues related to transitioning that lesbians don’t, so you wouldn’t lump them in with lesbians.

    When I say I’m queer or a dyke, it’s because I’m trying to express or explain some social situation in which I experience something more specific to that place where gender variance, political expression and sexuality intersect.

    I have on occasion had people say to me “You know, just because you’re a lesbian doesn’t mean you have to dress like a guy.” And they’re right. But I do dress “like a guy” because I’m butch. My being butch may not even be related to my sexual orientation, until it is when some random person harasses me because they figure I must be a dyke on the basis of my appearance. But what about the straight masculine presenting female? Is she not butch too? Yes. But when she is called a dyke, it’s not accurate. It is accurate to say I’m a dyke.

    So, there are these overlapping parts, and also parts that don’t overlap. And it just might be that your identity becomes situational because different facets of your identity become highlighted in different situations. The more experiences you have, the more you may find that there really isn’t one word for all occasions.

    What I feel inside really isn’t all that fluid. So you’d think I’d be able to just stick with one word. However, it is society that’s fluid. Social situations are fluid. Politics are fluid. Language is fluid. If I have to call myself genderqueer to get my point across, then I’ll call myself genderqueer.

    • (I had to pause my iTunes’ belting of Florence + The Machine in order to fully read this a second time because I wanted to be sure my sudden crush on your words was warranted, and it totally was.)

      I hugely, immensely agree with this: “When you’re trying to communicate with another person, it’s not only your definition of words that matter, but theirs as well. _What word does it take for them to understand where you’re coming from?_ That’s what matters, as well as context.”

      As far as communicating/context, a small related anecdote: I have to get a rather invasive health thing done tomorrow, and I asked both my girlfriend and my mom to go with me. Decided I’d like my girlfriend in the room with me [which, honestly, was a TOUGH CALL over having my mom]. But I already know that I will introduce my gf as my “partner” because that, contextually/for the medical world, sounds more… formal than “girlfriend,” which connotes playtime and sleepovers (which is also appropo, just not so much in conversation with one’s doctor).

      Outside of the medical world, I rarely, if ever, refer to my gf as my partner. My dad does, which is cute. But I want to strip the businessy aspect of “partner” from it, because that has made it such a dirty word/easy way for people to dig at and usurp “partner.” But I digress, and my point was: if I have to use the word “partner” to get my point across that I want my GD girlfriend in the room with me, then so be it. I’m not winning or losing anything. I’m just communicating in a way that other people will understand and accept.

      I also have a fluid range of vocabulary to describe myself and my girlfriend and, well, my life depending on the situation. I don’t feel the need to tattoo “LESBIAN” on my forehead, and quite frankly, I normally label myself as “gay” anyway. I hardly ever use “lesbian.” It doesn’t fit me, though obviously I am, but the word itself does not fit how I see myself. Perhaps it’s my age, but I no longer get hung up on the labeling process. The Outside World will label as it will, and I don’t see a battle to fight there. When it gets in the way of my natural rights, fine. But if you feel better by calling me a lesbian, go ahead. I don’t care.

      I’m just gay. And if that also means I want to dress like a guy sometimes, so be it. My wardrobe is as fluid as my lexicon, and that is what makes me comfortable/who I am/special snowflake, etc. My gender is not up for questioning; my sexuality isn’t either. If they were, then _I_ would be up for questioning, and I’m not that interesting. Really.

      • THIS. Thank you for putting into words what only existed theoretically in my head and very much affects my actual life. The way I define myself in my head (depends on the day!) is almost utterly irrelevant to how I define myself to someone else. How I define myself to them depends heavily on how I know they define the word. And obviously this doesn’t work for the passerby on the street, but in dealing with friends and family, that’s what matters more. I am a cis woman who is attracted right now to primarily women, but has been attracted to men in the past and probably will again. I define myself as queer, because lesbian feels limiting, bi-sexual feels cliche and straight is just plain wrong. Fluid is probably the most accurate, but that simply doesn’t register for my right-wing family. To them, I have to use bi-sexual, my feelings about the term and its connotations aside. And sure, it’d be awesome for everyone to be equally enlightened/educated to understanding the sometimes delicate differences between all the labels we ascribe to ourselves and our communities, but the fact of the matter is, they aren’t/likely won’t ever be. So what I “am” might and should evolve in my own head, but I can’t assume my family understands, or wants to understand, those differences.

