By Otto Destruct
Queer theory liberates by exploding the bounds of gender and making everything possible — bodies and identities that had existed all along now have the opportunity to be recognized and acknowledged, to be “real”. At the heart of queer theory is the presumption that all identities are legitimate, that a person’s gender is as idiosyncratic and specific as they are, that they are sovereign in their right to determine what that gender is, and that gender expressions can be described as occupying points (sometimes multiple points) on a spectrum, from femme to butch to androgyne, with all kinds of interests in all kinds of bodies, in all kinds of combinations. Queer theory can be seen, then, as a kind of gender existentialism, in the sense that its up to each of us to really look at ourselves, be honest, be brave, and decide for ourselves who and what we are — and nobody has the right to tell us we aren’t, or that what we are is wrong or ugly. We have a right and a responsibility to be honest with ourselves!
Suppose this soul-searching yields surprising results. Suppose the queer (we are all queer now) discovers what they really want and who they really are looks a lot like what we might call a traditional gender and sex role — that despite some variation and some play with image, they are essentially heterosexual. This can be uncomfortable for a lot of people. Are they a “real” queer now? By acknowledging, even to themselves, that they are more-or-less hetero, do they become part of a structure of oppression? Some parts of our scene use words like “cis” as derogatory terms, as if systematic oppression were a product of our bodies instead of our culture. Nobody wants to be identified with the enemy, so sometimes the heterosexual queer opts out of expressing themselves as they really are.
This is a drag for at least two reasons. By escaping to an identification and appearance that looks more “queer” than people feel or in ways that they don’t really identify with is contrary to the spirit of queer theory itself. It contradicts the wide-open, liberatory aspect of queer theory by enforcing a new orthodoxy — this time an orthodoxy of glitter instead of grey flannel. It also gives people a way to avoid thinking about their heterosexuality and whatever privilege that might entail.
Creating a new, queered heterosexuality is a way to create a world that is much more free of oppression. Some people imagine a world where there are no heterosexuals but this would take severe repression of peoples’ desires and probably organized violence. It’s more practical and certainly more in line with Anarchist and queer values to promote the development of a new, queered heterosexuality than it is to exterminate heterosexuals from the face of the earth. Queering ourselves is a lot more honest, more comfortable, and ultimately less oppressive, than it is for any of us to feel like we have to pretend to be something other than what we are.
I am often mistaken for more queer than I “really” am. My gender presentation takes many cues from a familiar kind of hyper-masculine camp style — the leather daddy. I am often mistaken for a gay man, although one does not necessarily have to be gay to use the fantastic backdoor to masculinity (if you’ll pardon the expression) that gay men’s culture built. Butch leather daddy style is an over-representation of masculinity — it reduces (or elevates) signifiers of traditional manhood, at times to the point of satire. By displaying this over-identified style I can indicate that I am male and masculine while simultaneously indicating that I know (and I assume you know) that all masculinity is a kind of put-on, a Halloween costume. It is a lie that tells the truth.
I had always wanted to be masculine — that’s just how I feel inside. At the same time, I grew up reacting to the disgusting excesses of traditional men and manhood that I saw around me, and wanted to distance myself from what masculinity means culturally. It wasn’t until very recently that I could accept, thanks to the popular ascent of queer theory, that all gender is a kind of game of signs and that I could actually be as male as I wanted to be.
Sometimes the leather jacket leads people to think I’ll be a clueless, crude bore. I have the pleasure of surprising people by being a real human being who is interested in relating. Having an identifiable, even stable gender, and simultaneously defying gender expectations is part of what it means to be a heterosexual queer.
Accepting the prospect of a queered heterosexuality will allow us to recognize that the heterosexual queer is already here. I call myself “traditionally masculine” and in a lot of ways that’s true, but what’s traditionally masculine about my desire to place mine and others’ emotional experience in the fore of how I understand us and our choices? What’s traditionally masculine about valorizing communication and understanding above action? What’s traditionally masculine about admitting I’m often wrong and hoping to learn from others? These are traits that are often described as “feminine.” Is there really such a contradiction that I should display these too?
And what about heterosexual desire for non-traditional gender expressions of the “opposite” gender? Or for hyper-expressions? What about people who are open to all kinds of new experiences? In a queer world, does anyone really have to be thought of in essentialist terms?
The heterosexual queer should be permitted to be who they are because the heterosexual queer has really important work to do toward the liberation of all people. The normative standards of traditional heterosexuality are so enmeshed with patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and other kinds of cultural and literal violence that we must queer, question, critique and reinvent it. To accept one’s queer heterosexuality, to be heterosexual but to understand that position as an open prospect, subject to changes from within, rather than a fact of God or Nature — provides the opportunity for us to change what being “heterosexual” means.