This post originally appeared on Dattch.com (now WEAREHER.com) in March 2014, but got lost in the URL re-direct. My views since its publication have blossomed since, however I have decided to re-post this in its original format with plans to update it soon.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about living in London, surrounded by effervescent and intelligent people that contribute directly to it's evolving gay-oriented subculture. I've seen peoples minds shift when it comes to association, definition and identification. I've seen people's personal politics change, I've seen hypocrisy, I've seen irony, I've seen change. I think the biggest topic of my own personal identification battles are the issues that I have that surrounded neo-gay culture and the speed that people jump to negative connotation and conclusion. I've been thinking about where the lines actually are between being Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans*, and last but not least, Queer. Why is there such a divide? Why are they all so segregated from one another? Why are the subcultures that run parallel to these labels totally contrasting? Why are there separate subcultures altogether?
Obviously, I can only speak from my own point of view, but I really don’t feel like there’s a gap there at all. It seems simply divided and put into sparkly boxes by the awkward needs of society. Here are the ways that I identify as not just one of these weird little labels, but several of them (using total and utter stereotypes for everyone else’s comfort of course, dahling). Please bear in mind that when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.
What do you think about when you think of gay men? Men that are sexually or emotionally attracted to men? Men that sleep with men? Men that fancy straight men or other gay men? You probably jump straight to campness, since the majority of the gay celebrities that have been out in the public are entertainers and possess a certain flamboyance, this is only natural. You probably also think about clubs, like G-A-Y, about an obsession with Madonna, dancing to pop music, being a bit sassy. Your mind might briefly pause over the notion of Grindr, and then you might make a generalised assumption that all gay men are a bit slutty.
With this in mind, I can safely admit that in some ways, mostly minus the sleeping with men thing, that I am 90% gay man. I’ll be chastised for admitting that I’m a bit slutty, from shamers all over the place. I’ll be ridiculed for being incredibly camp, for flouncing around and mincing down the street, for doing all this with a gay-best-friend-with-a-vagina, but I just do not care. My obsession with pop divas and drag queens is pretty much all I live for, and for a really long time I deeply wished I were a boy so I could pretend to be a girl.
I even fancy men. Which is weird for me to type so blatantly, because I’ve never really found men attractive. Since hitting about 20, I realised how much I’m attracted to campy girly femininity in a masculine way. So I came to the conclusion that while I’m not attracted to the typical 'straight cis-man' or indeed campy gay boys in a physical way, I’m more than attracted to androgynous, camped up, pretty boys in an aesthetic way. While I'm using the word physical to define a type of attraction, I am referring to an embodied attraction, the concept of 'affect'.
To summarise, I want to look at all the gorgeous boys and drag queens and Ezra Miller types with painted nails and beautiful transmen till the cows come home. I want to spend my evenings dancing around in gay bars to the G-A-Y sound track, waiting for Miley to come on (#prayformiley) and trying to learn the dance that Little Mix do in the Wings video and knowing every single word to every single song by Gaga and Lana and Madonna. So, I think that’s enough reasons for now.
So, back to stereotypes again. I really hate this part. I’m only going with what I’ve been criticized for not being in the past, so bear with me on this, cause it’s way out of my depth. Apparently when one thinks of the term 'lesbian' the stereotypes miss the mark again. They think about Angela McRobbie's 'Phallic Girls' – in fact one day at uni, I ended up having a full-blown row with a boy in a seminar after he made the association between Phallic Girls, ladettes and lesbians. Apparently all lesbians possess traits that are typically 'masculine' – namely spitting, binge drinking, swearing, fucking on the streets, and being generally butch whilst doing it. Obviously, this is a total riot.
The generalised and (the wrong side of) borderline offensive assumption that I have experienced is that lesbians all have to be are butch, or all aren't really gay and are doing it for the sake of the Male Gaze (with the world's longest acrylic nails, of course). Apparently all lesbians are just butch, 'man hating feminists', but obviously man loving cause they're only doing it for attention? Right? Far too often have I received 'What, you're a lesbian?! But you're really girly?' as though you had to look a certain way to be allowed into the lesbian club. We've all got to channel either Ellen Degeneres or Kate Moennig – both of which I'm more than happy to, but I do it somewhat unsuccessfully. I'll never be able to pull that off. Instead, I try to channel a combination of RuPaul, Joan Jett and Duchess from Aristocats and try and not succumb to my overwhelming desire to channel Lady Sovereign. I just know I could never pull that off, either.
