This is our truth, tell us yours
We have, with some happiness, returned to our filthy roots on this blog in the last ten days.
In the process I’ve been thinking about our unashamed queerness, and what the experience of going to a bi night at a sex establishment means.
Now, this kind of blog is always risky, since Jem is the philosopher, and I’m just a well educated memory man, the kind of person who would win money on The Chase if only he knew more about the cast of Neighbours or Irish boybands. Let’s see where we go though, before I bore you to tears.
I had no conflict in my head about going to a bi event a compared to a queer event. That made me question, instinctively, why queerness matters as a category, or as a label. Bi matters as a label, in real life, both as a signifier of what I will do, and as a pejorative used by straights and gays who don’t like the idea of having sex with me, even if I otherwise fit the categories they would usually have sex with. It’s an odd response, that people won’t have sex with me because of my sexual history, unless you remember how deeply the HIV campaigns of the 80s and 90s focussed on categories of risky individuals rather than on the life saving realities of safe sex and safe practices.
So even though I feel I’m queer I haven’t thought enough about how I would answer the question, ‘what is queerness?’
Part of that curiosity arises inevitably from finding yourself in the 69 position with a man at a bi event, and pondering, in retrospect, why he is bi but I am queer. It isn’t because I am making him deep throat me while I am using my tongue and hands to tease and caress him, never letting him get too close to coming; that’s because I am dom, and he is, for the time being, apparently happy being sub, so long as he can breathe.
Is it because I’m really comfortable with some of the more gender challenging sex going on that day, the cross dressing and trans aspects of this bi event? Is that the criterion that moves you from bi to queer? Of course not. I know too many self identified bi men who fetishize women’sclothing, or the wearing of it, without ever challenging gender norms, to think that’s plausible.
Reading the latest LRB I came across this definition in an article about the Benson family defining “the idea of queerness: of existing at a tangent from, or in problematic or destabilising relation to, the dominant categories of identity in a given culture. ‘Queerness,’ he writes, ‘is what makes naming, and the understanding that comes with naming, uncertain.”
I’m not persuaded. I want my life to be more than a challenge to the established order. When I sat down to write this article, I started with that idea of existing at a tangent; it’s an idea I’ve always liked,from the first time I encountered in in a description of an eldila, an angel, in one of C S Lewis’s science fiction novels. The idea that was left in my brain was that there were creatures who stood on a different celestial plane to us, so that even when we saw them, they appeared out of kilter, tangential to our reality. It’s enticing, but it’s also other worldly, a supernatural concept designed to strike awe into the humble reader and teach them to know their place.
My queerness is rooted in my experience, not as a challenge to what went before, but simply as an explanation of how I see the world. If you see that as a challenge to the existing order, ask yourself why my truth should be a challenge, rather than simply another way of seeing the world. It’s also methodologically different, and it’s the method that matters to me.
I think gender, and sexuality, are spectral, not categorical,and socially constructed, not scientifically defined. I see my queerness as being the intersection of my preferred sex role, my gender, my sexuality, and as fluid. There’s even a measure needed in there about the viscosity of that fluidity – how quickly am I likely to move along the gender spectrum (not very) or the sex roles spectrum (it has happened in the past, so may happen again) and so on. Add in some measures for my tolerance of other’s spectral positions (e.g. do I only desire cis people,or a much wider range of people on the gender spectrum -the answer’s the latter, by the way) and my queerness isn’t a process of categorization, which can be challenged by new or better categories, or definitions, but a process of mapping, of multi dimensional cartography. Of course, my queerness is also shaped, and made visible or invisible,by the observer, by the other people around me, and how they might react. If you are not open to the idea then, in a phrase that is beloved of the unconsciously funny but irate homophobe, I am not going to shove my queerness down your throat.
Maps change as we acquire new and better information, and as the terrain changes. I stood on the coast a few days ago, where a landslip has created a new patch of level ground between two cliffs, and wondered how soon the mapmakers would add it to the Ordnance Survey description of that piece of coast. Categories cannot change, they are simply replaced, or refined, or re-defined. My queerness is a way of saying ‘In this moment, in your presence, I am this – for this moment, that is all I can tell you.’