Why I Like The Word ‘Queer’

Recently, I found myself sitting in a room with a whole bunch of people, where one older gentleman was talking. While I was there, he laughed and made the comment, “I don’t know what sort of language the kids are using today, or what words have been reclaimed now. Is it alright to use the word ‘queer’?” to which the majority of the people in the room, most of them straight and cis-gendered, responded by saying, “oh no, no, no, don’t use that word. You use that word and you get in trouble.”

The topic of conversation moved on from there, but through all of this, there I was, this tiny queer voice in the back of the room, thinking, “really?” Because, personally speaking, this response did not at all reflect my experience. To be honest, I actually really like the word ‘queer’.

And, admittedly, perhaps a bit of my liking toward this word comes from a place of privilege, because I never had this word used toward me with a negative connotation, and I know many people have. Historically speaking, this is a word that has been used to harass and belittle many people, to dismiss them as “weird” or beyond understanding, and of course, that is never okay. And if you are a person who does not like being labelled with this word because of an unpleasant history with it, I can totally understand this and will not tell you that you need to feel differently.

But that being said, as a reclaimed word, I find ‘queer’ to be an incredibly liberating identity.

If you are not familiar with the practice of reclaiming words, this is when a specific word has been used in an attempt to hurt people in the past, but in the present, that word is taken by the oppressed group and given a slightly different connotation, with the intention of taking power back. For example, the word ‘bitch’ can be considered a reclaimed word: historically speaking, it was used to describe an unpleasant, despicable woman, usually one who asserted herself in a way that made men uncomfortable. But nowadays, many women will proudly describe themselves as a ‘bitch’, because they are willing to assert themselves, even if it makes men uncomfortable, and they aren’t ashamed of that.

In a similar vein, the word ‘queer’ has been taken from one that means “weird” and, by extension, “wrong”, to one that means… something else.

Because, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if ‘queer’ has a solid definition yet.

I have sometimes heard the word ‘queer’ used to describe gay, lesbian, and bisexual people – which makes sense. This is the group of people that this word was most frequently used to wound in the past. And, more than that, the word ‘queer’ serves as a great, useful blanket term for anyone who has any interest at all in their same gender.

Because, let’s face it: sometimes, these identities can feel somewhat… limiting.

You may or may not be aware of the Kinsey Scale, developed by Alfred Kinsey as a way of measuring one’s sexual orientation. Now, this method is highly complex and multi-layered, but at its simplest, it is a scale from zero to seven – zero indicating exclusive heterosexuality, six indicating exclusive homosexuality, and seven indicating no sexual interest at all. Now, it was Kinsey’s belief that a person’s sexual orientation is subject to change over the course of their life (which is today considered a controversial belief, for perhaps obvious reasons), and that the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of the scale, so in that nice one, two, three, four, and five area that indicates at least mild interest in both genders (this is, again, controversial). Now, you may or may not agree with Kinsey’s perspective, but the reason why I feel that it is important and relevant to what I am saying is because sexual orientation is not always as simple and straight-forward as gay, straight, and bisexual.

You can live your entire life thinking that you’re straight, and then fall head over heels for someone of the same gender. You can live your entire life thinking that you’re gay, but then realize that, while you definitely aren’t straight, your interests aren’t as exclusive as you once thought. Heck, you might even consider yourself straight, and think of Ruby Rose as that one exception. Not everyone will experience this, no; there are some people out there who do have totally exclusive interests, but for those of us who don’t, those of us who don’t necessarily feel like gay, straight, or bisexual entirely describes who we are, ‘queer’ is a nice alternative for us to fall back on.

Because queer isn’t limiting. Queer is whatever you want it to be. Queer is full of possibilities, full of options.

I have also heard ‘queer’ defined as a way to describe people who are not only attracted to their own gender, but to describe people who are transgender and/or gender non-conforming. And, again, this makes sense; again, this word has been used to wound these people in the past, and again, this word is a very liberating word in terms of gender as well.

