Young Queers Don’t Need To Label Ourselves, Thanks
I came out as bisexual when I was 14. Not one single straight person in my life questioned me on this or told me that it was a phase; they by and large trusted that I knew best who and what I was. It was older gays, rather, who were bi-phobic, if you will — the refrain of “You’ll choose one or the other eventually” or “you’re really just straight” got old, fast, as I got involved in LGBT advocacy and activism, and the hypocrisy of telling me that I could choose but they couldn’t was pretty astounding.
Echoes of this sentiment sound in Steph Fairyington’s ELLE article, “Has a Post-’LGBT’ Era Arrived?” The recent trend of ambiguity in the young and celebrity umbrella-LGBT community (think Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, and Kristen Stewart, who have refused labels about their gender and sexuality) is curious at best and worrying at worst for the author and her sources.
“Is this a fashionable way to stay in the closet? It is a step forward or a step backward?” Fairyington asks.
“What these youths are doing,” says author Christopher Nutter, “is taking from the infrastructure that out gay people built for them and not giving back. By obfuscating their sexual orientations, they don’t challenge hetero hegemony. Gay people would never have had an ounce of power if homosexuals had not come out—and in droves. That has not changed.”
And says activist Larry Kramer: “Having so many different groupings makes it increasingly impossible to take an adequate census count of how many gays there are. With numbers comes power, and splitting up so much weakens this power. How can we tell the world how many of us there are? I have long felt that our closetednesses and now our differently-defined groupings makes us as a population of gay people more vulnerable to our many enemies.”
What I see here is a generational difference. Do young queers owe something to prior generations of activists? Absolutely! Is what we owe a strict adherence to the identities and ways of identifying that they subscribe to? No. One of the (I guess unintended) consequences of the hard work older generations of LGBTs and gender theorists have done is that identity has blossomed out so wildly that it’s not worth trying to put words on it anymore. The long-standing joke of the “LGBTQIABCDEFXYZ++++” community has merit, and with so many labels, why not just acknowledge that identity is so deeply personal that it’s individual? And if it’s individual, why not say things like “I’m just me” or Kristen Stewart’s “I live in the fucking ambiguity of life”?
Here’s a twist from my own life: I stopped identifying as “bisexual” when I learned more about gender identity, because “bi-sexual” is an implicit claim that there are only two genders. It doesn’t allow me to acknowledge that trans people of all stripes exist, or that intersex people exist, and that I find them all attractive. Nor does it make sense for me now that I’m out as genderqueer. If sexual orientation refers to the relationship between your own gender and the gender of the people you’re attracted to, and if I’m not a woman and not a man, words like “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual” are meaningless. Who’s to say? I’m just queer. I never “chose” anything, despite what my gay elders assure me; I just kept being myself, and that means being ambiguous.
And maybe that’s a point on which the cis gays Fairyington sourced, and Fairyington, who identifies as a cis lesbian, aren’t on the same page with the “youths” they’re so nervous about. This generation is far, far more versed in the language of gender identity, at a far younger age, than any LGB generation before. If my generation and the Gen Z accept the premises of gender theory, that gender is a construct and that it can be porous and fluid, that one need not be feminine to be a woman, masculine to be a man, or either if you don’t want to be, then it becomes easier to accept the premise that sexuality, too, can be porous and fluid and ambiguous.
The ultimate question is: What is the point of the activism and advocacy we’ve done? Is it to establish a homogenous LGBT community that prioritizes solidarity over sexual and gender difference, or is it to create a world in which queer people of all types can fit seamlessly into their communities, in which it’s normal and accepted to be queer, and in which queer people can live happy, unimpeded lives? To me, it has always been the latter. It seems to me like accepting sexual and gender ambiguity has allowed a lot of young people to relax into our lives, communities, and selves without feeling pressured to be something we’re not 100 percent sure we are. And to that end, more power to ambiguity.