Over the course of the discovery of my sexuality, I first identified as a lesbian. While I can happily sit and write about all the ways I identify with the stereotypical gay man, I don't think I can do the same for the stereotypical lesbian, which I actually just find hard to define. I don't think that it's got anything to do with the way I identify, really, I think it's got more to do with the fact that most lesbians wouldn't identify with it either. Out of all the lesbians I know, I can honestly say that none of them fit the bill of the typical Phallic Girl, and neither do I. Though fundamentally, all lesbianism comes down to is girls fancying girls, it has never really been that simple. With the label comes a certain lifestyle one is supposed to follow, or maybe this has just been inceptioned into my innocent brain at the time of self-discovery by The L Word.
Though lesbian culture and lifestyle is something that I fully welcome with open arms, for some reason I just can't find myself having all that much in common with it. Maybe typical, traditional views of lesbianism isn't shiny and glittery enough for me, and I elect to be surrounded by beautiful boys and girls and pop culture instead. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Nevertheless, the main reason I identified as a lesbian was because I fancied girls. Girls were my world. I fancied femme girls, androgynous girls, grrrls, a shit ton of straight girls and Shane-wannabes, and I suppose in this way my identification with this stands true. Physically attracted to girls, emotionally attracted to girls, aesthetically and sexually attracted to girls. It should be that easy, right?
Bi-Sexuality and Queerness
A common misconception with bisexuality is that people who identify as bisexual are greedy. Straight up greedy. I'm sure we've all heard some ridiculous notions that bisexuals just 'can't make up their minds' and that they 'take all they can get'. Heteronormative society tends to think that when it comes to sexuality, you have to like one, comfortable and well defined thing that doesn't argue with their ideals. When people ask 'What's your type?', they'd love you to just be able to say 'tall, dark and handsome' or 'blonde hair, blue eyes' and be done with it. While for some people this may be true, it could be argued that for the most part, it isn't. Generally the association with bisexuality is being attracted to cis-straight men and women, but when it comes down to it, it's more than that. Perhaps it has more to do with a personality trait, a charisma, an intelligence that we admire in people. Perhaps it is purely to do with being entirely gender-blind when it comes to things you're attracted to, or perhaps it is the performativity of gender that exist within a being that you're attracted to. Using myself as an example, I can openly admit that the performance of wearing nail varnish is something physical that I find attractive. Though this is seen to be a feminine trait, having it be performed by someone who identifies as a man is attractive to me – whether this is aesthetically, physically, sexually, it doesn't matter.
With this in mind, comes the concept of Queerness. Many members of the Queer community, including myself are of the firm belief that sex, gender and sexuality are not connected. They do not need to be connected in order to run parallel to each other. People often consider queerness the more politicised version of being bisexual. That politics and sexual orientation go hand in hand, when really they are mutually exclusive and often elected to run alongside each other by the person that embodies them. To me, however, being bisexual is something I feel entirely unrelated to, yet being queer seems to be a better fit. To me, bisexuality implies a sexual attraction to straight cis-men and gay cis-women only. Perhaps this is due to my own association rather than anything implied by society, but my identification is lost, here.
Being Queer doesn't mean being attracted to anyone of any gender, or lack thereof, yet it certainly has something to do with disregarding the gender binary and embracing what and who you find attractive, in whichever way you find them attractive. For me, realising my affinity for girly boys and boyish girls and transmen and transwomen and gender-queerness and androgyny and girly girls and combining all of this with my political and sexual ideals has lead to my inevitable identification as Queer. Regardless of this, however, I remain totally un-severed from the straight cultured world. Maybe this is where my gay-boyness kicks in, but I'm happy living this way. The most ridiculous part about this, is that it would probably not be news if I didn't look the way I do, but that's a story for another time.
A famous theorist* once said
'Being gay these days is so easy. But being gay and weird, that's just downright hard'
...and by God, wasn't she right.
*Theorist is not actually a theorist, it is Sharon Needles.
(picture taken from Google, please don't sue me)