This post is about what I consider to be one way of being the change I want to see. I think of it as a small public education intervention that I do almost every day.
I’m an affectionate person, almost everyone I’ve dated or been friends with commenting on that. But whenever I am out in public with my fiancée, I become self-consciously affectionate. Not because I’m concerned about what nasty thoughts people might think about seeing such queerness, but because of what they fail to think. When we are walking through malls, having dinner, or strolling down the street, I am fastidious about holding Shannon’s hand. As we make our way through crowded aisles, I link my arm through hers. Even though the table might be cluttered, I touch her hand from across it. If I don’t, people give us separate checks once the meal is done without asking. They say, “Oh, what a nice friend that you’re treating her—I wish I had friends like that!” At a retail check out, Shannon says, “I’m buying this for my girlfriend.” And some men feel totally comfortable hitting on one or both of us as we walk by the pub patio (okay, attempting to be clearly in a relationship with another woman doesn’t usually help this last one).
The way I’ve described myself here makes me sound like a nervous person who clings to her partner. I’m actually very much the opposite. Unfortunately for Shannon, when she has a schedule to stick to, I tend to talk to every shopkeeper, ask questions anywhere I think I might learn something, and generally make way too many friends (if such a thing is even possible). But I hate feeling erased! It’s not even because I’m wedded to a particular sexual identity—I think of myself as a person who is politically queer and is into people—but my mind is just boggled by the assumptions that people can make with impunity. I’m disturbed by the implication that my relationship is so un-valued that it doesn’t even cross some people’s mind unless I am wearing the “gay-pron” my mum gave me (pictured, left) and Shannon is wearing a “This is what a lesbian looks like” t-shirt.
In fact, even my best attempts at making minoritized forms of relationship, sexuality, and family more visible have still failed epically. We were once in a store, arms linked, shopping for bath accessories for our new house. I was wearing boots Shannon had just given me for my 25th birthday. These kicks were sick. The store clerks complimented me and I looked to Shannon and said, “My lovely fiancée bought them for my birthday.” They asked how much the boots cost and Shannon supplied the answer. We talked a little bit more, and as we walked away from the cash desk, one of the clerks said “Wow, well, your boyfriend sure must have great taste!”
So I began to question whether my personal mission to publicly educate, using my personal life as a tool of visible difference, was making a small difference, or whether people were so culturally prepared not to see me that I might as well save the energy it takes to be hyper-aware of my public presentation. Of course I don’t only rely on a politics of visibility (there would be lots of problems with that strategy) in order to try to shape my world. I’ve fairly well lost the ability to make small talk and I launch right into political topics with the many people I chat up and learn from.
But these aren’t the only issues with my little educational strategy. I struggle with accepting that this kind of personal/political practice is something I feel driven to do, but I can’t necessarily expect it from others or legitimately feel frustrated to observe so little of it in the places I’ve been.
I, a person who is perhaps unusually attuned to looking for queerness, have only ever seen one or two apparently same-gender couples holding hands in the three years I’ve been in this city—even on campus, which is a pretty queer place compared to much of the rest of Kingston. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen queerness. The many apparently hetero hand-holding couples may have been comprised of trans people, bisexual people, pansexual people, autosexual people, asexual people, Two-spirit people, genderqueer people, or people who otherwise identified as queer politically or sexually or whatever. Or they could have been friends. Allies aren’t always wearing a pin. Also, sidewalks are narrow for hand-holding purposes, so there may have been lots of polyamorous relationships I missed. Some people’s political strategy is one of privacy. Some couples may not like hand holding, or they may have had their hands full of groceries, or they were in the middle of a fight. And of course, all queers don’t have to travel in packs. Sometimes we go out alone. Sometimes we’re single. Sometimes we can’t be out for our own safety, etc.
Anyway, one thing I’ve found really illuminating is reading stuff like Queer Enough, a zine that collects stories of queer people in different gender relationships (which I think I’ve mentioned before). Reading the diversity of people’s experience that lies beneath hegemonic representations of normative sexuality gives me hope. Anybody else have places you turn to, or things you do when you need to shake the feeling of isolation in a world with little compunction about treating you as a “special case” afterthought every day?
Previously: Gender Bending and Gender Blending, Asexy Teens
6 Comments Have Been Posted
I'm one of those
Skada replied on
I'm one of those straight-looking people in a straight-looking relationship who gets unintentionally yet relentlessly erased.