Because, just like with sexual orientation, gender has historically been very stifling. When it comes to gender, you are typically expected to fall into one of two categories: male and female, determined by what genitalia can be found between your legs. If you are male, then you are expected to behave in a way that corresponds with that – you are to be ‘masculine’. You must be a provider, you must be in control of your emotions, you must be strong and powerful and commanding and in control. If you are female, then you are to be ‘feminine’. You are to be passive and quiet and kind and caring and understanding. It doesn’t matter the scenario, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come naturally to you; it is what is expected of you.

But ‘queer’ doesn’t expect anything. ‘Queer’ accepts you as you are, whether that be feminine, masculine, or somewhere in between. ‘Queer’ doesn’t tell you how to act and what to be, and ‘queer’ most certainly doesn’t care what’s between your legs.

From time to time, I have even heard ‘queer’ used to define straight and cis-gendered people who simply are not in a conventional relationship. ‘Queer’ honestly just refers to any people who fail to live up to our society’s idea of heteronormativity, and this includes straight couples who are in open relationships, or are heavy into BDSM culture, or who are not engaging in sex with the primary intention of procreation.

Because ‘queer’ is not exclusive. When you identify as queer, what that means is that you fail to live up to what society considers the standard, the expected. And while that can be very difficult and isolating when you are the only one doing so, the identity of queer builds a community around you. It means that you are not alone, that there are many out there who do not feel like their experience matches up with the one that society tells them they should have.

That, to me, is what the reclaimed word ‘queer’ means. And that is why I have no shame identifying myself as a queer person.

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Bisexual People Are Not Just Going Through A Phase

So, full disclosure here: I’m a bit of a geek, and as such, I’m a bit of a fan of trivia, especially trivia that’s related to movies and books. So it should come as no surprise that today’s rant stemmed from a little bit of trivia. Namely, a bit of obscure Harry Potter trivia.

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor David Thewlis, who played the character Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, was quoted as saying, “Alfonso Cuarón (the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), in the rehearsals, without J.K. Rowling’s knowledge, told me that [my character] was, in fact, gay. So I’d been playing a part like a gay man for quite a long time. Until it turned out that I indeed got married to Tonks. I changed my whole performance after that. Just saw it as a phase he went through.” Perhaps as a result of this statement, I have also found some sources claiming that J.K. Rowling herself claimed that Lupin was an ‘ex-gay‘ who, over the course of the series, learns to be straight when he falls in love with Tonks, a female character. However, as the leading source of this latter claim seems to be a user’s comment on IMDB, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the claim that this is something that Rowling actually said.

Now, why am I sharing this piece of trivia, you might be asking? Well, besides it simply being interesting to know from a total geek perspective, I also find it to be very telling as far as how we as a society tends to view sexual orientation.

Look at the language that was used in the above trivia. Regardless of what the sexual orientation of Lupin’s character is actually supposed to be, Thewlis decided that, if Lupin was interested in men at one point and interested in women at another, then that must mean that he was just “going through a phase”. And regardless of whether J.K. Rowling was the one who identified Lupin as an “ex-gay” or not, that is a term that some fans have come to use toward him. So then, what is Lupin’s sexual orientation? He likes men at some point, women at others… it’s almost as though he likes both… as though he might be some sort of strange, previously unknown sexual orientation that lands somewhere between straight and gay, like some sort of… bisexual or something…

Seriously though, why wasn’t this the first place that everyone’s mind went to when Lupin’s sexual orientation supposedly changed between movies? (I’m foregrounding the movies here because that seems to be where this issue is most apparent to the actors and the audience.) Why was there even this mention of “going through a phase”, of being an “ex-gay”, when we all know that bisexual people exist?

Or do we?

The issue of bi visibility has been an ongoing one for the bisexual community for pretty much… forever. In fact, there’s even a whole day in the year dedicated to spreading awareness about the existence of bisexual people, because apparently, the majority of people haven’t caught on yet. Bisexual people are frequently assumed to be going through a phase that they’ll eventually grow out of or overcome. Bisexual men are interpreted as being gay men who are simply afraid to come “all the way” out of the closet (as though coming out as bisexual isn’t coming all the way out). Bisexual women are interpreted as straight women who are looking to impress men with promises of threesomes and getting to watch them make out with other women (because it always comes back to being about men in the end somehow). Or, sometimes, bisexual people of both sexes are merely interpreted as experimenting, being curious, being rebellious, but not actually being what they claim to be.

