Normal Queers -- The Ultimate Oxymoron and a Mighty Slippery Slope
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Well, there's been quite a flap going on about Senator Craig and his pee-pee dance.
I've read everything from complaints that his arrest on flimsy charges is, by its very nature, homophobic, through how comparing his T-room antics to a committed gay relationship is like comparing a child-molester to a well-adjusted, loving family, to the portrayal of his action as that of an alcoholic who "just can't help himself".
Something that I noted, however, was a pretty steady stream of "eeeeewwws" in many of the responses that I read and heard to the idea of anonymous sex in a public bathroom.
Now, granted, it's not my turn-on, and it's not something I would necessarily want to stumble in on if I was pressed for a piss in a busy airport, but, in truth, I don't have that big of an "eeewww" about it. Does that make me a pervert?
Oh, wait. I'm already a pervert. (Note to self: You are a dyke. This means that, to many, you are also a pervert.)
One of the things I didn't like about some of the coverage that I read/heard/observed was that there seemed to be a lot of "Don't make us look bad" crap going on.
This doesn't surprise me from the GOP -- the grand old party has, for the past 30 years or more, seemed to perfer that their members to march in lock-step (apparently this is one of their turn-ons).
I do get a bit uncomfortable, however, when I read some of the vociferous "Well, I would never have sex in a public restroom!" indignation from more liberal quarters, or hear from LGBT people that they wish those T-room Queers would stop making the rest of us Normal Queers "look bad".
Like I said, anonymous public sex in the airport john is not my gig. Clearly, however, it's someone's gig, since there seem to be no lack of places to find anonymous sex in public restrooms in this country, since I've personally known a fair number of dedicated tea-queens in my life, and since it seems to have developed a coded language and set of traditions all its own.
I commented about this over at Shakesville, but for those of you who missed it, I'll summarize: Amongst the tea-queens that I've discussed this with, they have all reported that part of the turn-on is the combination of anonymity and the possibility of getting caught. (I'm fascinated with what turns people on sexually in general, and I've actually had discussions with a lot of people who have different sexual proclivities, gay, straight, bi, and otherwise -- primarily because I'm also fascinated by what turns me on, or doesn't turn me on, and I want to understand this stuff.)
I tend to be fairly non-judgmental when it comes to sex between consenting adult humans. My attitude is "If it's safe and consensual for all parties involved, and everyone's enjoying themselves -- have a fabulous time."
I do have some questions as to whether public sex in an airport restroom can be wholly consensual, as there is the possibility of unwitting onlookers who have not consented to be part of the "action" -- who are simply there to answer the call of nature -- and since they may actually be a factor in the turn-on for the consenting participants (and therefore, part of the action in some way), this seems a bit dicey to me -- but I have the same questions when Jehovah's Witnesses leave a pamphlet in my mail-slot entitled "Jesus for the Jews" because I have a mezzuzah on my front door. So, that's a question about the nature of consent and participation for me, rather than a judgment on a particular sexual practice, AFAIC.
But I digress.
I get uncomfortable and begin to ask myself a lot of questions when I hear this distinction between "normal" queerness (which I think that some LGBT activists do actually capitalize on, especially in media presentations) and "perverted" queerness -- because I've seen it used too many times as a way to marginalize certain elements of the queer community. When I was working as an activist in Oregon during the fabulous "Lon Mabon" era, there came a time when some of the more "mainstream" activists wanted the drag queens, trannies, crew-cut bull-daggers, and Queer Nation folk to sit down and shut up, or at least "tone it down" until the elections were over.
The supposed logic for this was that "they" were making "us" "look bad". (Excessive quotation marks intentional.)
"They" were showing too much skin in the Gay Pride parade. "They" were cross-dressing and having sex with multiple partners and having their genitalia altered and doing things that "normal" queers (who just wanted to adopt a couple of children and have a successful career in real-estate and live happily ever after with the only person they had every had sex with) would never, ever, do.
At first, I kind of bought the argument. I fit in the more "normal" category of queerdom, at that time. I'd held jobs with the city, state, and federal government. I owned a house. I was raising kids. I was in a long-term relationship. I was a nice, white dyke who could pass as straight if I needed to. I was, in many ways, the gay-assimiliation movement's wet-dream.
The assimilationists talked very convincingly about how, if "we" just appeared normal enough right now, when the storm was raging, then later we could gain rights for the edgier queers.
The problem was, I loved those drag-queens and those bull-daggers -- I had a profound sense of gratitude for the edgy queers of the 60's and 70's whose actions had actually paved a way to the life that allowed me to be out and proud.
I cooperated for a very short time with the philosophy of "let's all try to look really normal, for the sake of the Movement".
A very short time indeed -- because, as I took my first tentative steps down that slope of loose shale, it wasn't long before I had fellow activists demanding: "Don't say this," and "Don't say that," and "Don't appear in a photo-op with this queer or that queer -- they're too radical," -- and I found that the very thing that I was trying to counteract (the suppression of queer-ness) was alive, well, and living in the LGBT movement itself.
I learned very quickly that this is not helpful.
It's not like it doesn't come up for me, now -- the whole concept of solidarity vs. basic ethics.
There have been many times when I've taken a deep breath when an "ally" says something that seems fallacious, or specious, or completely fucking fucked up . . . . and I've asked myself the question: "Should I confront them on this in a public forum, or should I just keep my mouth shut for the sake of the appearance of solidarity?"
This came up for me this week.
I was reading a thread about the whole Craig thing, and I felt myself torn: On the one hand, I didn't want my comments to be taken as a demonization of the whole t-room phenom, or the gay men who partake of it, but on the other hand, I really believed that, from my experience and discussions with actual people, there was a valid point to be made that the risk of potential discovery and consequence was at least part of the erotic aspect for the participants, and a risk that those participants took, consciously.
It felt like a delicate moment for me. I realized that a lot of the readers of my comments might not have any real background into t-room culture, and while I didn't want to go into a long dissertation about my own explorations and understandings of it, I also didn't want to put something out there that simply portrayed my t-queen brothers in a way that would tend to allow others to dismiss them as "perverts".
I also didn't want to put something out there that would just stir the shit.
I recognize that these internal struggles arise for me, however momentarily, on a great number of discussions that I have, online, or in person, regardless of the topic at hand: Is it important that I speak? Is it important that I refrain from speaking?
I also recognize that such internal struggles (if I don't really go all spartan-wrestling on them, and approach them with naked critical thought) can be destructive to my basic ethics and principles, and my knowledge that any real movement for change has enough strength to encompass diversity of opinion and being-ness.
If I stay silent for the purpose of simply exhibiting solidarity, I'm still staying silent, and I know from harsh experience that silence can be construed as consent. If I do that, I'm doing exactly what I despise in the monolithic right wing.
If I stay silent for the purpose of not wanting to become a "lightning rod" in a discussion, I'm doing exactly what I despise in Democratic Congress-folk who won't stand up and be counted, for fear of losing an election.
If I stay silent for the purpose of hiding myself in some false sense of safety, and make some flip, ambiguous statement instead of what I really want to say, I'm Senator Craig, tapping my foot and passing my hand under the stall divider, hoping I'll get what I want without revealing myself.
Now, when I think of that, I actually do have a big "eeeeewwww".
Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:24 PM