I just read the ever-fabulous Kate Sosin‘s piece “Myth of Virtue: The Unfriendly Queer” on his blog The New Gender, and it was a revelation. Go check it out, and then come back and finish this (or this isn’t going to make much sense).
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be “queer enough” and “radical enough.” As Kate puts it, “Over the past few years, I’ve come to find that the word ‘queer’ increasingly carries with it a set of rules, especially if it is teemed with the word ‘radical.'” There is so much pressure to be a certain kind of queer. I’m not even entirely positive where that pressure comes from, just that I know I feel it. And quite frankly, it gets exhausting.
I want to be a good person. I want to be a “good” queer. I want to be inclusive and not forget the most marginalized (or the sorta-marginalized, for that matter). I don’t want to be the “if we pass ENDA, legalize gay marriage, and repeal DADT, life will be all better for all gays, yay!” sort of queer. I don’t want to assimilate; I don’t want to lose myself in what is safe and mainstream; I don’t want to reinforce heternormativity, or cissexism, or classism, or racism, or ablism, or imperialism, or any of the other ‘isms.’
And yet, all of that isn’t necessarily tied up with being the “unfriendly queer” that Gary Garland praises. I shouldn’t have to utilize shock value in order to prove that I’m proudly queer. I shouldn’t have to follow his rules in order to show that I’m not self-loathing.
Contrary to what Garland appears to believe, being a friendly queer doesn’t have to mean viewing oneself as “something hideous, something that should remain silent and polite and inoffensive, until its voice is deemed safe enough for general consumption.” Being a friendly queer doesn’t reinforce “the idea that queer voices are only worthy of being listened to if they cater to heterosexual sensibilities.” Being a friendly queer doesn’t mean policing gender roles and stereotypes. (I mean, seriously? How not-friendly is that?) Being friendly doesn’t need to be equated with showing “how safe and lifelike and unthreatening queers can be.” I don’t think that politeness has to be submissive.
Just look at the author of “Myth of Virtue” — I respect Kate so much. They are an important gender activist in Chicago, and being articulate, respectful, and, yes, friendly does not diminish that in the slightest, nor does it make them any less radical. Being respectful does not mean catering to a heterosexist mainstream community, while silencing queer voices. Being friendly does not necessarily mean embracing the status quo — see Kate’s posts critiquing mainstream U.S. gay male culture, Chicago’s Boystown, and the fact that so much money and energy is poured in the fight for “marriage equality.” Being a friendly queer is no less valid a way of being queer than being an unfriendly queer. There is strength in friendliness like Kate’s.
Am I as friendly a queer as Kate? No. Kate is far more adept at being calm and seeing other people’s point of view than I am. I have more of a tendency to respond to blatant homophobia and transphobia by just writing the person off. It’s a struggle — sometimes I want to just say to hell with being reasonable: society needs to be called on how messed up it is. But railing at the society (or judging queers for not falling in line with one’s rules for how to be radical) doesn’t really do much.
Plus, it’s not really my style. I am, at heart, more of a friendly person, and I think that being generally friendly can coexist with also being radical. Not being explicitly in your face all the time doesn’t mean I’m silent, and it doesn’t mean that I want to blend in with the non-queers. Being friendly doesn’t mean I’m censoring myself and avoiding dissent. To the contrary, I believe that sometimes, being friendly is a way to make change — not through convincing straight people that queers are harmless or nonthreatening, but through dialogue and education, and for that, friendliness is the way to go.