        • I have been reading your guys comments with tears running down my face because you guys are so incredibly articulate and beautiful. (I know, I know, I know….I am soooo gay and such an easy cry…) love you all….

          gotta pull myself together…..

      • I hear you on the medical context. I had a health issue that landed me in the ER last January. When asked who brought me in and who would be able to bring me home, I said my partner. Really, no time to think or pussyfoot around the subject. Being limited to one word answers makes the choice clear. If there’s one word I can say that gets across that this is the person who will be responsible for me in an emergency, that’s the word I was going to use.

    • your response sums it up for me. i also feel like im all of these things and none of it at the same time exactly because of that overalapping youre talking about.
      most of the time i feel queer not because im sexually fluid, i only like girls, but because for me it feels like it says more about someone as a whole person rather than focusin on what type of people you fuck. but then again i only use queer when i converse with queer, lgbt, whatchamacallit people. when i talk with straight people that wouldnt even bother going through the first paragraph of this article i just say im gay, end of story.

  29. just to comment on the label thing. And try and give a reason as to why “queer” is sometimes easier.

    i do define myself as queer.

    it may not apply to everyone but i’ve found that coming out as gay/lesbian didn’t have the effect i was looking for.

    all i achieved by doing so, was trap myself in a different box.

    it goes from “yay, i can date girls” to the occasional “shit, must not feel attracted to this guy”.

    which leads to feeling pretty shitty because once again in a place where i’m denying things like feelings.

    AND THAT’S WHY i’d rather identify as queer, it leaves room.

    cause unfortunately no one likes someone who fucks with stereotypes.
    there’s this unspoken responsibility to live up to your word.
    saying you’re a lesbian but then accidentally falling for the opposit sex turns you into a bad representation (every lesbian can be converted)

    this is a very badly articulated comment

    • edit: not saying that gay/lesbian doesn’t exist. i just mean that to anyone who isn’t a 0 or a 6 on the kinsey scale it may be easier to identify as queer.

      anyways, i’ll stop now

    • I think your comment is the opposite of badly articulated, at the very least, you really speak to how I feel.

      What you say about any deviation from a stereotype turning you into a bad representation – so true. When I was in my early twenties I only liked girls. Like, at all. I felt dead inside when I thought about being with a dude. And then when I broke with dominant understandings of sexuality by falling for a guy, I heard it all – just a phase? daddy issues? in need of the right cock? attention seeking?

      The worst thing about being a bad representation I found was that people took my example and projected it on to lesbians more generally. I only liked girls and then I started finding myself attracted to guys. THEREFORE, for these people, all girls who only liked girls could fall for guys. So I was hurting lesbianhood, as well as being a fake gay. Not very conducive to a positive sense of self.

      Hence my move to queer… and just like gay or lesbian, queer is still a box, albeit one with more room to move. Some people have enough space within lesbianism to be who they are without having to leave anything out or trap themselves into a place they’re not comfortable. I don’t. Hence queer, the box in which all of me has space to exist.

      • So I commented earlier and came back to see what else got shared here and your comment is like someone took all my thoughts/feelings, mashed them up and molded them into little orderly boxes. Like Playdoh. Or waffles. Perfectly little boxes. And I love it.

  30. What a lovely articulation of the many, many fights I’ve been having. Gay. I am _gay_. It is a thing which is. Thank you.

  31. I like this article but there’s something about it (or possibly around it?) that makes me feel kind of uncomfortable or maybe just confused. I’ve read it three times now and had a good long think (which is one of the reasons I think it’s a great article!) and I’m starting to conclude that my problem is that I don’t actually understand some of the points it is making.

