Monday, January 23, 2012

Queering "Queer"

I am what folks once upon a time would have called "a bit of a queer fellow." I'm not talking about my sexuality here: it's neither at issue in this post, nor is it particularly useful as a site of public discourse, since my identity and practice are both quite hetero-normative (I've been in a committed state-and-church-sanctioned marriage for a dozen years).

What I'm talking about is the velvet blazer, the plaid bow-tie, the fact that I'm vaguely ostentatious, flamboyant, chatty, gossipy, into theatre, concerned with home decor, the list goes on. I am, as you might say, somewhat (though not extraordinarily) "queer," and it's a persona that in this town I play up a bit.

In a sense, I'm just a test case. I've been setting off people's gaydar for years, and while that used to bother me, I realized that was mostly just homophobia (although in some cases, it was about the power of presumption). In fact, part of what I think I'm doing, here on this campus that takes its hyper-masculine mascot very very seriously, is opening up a non-normative model of masculinity in such a way that uncouples compulsory gender performance from sexuality.

This post is both a vague rumination and a query (I might say Queer-y), about the history of the word "queer" and about the politics of deploying it in a way that I might claim that identity independent of sexual practice.

I came up in a cultural moment in which ACT UP, Queer Nation (and Queer Campus), and importantly, queer theory were all changing the discourse, and reclaiming "queer" so I have little sense of how that term actually functioned before that moment. Of course it was used as a homophobic slur, but how, and when, did it make meaning as "eccentric" before Stonewall, or even between 1969 and 1990?

And is there a use in self-consciously re-claiming "eccentric" under the newer umbrella of "queer" that has developed in my adult lifetime?

I think there are some interesting precedents here, particularly in the intersection between queer activism and disability activism. This is articulated in academic work like Robert McRuer's, but also in popular culture like Lady Gaga's use of the term "freak."

And here is where some of this all comes together. In the last year, at three different times, someone has shouted some homophobic epithet at me as I walked down the street. And I've gotten these off and on my entire life. So while epithets and slurs are not the worst kind of bullying, I've been bullied a bit about being queer, but queer in the sense of eccentric--since for those young men (all of them that I can think of), they were the same thing.

As always, dear reader, your thoughts welcome, for mine at this stage are amorphous and poorly thought out.


Flavia said...

I have no answers to your query or queer-y, but I love this post and I'd love to pursue the ideas in it or hear more of your thoughts as they develop.

May bring up over drinks tomorrow with BFF colleague whose current work involves the intersection of queer and disability studies--will report back if the covo isn't too whiskey-addled to be comprehensible.

(Also: though I haven't commented in a while, I'm so glad that you're back blogging.)

ellie said...

Thanks for writing this. i think it's a perfect example of the performativity of gender (and people's presumptions thereof), taking precedence over self-characterized identity. Rather than ask you your gender identity, or sexual preference, people assume... and based on a bow-tie; how crude?!