There’s plenty to love about Being Queer

Vivek Shraya will be in town to lead a discussion after the screening of What I LOVE About Being QUEER

For a community with so much to celebrate, queer folks sure don’t spend enough time talking about what makes our identity and sexuality great. I have story in The Wanderer this week about a documentary that tries to cover some of the joy of the fluid gender roles and “the doin’ it.”

You can read my story on Vivek Shraya’s What I LOVE About Being QUEER here, or meet him in person at the film screening tonight. It’s at 6:30 at Edmonton’s Idylwylde Library.

Test your webs

Last weekend was kind of like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one, but with more pink glitter. Some friends I hadn’t seen for years came to town just in time for the Pride parade, and taught me about a fascinating idea: the need to test the invisible webs around you. This week, I needed to test one of mine, and it was harrowing but marvelous. Before I get to my little web though, let me explain what happened.

Dear friends Kathleen and Daltry smiling at the tiny concert

As the Edmonton Journal noted, there was plenty to celebrate at Pride this year, and I was happy to march with friends in Camp fYrefly, a leadership retreat for queer and allied youth. The creamy pink frosting on top of this cupcake, though, was finding out that my friends Kathleen and Daltry were both in town. We went to a tiny, intimate concert together at CKUA, and sat cross-legged on the floor together surrounded my sweet music.

Of course, what brought them back to Edmonton was not so sweet. A friend took his own life recently, and they’d come for his service.

Daltry’s mom was there too, and we were exchanging stories and proverbs by the punchbowl when the conversation turned to this friend, and what had led to his suicide. If only, she said, he could have seen the massive web of love that coalesced around him for that funeral, seen it while he was still alive. If only, she said, we had more chances to test those webs and see what they look like.

It was funny because someone else at the concert had just told me about another kind of important test. She was about to travel to Montreal, and I asked her if she planned on joining the protests there. She sighed, and said probably, but she was pretty anxious about getting arrested. A fine would basically ruin her finances at school for the next year, but she said the Quebec government’s new laws to restrain the movement made it hard for her to shut up.

It frustrated her because it seemed to confirm a theory of Nietzsche’s: that in Western democracies, we never really exercise our liberty because we trust that it’ll be there when we need it. That in a moment of crisis, the state would give us space to claim it. To her, the laws banning masked protests, unannounced gatherings of 50+ people, and fines in the tens of thousands of dollars for students group illegally organizing, smacked of a promise that was shown as false the moment it was tested.

What occurred to me was that the Pride parade is just such an event: an opportunity to test the webs of liberty and love that we hope are there. Twenty years ago, marching down the street declaring this kind of love here meant getting chased down the street and called faggots, and risking beatings from homophobic crowds. In most places in the world, it still does. This year, that test was honoured in Edmonton by the appearance of our province’s premier, and hours of rainbow flags and heavy mascara and dance music downtown.

Which brings me to my own harrowing test this week. After the glitter settled, I realized I had mixed up a deadline and had less than 24 hours to make a gigantic job application, with three sealed references, physically manifest itself across the country to be hand-delivered. It happened.

I’d like to say it was incredible, but it was really just implausible. So many brains working so hard to get these documents together, and printed out in another city? I felt like I was facing sub-District 12 odds of making it. But friends and old bosses pulled through in a way I was honestly astonished by. It was humbling.

It’s not often we get a chance to test those invisible webs. I am truly blessed to say that when I needed mine, it was there. To every one of you out there who’s part of it, thank you.

Everybody’s family is going to change

Poster for The Coming Out MonologuesLast week I had the pleasure of seeing The Coming Out Monologues at the U of A. Riffing off pieces like The Vagina Monologues and The Laramie Project, it was a play based entirely on the true stories of the people onstage coming out of the closet. I never get enough of these stories, and I loved their sincerity and vulnerability. Some of the performers were young, some were old, some had relatively painless transitions, and others ended decades-long relationships with straight partners. Most ended on something like a happy ending.

Except… a lot also ended saying something like, ‘It was tough getting people to accept who I really am, but things got better once they saw how normal I am too.” Which made me squirm. Is this the world we really want to make for ourselves?

