The ABC of Queer: A for Activist

Queer activism is one of the two or three most confused concepts in queer culture.

On a basic level a queer activist should be someone who is campaigning for the fair and equal treatment of queer people in society (the rebel with a brick against the the big straight person). They should also be promoting the increased visibility and awareness of queer people in society; usually by exemplifying queer lifestyles and modelling queer identities (queer people are everyday people). This seems perfectly laudable. It’s also seems clear that there are many people who identify as queer or queer-variant who still feel oppressed or silenced in society, despite claims for increasing tolerance.

The first confusing difficulty stems from the fact that Queer isn’t the same as Lesbian, Homosexual, Asexual, et cetera… Or for that matter Female, Trans*, Male… It’s neither a sexual orientation spectrum nor a gendered orientation spectrum identity, but a socio-political-cultural attitude embraced by certain sexual and gendered minority people to their identities.

In that sense, it’s remarkably similar to Gay which is probably why it has such a historical antipathy to it (younger sibling to older). It’s particularly embraced by people who have considerable economic, social and/or educational capital (so the simple rebel against the big man or big woman narrative is a bit problematic). You will often therefore hear such queer activists talking on behalf of queer communities (queers of colour, Irish queers, crip queers, et cetera) where it’s really unclear that they can actually speak for those communities (because it’s moot whether anybody, certainly not everybody, in those communities would define as queer).

The second confusing difficulty stems from the fact that queer activism is rarely about exemplifying queer lifestyles and modelling queer identities in themselves. Queer activism grew up as a politicized alternative to mainstream gay culture, critiquing what it saw as its lack of challenge to dominant, orthodox heterosexual norms and behaviors (heteronormativity and homonormativity). In particular, queer activism sought to incorporate insights from feminism, post-colonialism and post-structuralism to reject the sexual and gender orthodoxies of its time.

However, over the last 25 years, Queer activism has established its own orthodoxy often acting as ‘purity police’ for sexual and gendered codes of behavior and conduct (see CHARMED CIRCLE). Therefore queer activism in this mode is increasingly about judging others for their specific identities and behavior (so identity is never quotidian and everyday). The irony being that queer activism is now more concerned to attack LGBT identities they feel are unworthy (see WEBER) than heterosexual oppression, often quite viciously – in some situations it becomes difficult to judge whether the queer attack or the heterosexual oppression are more invidious.

Concurrent to this has been the development of a repertoire of contentious tools to judge other sexual and gender minority individuals (see CALLING OUT, CHECKING YOUR PRIVILEGE, THE POLITICS OF SNIDE, et cetera).

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