And when it comes to real people with actual sexual orientations, we still tend to use a perspective that mirrors the one we saw with poor Lupin. When we see actual queer couples, we automatically assume that they are a gay or lesbian couple. A wedding between two men is always referred to as a gay wedding, even if it’s totally plausible that neither man is actually gay. And do you know how many times I have seen someone come from dating someone of the opposite gender to dating someone of the same gender, and the common response is, “oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I didn’t know you were gay!”

And if you do this or have done this, I’m not trying to make you feel bad about it. As human beings, we tend to want to separate everything into two categories, sometimes referred to as a ‘binary’. We want everything and everyone to be male or female, light or dark, straight or gay. And when something doesn’t fit easily into that binary, we tend to ignore it; I mean, what have we done to gender non-conforming or intersex people?

But the truth is, the world doesn’t exactly work this way.

The truth is, of all adults living in the U.S. and identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, bisexuals comprise of a very slight majority (1.8% compared to the 1.7% that identify as gay or lesbian). And of these people, not all of them can be confused, questioning, or going through a phase.

The truth is, I identify as bisexual, and I have since I was ten years old. I tried to change myself. I tried to force myself to belong on either end of the binary, because that was what I thought people expected of me, but I just can’t change who I am. I just can’t not be bisexual, because the way that I identify is very real and very unavoidable.

The truth is, we have been ignored for far too long. We have been dismissed as not even an option for far too long. We have been invisible for far too long.

And it’s time for that to stop.

It’s time for us to talk about bi visibility.

Is Representation Important?

Representation is a popular issue right now – something that people have begun talking about more and more frequently. And it is a multi-faceted issue, one that can be discussed from several different angles: what kind of representation is good representation? How much representation is enough? When it comes to fiction, can we represent minorities through villains, secondary characters, or stereotypes?

But there’s another question that I see come up again and again when it comes to representation: quite simply, is it important? I mean, I don’t think that there are very many people out there who would argue that people don’t deserve to feel empowered, or to look up to someone. But when I see this question discussed, I often see the same response come up: that things like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. shouldn’t matter. That a young Chinese lesbian should have the ability to look at a straight white man and still see herself in him, because at the end of the day, we are all people and we all share a basic human experience.

Now, I won’t deny that there is some truth to this statement. Some. To use my personal experience as an example, I am blessed enough to say that my career goals are such that I have been able to see my gender represented in it – not perfectly, mind you. When I was a little girl, I still grew up with the story of J.K. Rowling being forced to abbreviate her name by her publisher because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman, but nonetheless, there were plenty of women writers that I could look up to. I saw myself represented in that industry, and so I never had a doubt that I could exist in this industry. And therefore, I had no problem looking up to female and male writers alike. Because end of day, a good writer is a good writer, and there are plenty of male writers who explore themes and issues that I understand and relate to.

But in this specific instance, I saw myself represented. I knew that women could be writers. There are plenty of industries wherein this isn’t the case. Although women in the United States hold approximately half of all jobs, they represent less than 25% of jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. In 2015-2016, women made up only 16.3% of CEO positions and 28.5% of key management personnel positions. In the United States, there has literally never been a female president (and only one non-white president). So when we’re talking about young girls aspiring to enter into these roles, representation suddenly becomes much more important – not just so that you can know that it’s possible for you to enter into that field, but so you can know that you will be accepted and taken seriously in it as well.

Representation matters more and more in areas where people aren’t generally represented. And how do I know this? Well, because, while I’m a writer, I also happen to fall under another label, one that I very rarely see represented in the media, or represented well for that matter: I am a bisexual woman.

And growing up, I rarely saw myself in the media. I saw gay and lesbian people, sure, but their experiences didn’t always match up with my own. I saw straight people all the time, but their experiences didn’t align with mine either. And because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Was I the weird one? Did I even truly exist, or was the way I felt some sort of elaborate lie I was telling myself so that I could feel unique and different?

