It’s been quite the few weeks for queer folks in the UK: from conflicts with the Muslim community in Birmingham, to politicians defending conversion therapy, from yet another violent attack on a lesbian couple in London, to trans-activist Munroe Bergdorf being taken out of another role as an ambassador to our community, the patriarchy (white in its majority) has been hitting back with a vengeance. Between that and all the fake corporate pandering during Pride Month, I feel slightly pissed off.
I should firstly give a disclaimer: I struggle with the idea of pride, particularly its association with the LGBTQ+ community. I struggle with it, because psychologically and spiritually, pride is very much an ego-based emotion. One which carries with it a desire for recognition from others, which ultimately can leave us vulnerable to anger, resentment, worthlessness. And ultimately, anything that fills the ego takes away from inner strength. Now, don’t get me wrong. I get the context in which Pride was born, and why that was the way the LGBTQ+ community decided to label its victories, progress, and celebrations. I get it, I’m not a huge fan of the word and concept themselves, but I still participate and engage in the glorious celebrations of this community throughout the Summer, and year-long. I am able to participate AND question, simultaneously. If we can’t question things, we can’t evolve, even the things we think are set in stone, and keep us safe.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts – What’s the Tea? With RuPaul and Michelle Visage – and they had John Cameron Mitchell on as a guest. Mitchell is known for cult queer films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, and in his discussion around his identity and experiences, he talked about queer sensitivity in a way that really resonated with me. For one, I too, very much identify with the wider umbrella term of Queer. As a non-native of the English language, I never had to grapple with the transition of queer from insult to reclaimed word. I came across the word at university when I studied Theatre and Performance from queer and feminist theory perspectives, and to this day I can trace most of my “wokeness” to those theories and practices. They challenged my maleness, my whiteness, my gay male whiteness, and my privilege in general. If your mind doesn’t crack open at university, then I don’t know what you’re doing there.
To me, Queer means freedom, subversion, irreverence, imagination, creativity, and expression. Mitchell describes his view of queer in similar lines, stating that, to him, queer implies thinking, feeling, and living outside the box. That a queer experience inherently implies a deeper understanding of metaphor and imagination. That we understand surface and depth with greater insight, because so many LGBTQ+ individuals live through and embody the conflict of outer-façade and inner-truth, in ways that straight people don’t. Interestingly, he also talks about the idea of queerness as fluid or as being on a continuum, identifying how some straight people can be quite queer, and some LGBTQ+ people can be quite narrow minded. In fact, many blog posts ago, I decided to write about privilege in the LGBTQ+ community, and in defense of the trans community, and posted a newer design of the famous Pride flag, which includes the trans flag, as well as a black, and a brown stripe to account for the communities of colour within the larger queer community. I was met by dismissive comments by white gay men who thought this was silly. I often wonder what it is about people who can’t listen to others. If someone is telling you that they don’t feel included, they sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen. Is it really that hard?
I have always felt that my sensibility and sensitivity to people’s life experiences stems from my queerness, from my difference, from being deeply aware of my inner world, and therefore more attuned to the inner world of others. This is why I never quite identified with the notion of pride, because I always felt like it carried a sense of lack with it. A sense of need, of acceptance, of validation. Maybe it’s my (mostly unused) sense of rebellion, but another thing I associate with being queer is a sense of being unapologetic. Ever since coming out and figuring out my own self within the many available labels, I always carried this feeling of: “If you don’t like it, you can fuck off!” Once I accepted myself, I was adamant that this was enough. I didn’t need anyone else to accept me, including people close to me. Yes, it is much easier when family and friends accept us for who we are, but if they don’t, is that our problem? NO!! Non-acceptance is always the problem of those who don’t accept, not of those who are not accepted. That’s why I don’t feel the need to show my pride: I already love the fact that I’m gay and queer. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how amazing that is. I already know it, thanks very much!
The true gift of being queer is that we get to make up our own rules. We don’t need to assimilate and follow what’s been done before, because what’s been done before worked well for our oppressors, but it may well not be good enough for us. The binaries, the rules, the dogmas around love, sex, and relationships. Who are they to tell us what’s right or wrong? Why listen to our oppressors? However, in order to truly find a new path, it’s extremely important to question and challenge our current paths. Are we following what’s been done before, or are we forging something new? Do we want something because those of a more straight and narrow orientation perceive it to be important? What’s important to us? The questioning of our present includes the painful processing of our past, the acknowledgement that much of it is covered in shame, and that in order to find a new queer future, we may need to let go of our need for external validation, and instead focus on internal acceptance. Both in each of us individuals, and internally within the queer community.
I spoke to someone on a diversity training at work recently and felt extremely sad when explaining to this person how much oppression, discrimination, and hate occurs within the queer community itself. How much of our time and energy is spent dealing with the same dynamics of oppression that the heteronormative and patriarchal worlds impose on all of us? The misogyny, the racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the transphobia, the biphobia… all of it permeates the queer community, and doesn’t allow it to truly fulfill its potential of breaking up the binaries that rule us all. It’s cliched, and said all over the world these days, but what RuPaul says at the end of each episode of Drag Race is very, very important:
If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?
One thing is to understand this superficially, quite another is to feel it deeply in ourselves, and integrate it into our lives. What does loving yourself really mean? Well, firstly, it means you don’t actually feel the need to attack others, because your ego is not fragile and hurt, and is not seeking validation or attention. And when you’re hurting, you realise that it’s about you, not someone else, so you don’t need to attack. When you can give yourself attention and validation, you don’t need it from others. You also engage with hateful experiences differently, because you have a deep understanding that someone’s hate is a reflection of them, never you! You also don’t need the love and acceptance from your oppressors, because you know you are enough and don’t need any of those straight and binary-shackled people telling you how amazing you are. You know it! And by the way, whenever you feel shame coming your way, you’re much more able to recognise it and stop it in its tracks.
None of this is easy, though. I have moments when I falter on this certainty, but most of the time, my queerness is strong, healthy, balanced, and fabulous, darling! But seriously, this requires a lot of personal work! Some therapy, some self-reflection, some giving and receiving love, some checking yourself, some informed decision-making, some active removal of shame. Here are some of the things that have helped me, personally:
Seeing a queer therapist where I felt free and safe to discuss and explore all things queer: sex, relationships, shame, doubt, fear, and love.
Reading and watching different kinds of books and media, and trying to learn about our (true) herstory, to understand the different dynamics and intersections within our community.
Volunteering for LGBTQ+ organisations has been key in meeting other members of the community, in making a difference, in getting out of myself, in giving love to the community.
Ensuring that I either don’t participate, or don’t engage too often in disparaging conversations about fellow queer people. Being bitchy is sometimes part of our irreverence, but it doesn’t have to be part of our personalities.
Supporting queer businesses, charities, and endeavours, rather than the queer-pandering ones.
Beyond Pride, Acceptance, and Freedom, what we really represent is Love. We should be known for our LOVE identities and orientations, not just gender or sexuality.
Our hearts must be open. Because LOVING is what? FUNDAMENTAL!! 😉