    I keep thinking about the sceptical off-hand remarks people use to devalue the identities of others just because the speaker perceives them as being “fashionable” now, implying dishonesty. Like, “What’s with all these people suddenly being asexual? What happened to just not having sex?” or “Jeez, everyone is bisexual now, what’s with that? I’m definitely not bi and I feel the need to tell everyone about it!”. There’s always this undertone of being threatened by these identities. Like someone’s going to jump out at them and make them identify as something else all of a sudden. Saying you’re not queer makes as much sense to me as saying you’re not Swedish. Sure. What’s the big deal? Some people are and someone people aren’t and no one’s saying you have to be. Are they? *wonders* Is this a cultural thing I’m missing out on by being non-American?

    With the gender bit, I not sure whether I agree or disagree or both. Gender exists and matters to me externally because gender is very important to my friends and people I talk to, so I that sense I definitely agree. And the whole stuff about privilege and erasure and historical/social baggage and the problems with society trying to pass itself off as post-gender when there’s harassment and a wage gap and power imbalances and everything. Total agreement there! Right on! In the context of the world, gender is ridiculously important.

    When you get into questions of gender-as-internal-identity though, I get more unsure. If I were abducted by aliens and plonked on a planet where gender didn’t exist for the populace, would gender still matter to me? I don’t know. Internally, I’m not sure how connected I am to the concept. I don’t want to feel like a failed something-or-other for that. It’s a privilege to imagine a genderless reality but it’s also a privilege to imagine everyone is capable of connecting to the gender binary. Gender is lovely and I have great fun with it, but I’ve never really recognised “female” or “male” as an identity belonging to me.

    (My personal two cents of queerness and genderqueerness: for me they are very useful hole-plugging terms to wallpaper over the inadequacy of language. It’s a sort of iceberg identity word that enables me to not have to spend a paragraph defining myself all the time, even though all that is underneath. I think maybe ‘gay’ is that same term for others, with all the layers of complexities underneath? Obviously discounting all the people who don’t angst about terminology so much for whom the words are just a words.)

  32. As a queer woman I was cheering you on as you articulated yourself as lesbian, as gay, and not as queer. That’s what you are and it’s worthy of celebration.

    However I don’t understand and am concerned by the rhetorical shift into a discussion of queer where you write about “removing gender as an identifying factor” and “banishing” gender. My sexuality cannot be understood in binary terms but I’m not I’m post-gender in the slightest. And I am on the flip side, feeling like a bad gay because I am not explicable in terms of identities which people find safe and comfortable.

    Wbile there is no explicit gender identification within the word queer itself, what’s in a name – I don’t think queers necessarily or even often engage with sexuality in a way that abolishes or diminishes gender or its importance. Even if you don’t like gender as an ideology the world has a habit of a) gendering you or b) gendering your encounters with others. So for many of us it forms a significant part of our attractions, just not in a determinative or one that can be easily understood within the dichotomised hetero / homo frame of reference.

    Many I know would say that stand with you when you write that “[g]ender should be pushed, spliced, turned on its head, mocked, made into expression, turned inward, worn outward” – I would – and this conviction both drives and expresses our queerness.

  33. err i’m confused.

    1. who is forcing the ‘queer’ label on anybody? the only situation where i see this happening is in having ‘the queer community’ as an umbrella term, which, given the inherent openness and fluidity it describes i don’t think is unfair. it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about derogatory name-calling, either, so i don’t get where the mild indignation is coming from. please, feel free to enlighten me.

    2. since when does ‘queer’ necessarily refer to gender? my un-queer theory-educated perception is that it also encompasses orientation, especially since ‘genderqueer’ is a word. thus in categorising one’s orientation, one can choose whatever label one wants, i.e. ‘you do you’

    3. i don’t think society will ever be post-gender, given the vast majority of gender-identified people. so to say that ‘gender should exist and matter’ sounds extremely privileged and like society has reached places it hasn’t. lucky you if your community has, though.

  34. i like using ‘queer’ because i’m still not sure what i am and queer seems to fit for now. it helps me avoid having crises about my identity.

  35. 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)

  36. 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.

    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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

  41. 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

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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. :/

  46. “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.

  47. 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.

  48. I use gay and/or lesbian to describe my sexual orientation. Queer is more of a social/political identity for me.

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