And when I wasn’t feeling this way, I was feeling like I was something gross, something unlovable. Because when I did see myself represented, I saw myself in hugely unfavourable ways. Bisexuals in the media were manipulative, or they were serial-cheaters, or they were just used as one-night-stands and nothing more. One of my first exposures to the existence of bisexual people was through a talk show that I saw when I was really young – maybe four or five, where a man was trying to decide if he should leave his wife because he found out that, before they were married, she had dated a girl, and he didn’t think he could handle that. At the time, I thought this was stupid, because who she had dated before shouldn’t have any bearing on what their relationship was like now, but I was still young, still forming my identity, and I won’t deny that it sort of made me internalize this idea that I could never have a fulfilling and healthy relationship because of how I was born.

And none of this is to say that I couldn’t relate to straight or gay characters in the media. I could. There are plenty of characters on either side of the spectrum that I respected, looked up to, wanted to emulate, but in this specific issue, none of them were helpful. They couldn’t help me feel better about myself because they weren’t like me.

It took me a long time to undo the damage that a lack of representation had done to my self-esteem, and the way that I managed to start doing this was actually by seeking out what little good representation there was to be found out there. I found blogs and websites dedicated to real bisexual people discussing their experiences, which helped me to understand that I existed, that my feelings were valid. And, as stupid as it might sound, I found encouragement from looking up celebrities that identified proudly as bisexual – celebrities like David Bowie and Alan Cumming and Angelina Jolie, because they proved to me that I could be bisexual and successful and accepted and loved. The ideas were not mutually exclusive.

Especially when you’re young, when you don’t see yourself represented very often, you tend not to question the media that you’re seeing, but yourself. When you’re an overweight girl and all the beautiful women are represented as thin, you began to wonder if you’re ugly. When you are not white, but the majority of people in positions of power are, you began to feel very powerless. When you get a little bit older, you develop the ability to question these ideas, but by then the damage is often done already. By then, you’ve already internalized that you’re ugly, that you’re powerless, that you’re unlovable, that you don’t exist.

So, yes, a black boy can see a white character in a movie and relate to his internal, human struggle, but he cannot relate to his racial experience, and his existence is not validated by him. That is the difference between relating to a character based on their narrative or a figure based on their achievements, and relating to a character or a figure because they share a common experience with you.

That is why representation is important: because when you don’t see people like you doing what you want to do, you began to wonder if you even can do it, whether that be something as difficult as pursuing a certain career, or something as simple as being who you truly are. And regardless of who you are or how you were born, you deserve to be told that you are powerful, you are capable, and you are loveable.

Why We All Need to Talk About Biphobia (Discrimination Against Bisexual People)

I’m not going to lie – I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with my sexual orientation, and I blame part of that on the fact that I am not attracted to one singular gender. I am attracted to girls, boys, transgender people, gender queer people, non-binary people, etc. – basically, I’m attracted to people before genders, a phenomena that is more commonly known as being bisexual.

Now, bisexuality can come in multiple forms. By definition, it is the attraction to two or more genders, but what this means is a bit more complicated than it sounds. It is possible to be bisexual, but have a preference for one gender or the other. You can be bisexual and be attracted differently to either gender. Or you can be bisexual and experience equal attraction to either gender. At the end of the day, there are no straight-forward rules for identifying as bisexual – if you feel like you identify as bisexual, then you are bisexual. It’s as simple as that.

Now, I have known that I am bisexual since I was about ten years old, but I did not know the above information until I was around twenty years old, when I finally decided that it was time to be proud of who I am and research information on what that meant. In my searches, I came across several blogs and websites on bisexuality, and it was here that I found the official definition of what bisexuality was, because I had previously thought of it merely as an attraction to both boys and girls, split equally down the middle. It was also in these blogs that I first came across the word ‘biphobia’.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, biphobia is, as you might expect, the discrimination against people who identify specifically as bisexual. Although bisexual people can experience homophobia as well, biphobia is a partly separate issue, relating to the issues that bisexual people in particular face.