I can attest that folks in the queer community spend a lot of time trying to be “normal” — as in, act straight. I do it all the time, often without even thinking about it. Is this underwear too gay to wear to the gym? Which part of the ceiling should I look at to avoid telling this group of guys I don’t like golf?

I remember bumping into an old drama teacher and her husband at a coffee shop when the Canadian government legalized same-sex marriage. They were telling me they couldn’t understand why it had taken so long for legal recognition, because it was so silly to think that two men being able to get married would affect everybody else’s relationship. Your marriage has no impact on ours, they reassured me.

But why shouldn’t it?

This kind of “normalizing” is a way of convincing ourselves that the Home Improvement, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond-style straight, monogamous relationships in the mainstream essentially have it perfect, and that we can and should emulate them. More insidiously, it also implies that they have nothing to learn from us.

Claire holds her hand out daintily for a butch and wonderful Meagh to kiss.
My friends Claire and Meagh are irrepressibly cute. (Photo credit: Holly Norris)

I learn a lot from glances into my friends Meagh and Claire‘s relationship. I think they model a lot of things queer partners negotiate that most straight couples I know rarely think about. For an average hetero couple, how often do serious conversations come up about what it means that the man almost always drives? Not often, right?

But Meagh and Claire have had ongoing, loving talks about how they feel about their gender and their roles together. Is it okay to be a queer girl and wear lipstick and heels? Do my body parts match the way I feel inside? Do we want to use “she” all the time when we talk about each other? I don’t think Claire would mind me telling you she calls herself the feelings-top of the relationship.

It’s not fair to say that this happens in every queer relationship, because there are a near-infinite variety and queer folks are like the queens of experimentation. But because we don’t have many models of how they’re supposed to work, I think it’s fair to say it’s way more common to actively negotiate these things. Would it be the worst thing in the world for straight couples to learn something from this?

I’ve had second dates spent getting slurpees and analyzing the merits of monogamy and polygamy. For me, monogamy seems to offer more warmth and safety. But because so many gay couples try other things, the conversation comes up.

You may have seen those videos last year of a young man defending how well he was raised by his lesbian moms, and of a couple’s life through the eyes of one partner who’s only revealed to be a man too when he proposes at the very end. My friend Rosa did a brilliant dissection of the message those videos send. They’re both beautiful (and I’ve cried watching them for sure). She says, though…

The contradictory emotional state that each of them left me in was similar to that of an amateur drag show: delight, horror, inability to look away. But these videos were actually nothing like an amateur drag show; they were totally un-glittery; totally un-queer.

The young man is talking about his two moms to challenge the Iowa Senate’s bid to outlaw same-sex marriage by arguing that the sexual orientation of his parents “has had zero effect on the content of [his] character.” He seems like an upstanding and accomplished guy, for sure. But Rosa imagines writing him this in a letter:

Actually, it probably had a massive effect on the content of your character; you probably are smarter, stronger and more critical because of the sexual orientation of your parents. Because you realized that your moms and your family had to deal with a lot of discrimination, you probably have a greater sense of justice, a more open mind, a deeper political engagement. The audience should be applauding you for this, but not for a statement that perpetuates an idea that homosexuality is okay only if it is, well, just like heterosexuality.

I couldn’t agree with her more.

I want to learn from the people around me. I want to learn from the young parents across my street who just adopted. I want to learn from the family friends who’ve divorced and still take an active role in their kids’ lives. I want to learn from the people who try having two partners at once, even if it ends in tears. This is what we do. We learn from each other.

If you’re ready for an extremely not-safe-for-work blog, HOMO Online offers some brilliant tidbits about “seek[ing] communion with men like ourselves who reject heteronorms, queer-puritanism, airy-fairyism, consumerist-faggotry and the like.” They want to reclaim the closet, as an idea that queer men should carve out some spaces just for ourselves (including theirs online, which unapologetically features copious amounts of porn mixed with art and social commentary).

If you like Tim Taylor’s style of nuclear family, that’s okay, too. But can we agree that it’s a better thing to arrive at those decisions intentionally — and that straight folks might actually have something to learn from the pantheon of queer models too?