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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Article On Newbish Queer Sensibilities I Wish I Could Read

I'm, well, not a young queer.  I'm not old enough to have experienced a lot of things older queer people have, like Stonewall or the AIDS crisis, but I have been out for almost fifteen years, long enough to have witnessed quite a few dramatic shifts in what constitutes appropriate language and praxis.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  So a while ago some friends and acquaintances who attended Northland college started posting something their professor posted on Salon, called "Has queer culture lost its edge?"  With a title like that, I always hope I'm going to find something I really resonate with, because I identify strongly with the frustration that comes from dealing with younger and newer queer people and more importantly how they enforce an ahistoric, super sanitized version of queerness.  But I'm always disappointed, because what we wind up getting is the queer version of "Are Millennials Killing The Beer Industry?" in which younger queer people are wrongfully accused of being "oversensitive" and talking derisively about how they're "triggered."  I wrote a really long Twitter thread on it in (it's a great thread, you should read it) which I talk about the super shitty parts of this article, but I keep going back to something I thought I tweeted but apparently didn't, which is this that I really, desperately want a piece to exist that talks about the sanitation of queerness... but without treating queer youth like they think they're fragile little victims.  You can read the thread in order to learn why I don't consider queer youth fragile.  This, instead, is the article I wish I could read.

Like I said, I'm not an old queer.  But I'm not a young queer either... I've been out for almost fifteen years at the time of this writing.  A lot can change in fifteen years... and it has.  If I talked today in the way I did in my late teens and early twenties I have no doubt people would brand me as irredeemably problematic, even though it would have been considered normal--or even preferred--when I was younger.  And had you told me at that age that when I would get into my thirties I would no longer feel comfortable calling myself a "tranny," I would have been really offended, because owning "tranny" was considered radical and inclusive by many trans communities at that time.  And no, it wasn't just trans men.

Back in my day, we used a lot of slurs as well as other words that weren't necessarily slurs but were definitely coarse.  We called ourselves "fags" or "dykes," we were "genderqueer" and "genderfuck," we used "tranny" and derivatives like "trannyfag," and practically nobody used singular "they," favoring neo-pronouns that twisted cis people's tongues into knots.  "Transgender" didn't just include trans men and women alongside nonbinary folks, but was a full spectrum including crossdressers and drag performers and all sorts of other people who Tumblr posts derisively call "cis" now whenever they say something Tumblr doesn't agree with.  The folks I knew who hated to be called "queer?"  It wasn't because it was a slur, or even because they were trying to be sensitive and inclusive to the much older people who hated that term, they just preferred different slurs, like my friends who hated being called "queer" because they hands-down preferred to be called "faggot."

And quite frankly, it was fantastic.  We were fucked up, messy, beautiful, sexy people... if admittedly very problematic in the way we chose to express that.  Gradually most of this terminology became sanitized and de-sexed, and entire identities were re-written, often by choice and personal growth but also often by the shame and force.  And people started applying this stuff retroactively, as if we all must have known back then that this was "bad" language and deliberately chose to use it anyway.

Suddenly it was a faux pas to call people "drag queens" or "transvestites" who had called themselves such their whole lives.  The blurred lines between these identities and historical trans women and the language people used were sharpened and binarized by people who weren't even born until after many of these people had already died, and so misconceptions wind up proliferating until you get some nineteen year old queer person performatively educating a history scholar for talking about drag queens at Stonewall or lecturing Kate Bornstein (who transitioned way back in the 1980s and has contributed to saving countless queer and trans people's lives) on her use of "tranny," a word few would have cared about as early as ten years ago.

This sort of attitude winds up burning contemporary queer and trans people a great deal, because not only are younger and newer queer people forcibly shoving the language and praxis escalator faster and faster, the internet has given us the unprecedented ability to harass and shun people for the most menial of sins, as well as people who continue to defend them.  And listen, it may sound gross, but shunning has its place... a very specific place, reserved for people who do actual harm to queer and trans people through their political activities combined with outsize money and power; think Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But most queer and trans people are not Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

As I put the finishing touches on this essay, a couple of days ago there was a trans woman who made a silly pun joke on Twitter.  It was since deleted and I don't want to contribute to the storm of call-outs, but it went something like:
"Remember, Christmas without HRT is just Cismas."
It's a clever wordplay joke, but also problematic in that it made a lot of pre-HRT and non-HRT trans folks uncomfortable.  After all, people aren't cis just because they don't have HRT.  But the response to this was ridiculous, with people throwing tweet after tweet at this woman.  There were some particularly egregious comments (like a trans man who called her joke "TERF-y," which is as offensive as it is nonsensical), but mostly a sea of people who felt it was their duty to expose this woman and call her out for her terrible crime.  A lot of people unfollowed her, making sure to be extremely performative about it.

Another particularly egregious and slightly older example was Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide due to her transphobic parents and a bigoted society.  This was a child who killed herself over transphobia and yet people--queer and trans people, not our enemies--saw it as necessary to root through her blog digging up dirt, declaring her "truscum" and somehow believing it was necessary to "expose" her for being anti-otherkin (in other words, she needed to be exposed for sharing an opinion with like 99% of the world).

When I think about oversensitivity in the queer and trans communities, it's this sort of thing I'm thinking about.  Not people demanding trigger warnings and other accommodations for their disabilities and challenges, nor people insisting they not be misgendered just because their outward appearance doesn't match what people expect their gender to look like, nor people creating a culture where they ask each other's pronouns and refuse to use ableist words even though they are ubiquitous, nor any of the other things whiny old queers like to call "oversensitive."

It's the looming methods of silencing and disposing of large swaths of our population in favor of an ahistorical, sanitized fantasy.