Photo: Purple Sherbet Photography, Flickr.
Once upon a time, I was told a story. The Story.
The human world is divided into two opposing halves: the boys and the girls. Though the same species, they are fundamentally different. They think differently, love differently, interact differently, feel differently, dress differently, work differently, desire differently.
Which half you’re in is decided as soon as a medical person looks at a particular bit of your body, and announces it to the room. This happens moments after you are born. From then on, everybody knows you will think one way, love one way, interact one way, feel one way, dress one way, work one way, desire one way.
As you grow up, you will mostly stick with people in your half, the ones who are the same as you. Together you learn how to be your half. When you are old enough, you will notice the people in the other half, and feel a new thing: attraction. And they will notice you and feel it too.
At some point, after not too long (probably at second or third attempt), you will be attracted to a person from the other half who fits you perfectly. You will no longer be attracted to other people from the other half, and you will spend the rest of your life with this person, and you will produce new people who will start the cycle again.
It wasn’t one person who told me this story. It was society. And you were probably told it too. For lots of people, The Story more or less comes true, perhaps with a few tweaks here and there. A few extra relationships before finding the real one. A bit of a blip after marriage where someone else seems attractive for a while. Otherwise though, The Story rings true.
But a while ago, I discovered an important word: queer. A loose translation might be, nope. There are as many different interpretations of the word queer as there are people who use it, but to me, that’s it: nope. That story doesn’t match my experience, my desire, my identity.
I like to use it because that’s all it tells you.
It’s a word for anyone and everyone who doesn’t see themselves in that story. Maybe because they don’t neatly fit into one of those two halves. Maybe because the half they were told to be in was the wrong one. Maybe because they don’t experience attraction like other people do. Maybe because they’re attracted to people in same group, or both groups, or all groups. Maybe because they don’t want to pick one person out of many. Maybe because they’re just not sure.
Queer is an important way to say Nope. Society, your story doesn’t describe me. But it also leaves the freedom to not need to define why. No certainty required. When people come out as gay or asexual or transgender, or any other queer identity, they’re very often asked, ‘Are you sure?’. That seems to me to be entirely unnecessary and unfair. Why should you have to be sure, to say that you don’t recognise yourself in the story? That’s significant and important in itself.
But for too long now, the people who don’t see themselves in that story have been criminalised, accused, despised, discriminated against, abused, erased, and silenced. They’ve been declared ‘other’. They’ve been punished because of a story they didn’t write. And they’ve been questioned, stereotyped and pigeonholed in order to keep them as ‘other’.
That’s why queer is important. The more we free ourselves to say Nope, without forcing each other to define why, the more we’ll see it’s not so unusual. The more we’ll see that maybe that story isn’t really an all-pervasive norm at all. The more we’ll see that we all have slightly different stories, identities, and desires. And that’s okay.
There are many straight, cisgender, monogamous people. And lots of people who act in that role because the story told them they had to. But there are also gay people, bisexual people, pansexual people, asexual people, trans people, polyamorous people, and people who don’t feel like they fit any of those categories.
We are queer people. We exist. And we’re important.
This is part one of two – read on for I’m a queer Christian – and the Christian part is important.