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I'm mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when my friend's Instragram pops up. It's her peering out from under her sunhat, tagged #queerpeoplearemagic.
Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.
In my eighth-grade baby gay days, while I was handing out Day of Silence buttons, this girl told me that she didn't want to take even an “ally” button because she was afraid she would get bullied. But at our over-the-top liberal all-womens’ college? She made a point of piping up in conversations to remind folks that she lusted over Tilda Swinton and thought that the BDOC (big dyke on campus) wasn't really truly all that cute.
When I visited her and her parents in our shared hometown on college breaks? I got a panicked look and a conversation after the one time I brought up our shared queer identity. In her co-ed graduate school program she doesn't bring up her queerness because, as she's told me, she's afraid people will get the wrong idea. But when we're hanging out now with just our boos, she reminds me to include her in queer community events that I organize.
In the nearly ten years I have known this woman, she has never pursued, or dated anyone but self-identified cisgender men. While I’m not enough of an asshole to assume I know every person she's ever fucked, I can rattle off three or four dudes she's hooked up with in the course of our friendship, and if there's a non-dude in the mix, she's never mentioned it to me.
There's two people being terrible here. First and foremost, me. It's totally a jerk move to appoint myself the arbitrator of my friend's sexuality and identity. It's none of my business, it is none of my business, and truly, it is none of my business.
And secondarily, my friend is being a huge asshole. She's dipping in and out of privileges that benefit her the most in each situation she's in. If I thought my friend was in any danger coming out in any of these settings, I would cut her some slack. But I think she's just fearful of having hard or complex conversations with folks.
And you know what? What a shitty, lazy excuse not to be brave. What infuriates me the most about queer women making the choice to duck in and out of straight privilege is that I don't have that choice. When I stop at middle-of-nowhere restaurants with my hilariously butch-looking sweetheart, I don't get to decide whether everyone in the booths gives me a silent burst of stink-eye as we walk past. The guy who followed me home from the gay bar muttering dykedykedykedyke didn't check with me first to see if that accurately described my identity (and for the record, it's lady-dyke to you).
By choosing not to mention to male grad students that she thinks Helen Mirren is dreamy while emphasizing how handsome her boyfriend is, my friend passes on just a sliver of the burden of queer liberation to someone else. In selectively closeting herself, she reinforces shitty, harmful ideas (“All women with boyfriends are straight” “I don't know any queer people”) and outsources the work of making a more accepting world.
I want to pause here and emphasize something: I know most queer/bisexual/pansexual identifying women are not like my friend. Most dude-fucking queer ladies also fuck or date women. Women shouldn’t have to flop their identities back and forth depending on who they’re dating. When someone tells me they have attractions that fall beyond neat boy-girl pairings, I’m both inclined to believe them and don’t really care. Lives that destroy heteronormativity and homonormativity get me all excited in the pantaloons.
But here’s what bothers me and I suspect is going on with my original friend. From what she’s told me, she has the capacity for same-sex desire. From the way she’s lived her life for the last decade, she has no intention of actually fucking or dating anyone but men. So basically, she’s using her fantasy life for all the cachet it can impart and none of the consequences that could follow.
Yet, I do think that there is something to be said for intensity and frequency of desire. If you have an attraction to women that you’re not sure you’d ever act on or you could never see yourself in a relationship with women, I would encourage you to explore other language than queer or bisexual. Heteroflexible is a good one. Or push at the limits of what straight can be. I think it’s damaging and insulting to straight folks to insist that having any thoughts beyond the boy-girl variety should explode your identity. If by identifying as queer or pansexual you mean sexuality is fluid, I would never rule something out in the future, I kind of don’t care and find you boring. There’s a chance I could become a nun. Doesn’t mean I’m brushing up on my catechism.
By hanging onto queer when what you really mean is “I think Ellen Page has the softest looking hair,” you’re claiming social capital and an identity that isn’t yours to claim.
If you want to put dibs on queerness, put in some sweat equity. Show up for the less glamorous queer events that are the lifeblood of the community, not Pride. Serve on boards figuring out how to make gayborhoods safer, attend fundraising bingos for queer elders, advocate for gender neutral bathrooms in your workplace.
Most importantly, come out everywhere, all the time, event when it’s hard. Call up your grandma, reminisce about her dating experiences, tell her that you could see yourself dating someone of any gender. When you and friends are talking about wedding Pinterest boards, start a debate about matching vs complementing wedding dresses. It doesn’t need to be awkward. A good rule of thumb is that if an assumption about your straightness is being made, it’s not offensive to correct the assumption.
I hear tons of counter arguments as to why queer women don’t come out.
The queer community is full of bisexual erasure and biphobia. Queer women dating cisgender men are suddenly discounted from queer communities or seen as unsuitable partners for Real True Queers. And to that, I say fuck that noise. I've dated bisexual women, my girlfriend is currently dating a bisexual woman. The way queer women can combat biphobia is to come the fuck out. The demographic breakdown of Kinsey 6s to Kinsey 5-1s is some crazy ass ratio. Overwhelm the hateful gays with the lived evidence of your existence.
It's hard to date women/gender non-conforming folks. You know what? IT’S HARD FOR FUCKING EVERYONE. SOME VANISHINGLY SMALL FRACTION OF THE POPULATION IS GAY. And a much larger fraction of the population is somewhere in not-straight land. If all y’all showed up, literally and figuratively the dating pool gets much bigger for everyone. But you know what? Make the fucking effort, don’t just bitch about how you can’t find any girls to date.
Here’s my standard dating tip: volunteer! Find the leftiest organization in your area and give your time to them, because I promise you that is where the not-straights are. Even if there is only one gay girl there, making friends with her starts connecting you to a whole circle of ladies with alternative lifestyle haircuts. Online dating is a crapshoot. No one actually meets new people at gay bars. Go to a soup kitchen.
Coming out is scary. Yes, yes it is. It is scary for everyone. If there are extenuating circumstances that would make it physically unsafe for you to come out, or if you think you’ll be ostracized from your family, you get a pass. But for everyone else, coming out is an accessible act of revolution and always a step towards the truth.
I'm not sure. And you don’t have to be! There’s no certification test you have to pass, not even from grumpy lesbians on the internet. It’s always appropriate to talk about experiences. I would be not at all annoyed at my friend if she said things like “I think Helen Mirren is a bewitching sex goddess” instead of “I think Helen Mirren is a bewitching sex goddess, therefore I am queer” (not a direct quote, no one is that much of an twit). Talk about identities that interest you. You are no less valid for not having words to describe yourself. Your identity is no less valid for its transience or malleability.
I don’t want to/you can’t make me. I sure can’t! Also, fuck you.
I haven't gotten my identity police certification in the mail yet. I'm not in charge of how my friend or you, conducts a sexual identity. But the personal is political, as the slogan goes. It’s to your benefit, and the benefit of our communities, to live honest and shameless sexual lives.