Friday, June 9, 2017

Queers in Love! [Art of Survival]

"Queers in Love," Craig Bidiman
this story originally appeared in The Art of Survival.

I came out as bisexual in June of 2010, to much celebration among my friends, and many jeers among my family. Since this initial coming out, I have revisited what queerness means to me.

I had always felt an attraction to men, an attraction to women, an attraction to really anyone that intrigued me or made me swoon. But I never really spoke of anything outside of the assumed/the heteronormative – so I internalized my attractions to men/masculine-assumed folks. However, college changed this for me. I became more comfortable showing affection toward really anyone but still didn’t really know what it meant for me.

My exploration of sexual fluidity over the last few years has led me to understand this a little bit more. At first, I thought of coming out as this permanent thing. Once I said I was “bi,” that was it.

But nope!
I realized that coming out is a process.
Coming out can be fluid.
Sexualities are fluid.
Gender is fluid.
All of this shit blew my mind.

Because while I initially felt my attractions were toward two genders, I found that my attractions were much more broad and inclusive. Yet, I didn’t know what to call this feeling. I’ve always been a little effeminate for a dude, and my dad used to say that I “walk like a queer,” which at the time was funny to me and even slightly contributed to why I didn’t feel comfortable coming out. So I reclaimed this term, “queer,” and I started to think about it more.

I realized that I am queer. I am a queer.

And for me, being queer transcends my sexual orientation. Being queer is my personal/overall identity. Queer is how I perform my gender (which I do identify as a man); queer is the lens by which I interpret the world around me; queer is how I exist in the world.

Now, insert Katy Hamm (Ken, Kenny) – my best friend and the greatest human being who has ever lived. I often use that phrase when I introduce people to Katy for the first time.

Here we are going to the bathroom together at the amazing gender-less
bathrooms at Optimism Brewery in Seattle, Washington!

Last year, Katy wrote this amazing piece coming out as being both agender and panromantic – on the asexual spectrum. While Katy’s identities might appear more complicated than mine, it’s been so important to me as their partner to recognize the significance of what this sort of coming out meant for them. It took a lot of unlearning of norms for Katy – I watched them and helped them process years of repressed sexual frustrations and anxieties about intimacy and sex. It was wonderful to hear them explain to me that they felt comfortable identifying on the asexual spectrum—because they were so happy to have finally figured it out! And for me, as someone with an active libido, it also meant reckoning with the reality that I love this human being more than I love sex.

We don’t hold hands too often in public, and we hardly express much affection in public – simply because 1. neither of us are big fans of PDA to begin with and 2. we are so keenly aware of our privilege in society as a couple that at least APPEARS straight. I dress and appear pretty masculine, and while Katy doesn’t necessarily dress femme very often, they still appear femme. So we get how that looks.

We talk about this all the time with each other.
We know that we are a queer couple that appears straight.
We’re just two queers that happened to fall in love.

It does get convoluted because when I refer to Katy, I use the term, “partner,” which throws some people off. It’s a term we prefer to use. We have never used the terms, boyfriend, or girlfriend, partly because Katy doesn’t identify as a “girl,” or even a “woman,” so it wouldn’t make sense. But it also doesn’t feel right to us. Boyfriend and girlfriend have always felt very temporary to me. Partner feels more attached, more comfortable, less childish – I mean, we are adults after all. Might not act like it all the time, but we are adults – and “partner” just feels right to us. We also reject heteronormative relationship troupes like those titles and the roles by which we are "supposed" to occupy within our relationship.

Nope. Not for us!

Yet, it’s disarming for some folks when I call Katy my partner because that term is often associated with couples that are same-sex or appear same-sex. So it especially disarms people when they hear me use it without any knowledge of who my partner is or how they identify because I almost always see their expression changed—seeking out if I might be gay—and I often use Katy’s pronouns (they/them), so I can tell it might confuse them. And then if I refer to Katy by name, the person tends to ease up a little. As if they are piecing it all together.

I know that this stuff isn’t always easy for folks who don’t live with a queer identity or in a queer relationship. But I try to be as normative with how I refer to our relationship and the queer community because that’s a form of resistance. I refuse to accept heteronormativity, so I’ll queer this shit up at any chance I get.

I’ve even had people say things like, “you’re gay? but I thought Katy was your girlfriend.” In this example, queer is inexplicably synonymous with gay.

Nope! That’s not how that works.

At no point do Katy or I feel like we need to justify our queerness to each other. We have helped each other become more and more comfortable with our identities through the three years of our relationship.

Yet, within the queer community, it can feel sort of disengaging to feel forced into proving and acknowledging our queerness just to feel as though we belong.

