This is actually something I wrote a while ago for Genderqueer Chicago. I wrote it, and I posted it there, and then I posted it here, and then I lay awake for two hours getting more and more anxious and then I deleted it from this site. And I felt like a chickenshit but not quite enough so to re-post it, so I've been debating ever since what that was about. I realized eventually that I was nervous to put something up that was so close to the bone; I write personal things here all the time, but this felt like it was just one inch over the boundary line I had been waiting to find all along. I felt uncomfortable.
But I decided today to post it anyway. I just got back from a radical queer conference where I was surrounded by happy, happy queer folk; I'm covered in sparkly makeup, and I talked all the way home on the bus about queering public policy in the Chicago public schools with a complete stranger that I met at the bus stop. Being queer has gone from being just an incidental fact about me to being something that is actively important to me. There are many reasons why I value this transition, not least of which is that by embracing more fully this aspect of my personality, I feel braver and surer and more confident every day. I'm surrounded by good role models, friends who live their lives with courage and outspokenness and strength, and it's inspiring me to try to be a little more like that myself. So, um... Here it is.
The Path of Least Resistance
“Oh, are you queer?”
It’s funny, kind of, because I feel like I’m finally owning my queerness in a way that I never have before, using my language and clarifying my own thoughts and wearing my heart on my sleeve as I revel in what is becoming an increasingly important aspect of my life. But even as I feel myself moving towards a more openly and adamantly queer identity than I’ve ever embraced before, I’ve been getting this question with increasing frequency. While I’ve been busy mentally and verbally busy expanding my queerness my physical appearance seems to be moving in the opposite direction, and the feeling that my interior and exterior are at odds has rarely felt so palpable.
Right now, I have shoulder-length hair and generally dress somewhere between somewhat girly and somewhat androgynous, and I’m usually pretty readily identified as a female-bodied person. I’m okay with that, more or less. I look kind of dorky with short hair, and I’m actually rather enamored of the sheer physicality of this new, longer style. (I wrote a while ago that I feel rather like Oscar Wilde, those magnificent pictures of him with that wavy luxurious hair and that air of decadence, cane between his knees as he stares as the camera. If that’s not queer, I don’t know what is.) And I’ve never been a physically expressive person; most of my wardrobe is more or less designed to let me pass under the radar, to allow me to avoid drawing attention to myself and instead stay in the background. In unfamiliar settings I’d rather listen than speak, to figure out things for myself before I begin talking, and it feels kind of hard to do that while wearing, say, neon tights or a really awesome fedora.
Maybe it’s partially the people I’m around lately. I spent most of the past few years in mostly straight company and I was rarely asked about my sexual preference and never about my gender identity, probably because I code as straight. I do my best to out myself as soon as possible (I’ve lectured my straight friends, usually drunkenly, about everything from queer porn to oral sex, with at least a few other topics in between), because I’m fully aware that I pass as a non-queer person unless I bring it up myself. It’s irritating and sometimes awkward to have to identify myself as the queer person in the room, but in some ways that’s almost easier than having to out myself as queer when I’m surrounded by other queers. I assume that straight people think I’m straight; I want to be able to assume that queer people think I’m queer, but most of the time I simply can’t. While I’m infinitely grateful to have finally found a queer community, it’s jarring to come up against my own conundrums again and again.
I’m aware of the fact that this is the opposite of what most genderqueer people experience, and it seems horribly selfish to complain about how much it bothers me to not appear queer when so many of my friends spend so much time and energy dealing with a physicality that is continually being questioned by most of the world. But it does bother me, and I don’t know what to do about it. Because I’m not a physically demonstrative person, I know that it’s not as simple as changing my style; changing the way I look would feel highly uncomfortable, and I’d rather spend my energy on something other than worrying about how awkward I feel about what I’m wearing. But because my genderqueerness isn’t confirmed by my physical appearance, I feel like it’s constantly being called into question, not only by others but also by myself. If I were really genderqueer, wouldn’t I feel comfortable with shorter hair or some tattoos or a tie or something? If I look like a girl, how can I claim that I reject the rigidity of that definition? There’s a kind of fucked-up power to passing, and even while I want none of it I also know I’m part of that every day, just because of the way that I feel physically comfortable.
I hate being defined by something as trivial as my haircut or whether I’m wearing a dress that day, but the friction between those external details and what I can’t seem to help feeling I should be presenting as is disarming. A queer should not defined by hir clothing, but all too often that’s what people, myself included, use to set up categories and definitions. I don’t know what to do about my personal discomfort, but I’m trying to use it to inform my own readings of others, to not put people into those oh-so-convenient boxes until I talk to them and have at least a cursory understanding of where they’re coming from. I can only hope that the people I meet will do the same for me.