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Queer Assimilation

July 29, 2010

My last post about The Kids Are All Right got me thinking quite a bit about my stance on assimilation and how my outsider status affects my actions. It’s likely that I exaggerate about how other people perceive my appearance (not so much my mannerisms), though those feelings of displacement certainly exist. My thoughts on assimilation and equal treatment vary the most when I change geographical location, whether I walk just a few blocks from my apartment or drive out-of-state.

To be straightforward, being gay isn’t what causes me discomfort when I am in the public eye, though a lot of time it’s what causes other folks to project their discomfort onto me. Separately, I would expect that my gender presentation is what ruffles feathers — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the men who catcall and/or harass my girl and me simply feel threatened by a female’s embodiment of masculinity. Those threats would likely subside if I made a greater effort to present “as male,” though that’s not one of my current intentions. It’s the precise intersection of “female” and “masculine” that is so threatening to male assholes, and that’s what makes my assertion of the “she” pronoun a political stance if nothing else.

In and around my neighborhood I feel fine. People claim there’s a lot of sexism in the Castro but I think it’s just male-centric. There’s a difference and frankly it doesn’t relate to this post so let’s skip it. The queens in my hood often compliment my hair and shoes and I end up feeling like a million bucks. What’s fascinating is how different things are when I visit my old hood, down in the Mission, where machismo runs wild even though the 94110 zip code has one of the highest concentrations of queers in the US. When I lived in the Mission (and Bernal Heights, too), I became so accustomed to that kind of harassment that I was really taken aback when we moved up to the Castro. I catch myself freezing up sometimes — even though I have a desire to take the offensive I never really have.  One time I flicked my cigarette at a guy on Mission and 26th. I’ve flipped some people off, mumbled “fuck you” here and there, but have never been in a serious struggle, luckily.

Frankly, I can’t imagine living as if queerness were not central to my identity, and I think living under the radar is akin to living invisibly. So here’s the tricky part: do we embrace queer identity and separatism and continue to live with the legal repercussions, or should we be marching alongside with the HRC and kissing ass when half-assed legislation passes (like pro-gay, anti-trans nondiscrimination policies)?

And is there a middle ground? Yes, I think there is.

With my appearance and the help of the trained judgmental eye, it is nearly impossible for me to live as if not to suggest that my genderqueerness is a crucial part of my identity. And I’ve experienced lots of good and lots of bad things as a result of that. I don’t believe in falling back into the woodwork because living quietly means slowing the momentum that we’ve begun in just a few short years. I think about how queer visibility has changed so much even in the time since I’ve been in high school. Will that kind of visibility level off when we are fully accepted? (And: accepted by whom, and for what?)

When I start feeling uncomfortable in my own skin it’s almost always because of the threat of physical harm. So is there a chance that the threat of physical harm will subside without the threat of blending in and being boring? I think that’s where the importance of having a lively community comes in. This is a tough subject.

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