I'm a designated-female-at-birth person who identifies as genderqueer, queer, and pansexual. I'm in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a designated-male-at-birth person who doesn't like identity boxes, but has had sexual experiences with both men and women, and used to consider himself straight, but now views himself as my gay lover.
Getting read as male or even androgynous is difficult for me to accomplish; it's time-consuming and often physically painful, so I often just go as-is, which usually results in me being read as female (despite wearing "men's" t-shirts, shoes, etc). So when we're out in public, we get read as straight.
And it kills me.
I *hate* that erasure, even within the LGBTQ community -- I know people at my campus LGBTQ group who still think of me as straight and cis because of my relationship and gender presentation. So I can really relate to your desire to be visible.
The only form of being visible I seem to have is how I describe our relationship; I call him my "partner" and I frequently avoid pronouns in the hopes people will make the assumption I am in a lesbian relationship. Having acquaintances and strangers assume I'm lesbian feels more right than having them assume I'm straight, even though I'd rather have them know I'm in what I feel is a gay relationship.
It's just... messy.
But thank you for writing this. And thank you for the link to the zine -- I'm gonna go take a look right now!
I have a somewhat similar,
Anonymous replied on
I have a somewhat similar, somewhat different type of relationship. I'm genderqueer sometimes, sometimes I have other words for what my gender is, and I was assigned female at birth, so many just think I'm trying a new style of sorts. lots of people think I'm a dyke, as well. but then they see my partner, who identifies as queer, but presents in a normative male fashion. we have queer sex. we talk queerly. we do lots of queer things. we challenge our genders, we play with roles, we do lots of this. but no one could know necessarily by what they see, and we often are thought of as a "cute normative straight" couple. i use the term partner, and my friends correct me and say "boyfriend". I don't always want to defend or define my relationship for them because damnit, it's personal, and I don't really want everyone knowing why exactly I think my relationship is queer, and I don't want to have to defend it or have them accept it.
It's complicated. Most people think I'm normative. I don't want to have to get into the details of personal or sexual things for me to prove to them that I identify as queer, and for them to take me seriously. but I wish that relationships and gender roles weren't so conflated and confined to such a specific meaning.
Thanks for this kind
Sharday Mosurinjohn replied on
Thanks for this kind feedback, Skada and Anonymous. All the logics you've created to nudge people into reading you the ways you'd like to be read feel so familiar to me. I've been thinking a lot actually about whether or not I can ever ethically claim any kind of genderqueerness or ever call myself agendered because I find it so hard to get people to take me seriously due to my so-called "feminine" features, so I know that I get a lot of cis-privilege. And sometimes I want to be genderqueer in a dress, you know? It _is_ messy, and so so interesting. :)
I totally believe in being
Cara replied on
I totally believe in being the change you want to see. So props, yes I said props, to you for doing it and educating people. It's brave and hard and I think that you have a lot of courage. thank you for being that change you want to see.
Thank you Cara. F'real. A
Sharday Mosurinjohn replied on
Oh hey there. I'm an agender
Cat Anomaly replied on
Oh hey there. I'm an agender FAAB person in a relationship with a trans woman. She's been on hormones for half a year now so we probably get read as a straight couple less than we used to, although people who've known us for a long time probably have a hard time breaking out of old habits since we did think we were both straight and cis when we first got together over three years ago. I don't know if people read us as a lesbian couple yet, but even that is still a bit "close, but no cigar" for me. It saddens me that even if it makes me very happy to see her getting read the way she wants, I'll never truly get read the way I want unless I always wear my shirt that says "Female (blank) Male (blank) Other (check)," and that would be a bit ridiculous. I just wish there were an easier way to advertise to the world, "Hey, I'm nonbinary!" without compromising the way I want to present—and I'm more femme than butch, so there's that problem as well. :/
And then of course you have
Sharday Mosurinjohn replied on
And then of course you have to have the t-shirt message also imprinted on your work clothes and your formal evening wear and your winter coat, etc. I've found, too, when I say that I feel nonbinary, it seems to require something from others that neither they nor I am sure of. I haven't felt comfortable asking my friends and family to use gender-neutral pronouns because they feel for a lot of people so clunky and I don't want the effects of constantly drawing attention to myself by asking them to disrupt the way they normally speak. Right now, for me, that t-shirt might be the best option!
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