Last week, I had the privilege of presenting the Intersections project at a workshop during the Ohio University Queer Studies Conference. I covered the story of the project’s genesis and how an interview worked. Then, we all went through the interview questions to see where things went. The discussion was insightful and I learned a lot from the session that I’ll be integrating into future interviews.
You can see the presentation slides here. Some things I learned or at least had more solidified for me:
- Word choice can be very important, and very tricky. For example, one participant pointed out that when I discussed identities, I would use air quotes and say that certain ones were “outside the norm”. As we talked, I realized that it was simply because I didn’t have language to describe how certain sexualities, genders, and relationship orientations interacted with our larger society. Since I was uncomfortable with the particular term I knew, I used the air quotes to signify my discomfort. Thankfully, the discussion had my mind tuned to the issue, and when I heard the next speaker use the words “sexual minority”, I realized I had a better terminology to work with.
- Another question I ask is, “Describe your journey to understanding your identities.” One participant pointed out that there is an assumption in that question that it’s a journey. This person knew their sexuality from a very early age, and it’s always been a core part of them. While they were uncomfortable with the question, as we talked, they did mention how they’d tried to suppress their identity around others, but they never questioned who they were. For me, that was part of the journey, but maybe there’s a better way to word the question. The quest continues.
- As we talked about identities and terms used, the word “queer” came up. This word has been a large part of my identity, and I’m fascinated by the various ways people respond to it. Depending on who you ask, the word can be liberating or demeaning. During the discussion, we talked about how the word is being reclaimed by the LGBT community. I personally love the word “queer”, and consider it part of my identity, but I’ve also seen hostile responses to the use of the word.
- For me, the word “queer” is a wonderful word to use as a public identity. As a white, bisexual cis-male, I have certain prejudices against me because of my bisexuality, but also several privileges because of my gender, race, economic status, etc. “Queer” can be a unifying term for the LGBT community. All sexual minorities can be considered “queer” because we break from the heteronormative, monogamous, cis-gendered standards of our society. Some people are divisive when discussing different aspects of LGBT. For example, some gays and lesbians don’t think bisexuality is a legitimate identity, and consider bisexuals to be “fence sitters” or “on their way to gay”. Some in the LGB community think that transgender people are distracting from the “true” cause of LGB rights, and vice versa. But we’re all queer and, together with our allies, we can continue to work towards equal treatment for all of us. It also provides an inclusive term without adding letters to LGBTQIA.
- For some, on the other hand, the word “queer” is a word with very strong negative connotations. I remember as a kid playing the game “Smear the Queer”, where a ball would be tossed and whoever caught it would be the “Queer” and we’d all try to tackle them. At that age, I didn’t even understand what the word “queer” meant, but for some people that game was more literal – they were queer and people wanted to “smear” them violently. These people have a justified visceral response to the word; they won’t consider using the term and find it offensive.
- The most visible recent example of this controversy that I know of is when HuffPost Gay Voices changed its name to HuffPost Queer Voices. The comments section exploded with strong reactions to the change, mostly negative. They also lost at least one contributor, who gave a great explanation of the controversy in his parting column.
- Speaking of allies: during the rest of the conference I learned some things about allies – specifically that I can (and should) be queer and an ally at the same time. The speaker after me discussed a study of the effectiveness of transgender ally training at universities. As she discussed some of the items covered, I realized how important it is as a member of the queer community to be a strong ally to those members of the community who aren’t like me. And just like a non-LGBT person must learn how to help without hindering, be careful not to take away queer voices, and learn to use language that doesn’t oppress, I need to do the same for all those non-bisexuals and other members of the queer community who aren’t like me.
This is just a sampling of the awesomeness that was the Queer Studies Conference, and I didn’t even get started on the screening of “In the Turn” – an amazing film about roller derby, the Vagine Regime, and an incredible transgender girl. I left that conference exhausted and exhilarated!