Now, I want to emphasize that this is not a word that I had ever heard until I started looking up information on bisexuality on the internet. And if I had not had reason to look this information up, if I was either straight or gay, I very well might never have come across it. Which struck me as exceptionally strange and disappointing, because the more that I read about it, the more I realized that biphobia is something that we all need to talk about – not just bisexual people. It is something that straight people need to remember, and it is something that homosexual people need to remember.

And why?

We need to talk about biphobia because whenever someone gets romantically (or sometimes sexually) involved with someone of their own gender, the dominant response is “oh, I guess they’re gay now” or “I didn’t know they were gay”, even if aforementioned person has had multiple partners of the opposite sex. The possibility that they might be bisexual never even crosses most people’s minds.

We need to talk about biphobia because in an interview with Larry King, Anna Paquin, an openly bisexual woman, was referred to as a ‘non-practicing bisexual’ because she is married to a man, whereas married straight women are not referred to as a ‘non-practicing heterosexual’ and married lesbians are not ‘non-practicing homosexuals’. And this is not an isolated incident either; this is something that even believed in my teen years – that when I get married, my identity would change depending on who I married. If I married a man, I’d magically become straight. If I married a woman, I’d magically become a lesbian. But that isn’t how it works. Bisexual people are bisexual – that doesn’t change based on who their current partner is.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual people are often accused of being queer people who are able to ‘pass’ as straight because they are capable of entering into relationships with someone of the opposite gender, but it is not a privilege to have your identity consistently dismissed and ignored throughout your life.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual women are automatically assumed to be promiscuous women who are merely trying to impress men, whereas bisexual men are automatically assumed to be gay men who are too afraid to come all the way out of the closet. Either way, bisexual people are automatically assumed to just want men at the end of the day. This assumption is so strong that many lesbians have stated that they would never date a bisexual woman because she’d probably just leave them for a man, because we all know that that’s what bisexual women really want (cue the eye rolls).

We need to talk about biphobia because I as a bisexual woman feel like that is not something I should disclose too early in a relationship, because it might cheapen me in my partner’s eyes.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual women in particular are dismissed as dirty, promiscuous, greedy, and unlovable, while simultaneously being sexualized, fetishized, and objectified by men who really like the idea of a woman who will sleep with other women, but also with them as well. Perhaps as a result of this, bisexual women are nearly twice as likely to be abused than straight women (according to a Buzzfeed report). Bisexual women also have a 46.1% chance of being raped in their lifetime (whether that be by a romantic partner or not) – a rate that is 2.6 times higher than straight women and 3.5 times higher than lesbian women (according to the bisexual support website Bitopia).

We need to talk about biphobia because I as a bisexual woman feel as though I cannot or should not date a man, because if I did, I’d lose something in the process – a feeling that is only emphasized by biphobic representations of bisexuals such as in the television series Glee, wherein there is one episode where a gay character becomes upset because his boyfriend kisses a girl. But it wasn’t the possible cheating that made him upset, no – it was the fact that the kiss resulted in his contemplating that he might actually be bisexual, as though his realization that he might be bisexual makes him less valuable in his boyfriend’s eyes. This conflict is resolved when the boyfriend character comes to the conclusion that he is completely gay, and thus the gay character can rest easily knowing all is as it should be. There is also a later episode where a lesbian character discloses that her ex-girlfriend was bisexual, to which the girl that is currently flirting with the lesbian character responds by saying that it’s “for the best” that she’s an ex then, and that what she really needs is a “100% Sapphic goddess”. This openly biphobic character is then treated by the lesbian as ‘better’ than her exes because she’s a real, bonafide lesbian. And this is a television show that marketed itself as being open-minded and inclusive.

We need to talk about biphobia because it is everywhere, and it isn’t something that I even thought about all that much until I had need to think about it. If I wasn’t bisexual, then chances are I’d be continuing to perpetuate these toxic beliefs today, because I wouldn’t know any better.

And people need to know better. That is why I talk about biphobia.

