Being queer, at its core, is a question of commitment. My body, in the food it consumes and the drag makeup it wears is marked by gender, sexuality, and my commitment to respecting the subjectivity of humans and non-humans on this planet. Being queer isn’t easy because it takes those extra steps; you can be not-straight, or non gender-conforming, but can you just effortlessly position yourself in a political and phenomenological struggle against society and the state? Can one be simply “gay”, and blend in with the larger society that oppresses the ones who choose not to conform without losing themselves in the shuffle? My answer is no, and it’s why I call myself queer. Being queer is a serious endeavor, and one that comes with specific obligations.
The genesis of “queer” comes from theory and practice. It comes from women of color and post-colonial thinkers and those who would question a “stable subject” as a necessary good or “fractured identities” as a necessary bad. It comes from groups wanting to organize and associate and live freely and openly in the public square. It is a civic expression and criticism in one moment and in many bodies.
Being queer demands that I interrogate desires: to find what shifts out of place when I assume labels given to me by a society that sees people according to binaries, boxes, and determined by their genitals. To truly love women rather than covet a plasticine caricature of their beauty, to love men on a level that keeps our heads above the water that would subjugate us both, and to wholly love those to whom these words do not apply. To reject the impulse to impose my will on others for the sake of my own sexual needs. For me, a bisexual, it means acknowledging my passing privilege and agitating for my own visibility at every opportunity. Being queer means I acknowledge that everything is political. It’s about pushing for the freedom to love and relate, to dance and play, to live and pursue becoming as strongly as one can.
Queer issues vary, but I think many of us agree that asking the state to recognize our pair-bonds and allowing us to be out while fighting unjust, colonizing wars are not everyone’s first priority. I commit to a political stance against marriage, monogamy, and “I do”-ing my way into a spot in the shrinking middle class. It means that I will not congratulate mainstream movements for prioritizing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, when I don’t think queers should beg for welcome into the fold of the state’s colonizing war-machine.
Queers suffer housing and job discrimination. Queer youth are far more likely to be homeless than their non-queer counterparts. Many queer folk don’t have access to health care at all, much less a relationship with the medical establishment that doesn’t pathologize our difference or meet our specific needs. Queers who reject the genders and bodies given to them at birth, or transition out of need (or just because they fucking want to) can’t get the hormones they need, the jobs to pay for them, or the safe spaces to be themselves. Queers are often victims of sexual violence in our intimate relationships at the hands of others who think they can “turn” us, or that we just need “one good fuck” to terrorize us back into acting straight. Queers experience misogyny and racism and poverty. Living with these struggles under the threat of violence (by police, or by your neighbors) for our transgressions against gender binaries or compulsory heterosexuality, for our self-expression and participation in love with others, is a special kind of pain. To then be told that assimilation into the most oppressive and violent institutions in our society will solve our problems (via marriage, conformity, and some kind of ridiculous idea of “quietly” living as queer) is naïve at its best and annihilation at its worst. Being queer means I will call other queers out for their bullshit (and welcome others to call me on mine) and that I will not remain silent about our political goals and strategies as an oppressed group struggling for liberation; it’s again, a personal and social commitment I make when I say I’m queer-identified.
If I’m so dedicated to radically reorienting my pleasure drive when it comes to sex(uality), shouldn’t it then also follow that I question how my desire limits the lives and deaths of billions of humans and non-humans around this planet? If I enact a queer politics in my bedroom and on the streets, how could I check it at the doorway to my kitchen, or at the coat hangers in my closet, or the cabinet under the sink where I store my soaps and cleaners? How could I abandon the contributions of this understanding when I see those who suffer from white supremacy and colonization, or subjugation at the hands of the wealthy, or see the earth fall apart to feed the greedy drives of the rich and powerful? If I demand a consensual and radically loving relationship with the humans in my life, I can’t act like it doesn’t beg the question of how I will orient myself in the struggles of humans and nonhumans alike. I will, then, walk with all creatures under that QUEER banner and agitate for their right to bodily integrity, freedom to form relationships, and respect for their lived experiences as strongly as any human in our midst.
A commitment to animal liberation requires me to reject assimilation into the mutually bolstering systems of the exploitation of animals, humans for wage labor, women for sexuality, and rejection of queers for their difference. It means I won’t consume products or ideas that exploit humans or nonhumans just because it comes dressed in rainbows and glitter. As a vegan I root out all the ways I participate in the use and abuse of non-humans, and mark my body at the dinner table and the puppy mill and the circus and the laboratory as a body committed to standing in for those we erase and silence. I will not go quietly with my bowl of fruits and veggies while others consume rotting, tortured flesh; I will not love same- and differing-gender people with no-fuss behind closed doors as if I’m just “different” like everyone else.
Queer is a choice, a commitment. I love asking people what pronouns they use and I love hearing/seeing/feeling how people play with gender. I feel frustration when people claim the word “queer” and wish to remain a-political (as if that’s even possible). I push myself harder when I know I’m accountable to a movement of sharp thinkers and pained lovers and joyful activists and intentional actors who understand the interconnectedness of world struggles.