Honestly, I’m not always comfortable in overtly queer spaces because of our relationship presenting so hetero—and that sucks! It’s an internalized stigma that I haven’t gotten over and am still unsure of how to get over it. Because when alone, I am very comfortable in these spaces. Even within the queer community, there are still a lot of unnecessary stigmas and prejudices that exist toward certain identities—especially toward the bi- population and the Trans- population. There is identity erasure within the queer community – sadly, the same as in many communities – that shouldn’t exist, but it is rampant.

And I think a major contributor to my frustration and apprehension toward our relationship being present in some of these spaces stems from having felt his erasure firsthand from fellow members of the queer community who make assumptions—when the crux of our community’s inclusivity is predicated on not making assumptions of anyone’s identity.

One particular experience stands out like a sore thumb to me and Katy and it’s a circumstance that happened early in our relationship – and has sadly stuck with me ever since.

I brought Katy to a meeting with a colleague (who I was meeting for the first time) who worked in the queer resource center at the campus in which I worked at the time, and I introduced Katy as my best friend and partner (to which this colleague laughed—which I thought the timing was odd), shook our hands, and we began chatting. At one point in the conversation, this colleague, a queer woman, said, “well, we over here in the queer community have specific support and resource needs” - which is obviously very true and I agreed with them completely. However, I transfixed on the emphasis my colleague put on we — “we over here in the queer community.” It hit me real hard because in that moment I didn’t feel comfortable in calling myself a queer — years after I have owned the identity and the label that accompanies it.

Again, we are very aware that our relationship presents very hetero – so I’m not saying this colleague wasn’t in the wrong to assume – but again, these assumptions are hazardous to the queer community. And I was fairly confident that I had informed this colleague that identified as a queer through email correspondence, but they might’ve forgotten. Because as the conversation continued, this colleague continued to refer to a separate “we” in reference to the queer community, as though Katy nor I were included and spoke down to our knowledge of queer issues in society – again, as though we hadn’t lived it.

I recognize that every queer experience is different and our exclusion might not have been intentional – nor did we attempt to correct this colleague because we were made so uncomfortable that making a correction would feel like overcompensation of some sort. Which, in hindsight is a stupid thing to think – we likely could have made some sort of comment about our identities in order to relate and to connect, but we did not.

It made me think back to those times when I wouldn’t confront my queerness out of fear of persecution or confusion, or that no one would believe me because I don’t necessarily look or act stereotypically queer. It’s internalized shit like this that made me contemplate suicide in high school because I couldn’t figure out my sexuality. It fucking sucks.

Almost immediately when we left the conversation, Katy and I turned to each other and said, “was that weird?” “yeah, that was weird!” “are we not queer?”

It sucked to ask that question after I had spent YEARS questioning this shit.
Are we not queer enough?
Am I not queer enough?
Is our relationship not queer?

Fuck, this sucked.
Feeling as though your identity was invalidated sucks.

But it's not just this example. This sort of stuff happens quite often in the queer community.
During college is when I realized I was queer.
And it was when I started being an activist for queer rights and awareness.
I even started an organization while at Oregon State University called
the Campaign for Understanding, which did awareness campaigns,
actions, and spread the message of intersectional inclusivity.
This is a reminder that even in the queer community, we are capable of micro-aggressions toward each other – and I’m not innocent in this regard, it’s something I know I am still working on. But this is an example where it can feel pretty erasing. It sucks – and you may even think it’s a little overdramatic to feel that way – but after you spend years working on your identities and you are finally comfortable with your body, gender, and sexuality, it can hit hard.

As though, my queer credibility, Katy's queer credibility, and our relationship's credibility was in question. It's a frustration we live with and reconcile every day.

It goes to show that there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still problematic performative expectations of queerness. I’ve legitimately had people say to me, “oh, but you don’t look queer,” or, “you don’t act queer.” I hate that these types of comments exist because it’s the same reason why so many members of the queer community are afraid to come out – because of these unnecessary expectations of what it means to be or act according to a certain identity. These connections are harmful and can make our community unsafe.

There is no right or wrong way to perform or present your gender, and/or demonstrate your sexuality/preferences/or lack thereof.

Even now, as a sexual health educator, I work with college students to understand their bodies, their attractions, and how to be safe sexual beings. I talk with male students who have sex with men but don’t consider themselves gay – and I tell them that’s fine! I talk with nonbinary students who identify as lesbians and ask me if that’s how they “should” identify, and I tell them that I cannot tell them how to self-identify.

How you identify is a process of learning and unlearning, as well as an evolutionary personal understanding of who you are attracted to and who you aren’t attracted to—either romantically or sexually. Or, again, if you have no interest in any of those things! And that’s okay!

This process is not easy – trust me, I know.

Yet, we gotta help people become more and more comfortable processing their identities publicly. Even within today’s political landscape, we need to resist the politics of hate and self-hate that keep us from living authentically.

Happy Pride month!
Let’s be queer together.