Because bisexual people are not dirty, greedy, naturally promiscuous, or whatever a biphobic society that enforces these beliefs paints us as. We are people. We are people who want to find love as much as anyone else. The only difference between us and anyone else is that we have to live with these assumptions held against us, and people are not talking enough about that. And we deserve better than that.

Should LGBT+ Characters Be in Children’s Films?

In 2012, an animated children’s film called ParaNorman featured an openly gay character – a stereotypical jock character named Mitch Downe, who reveals his orientation at the end of the film when he says “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut!” Also in 2012, an animated children’s television series called The Legend of Korra featured as its titular character and hero, Korra, a bisexual woman who shares a romance with another woman named Asami. And more recently, in 2017, the live action Disney film Beauty and the Beast featured an openly gay character in Lefou, the villain’s sidekick.

Slowly but surely, LGBT+ characters are making their appearance in children’s media, and people are fairly divided on the matter. On the one hand, we have those who support the idea, saying that children need to see LGBT+ people represented in media because LGBT+ people exist. Maybe the child in question will grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, and if they do, then the process of coming to terms with themselves will be that much smoother if they have grown up feeling like they are valid and like they are allowed to exist. As a bisexual woman myself, I grew up seeing bisexual people in the media, but they were always represented as morally inferior, dirty, and incapable of fully loving or being loved, and so these were the ideas of bisexuality that I grew up with, and the ideas that I applied to myself when I began to realize what I was. Perhaps the process would have been a little bit easier for me if I had grown up watching The Legend of Korra. And if a child does not grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, this type of media continues to be of use to them, because chances are, they are going to meet an LGBT+ person at some point in their lives, and this media normalizes this community for them. A gay boy is not “weird” or “effeminate”; he’s just like Lefou.

But then again, on the other hand, we have the people who are opposed to LGBT+ people appearing in children’s media, and this is the perspective that I want to speak to. For the most part, the argument that I hear to support this perspective is that, if children are surrounded from a young age by LGBT+ people, then this will lead them to become LGBT+ when they grow up.

There are two things that I want to state toward this: first of all, being surrounded by a particular sexual orientation at a young age does not influence your future sexual orientation. Both of my parents identify as straight, most of the couples that I saw in movies and television  were straight, all of my friends’ parents growing up were straight, and I still wound up being bisexual, and I imagine that this is the case for most LGBT+ people. The majority of people identify as heterosexual, and more than that, the heterosexual narrative is the one that is most focused on in our society. So why would a child who would identify as straight have their orientation changed because there was a queer couple in their favourite movie growing up?

But even saying that, I’m going to continue on to make a somewhat contradictory statement here: maybe it will influence them a little bit, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not saying that a child who would have otherwise grown up to be a completely heterosexual, totally masculine cis-gendered manly man will now be a homosexual drag queen because he grew up watching ParaNorman (I mean, if he did, that would be awesome too), but maybe he’ll grow up to be a little bit more open, a bit more fluid with his identity. Maybe he’ll question gender roles a little bit. Maybe, if he does feel even the slightest crush on someone of his own gender, he won’t be ashamed to pursue it, even experiment if he wants to. Or at the very least, maybe he will support LGBT+ people, when he could have hurt and bullied them otherwise. And what’s wrong with any of that?

To say that you don’t want children watching media with LGBT+ characters in it because it might make them grow up to become LGBT+ implies that there is something wrong with that. It makes it sound like growing up to become LGBT+ is a) a choice that people make at some point in their development and b) a wrong choice. It is a mistake that must be avoided, and that just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with growing up to enter into the LGBT+ community, and there is nothing wrong with learning more about the world around you, and there is nothing wrong with experimenting with and questioning your identity. And although I say this, I know that there are people who are going to disagree with me, and there are going to be people who continue to keep their children at home when the newest animated film comes to theatres featuring an LGBT+ character, but personally, I think that’s a shame, and specifically, it’s a shame for the children in question. Films that are willing to tell the stories of LGBT+ characters are offering children a gift: the gift of understanding and open-mindedness, the gift of questioning and learning about the world around them and the identity within them. This is a gift that should continue to be given, and it is a gift that I wish everyone could experience.