not queer as in radical, but gay as in revolutionary
April 20, 2016
After the fun ‘queer is not a slur’ thing on tumblr, I’m once again awestruck at the level of historical revisionism that white people are willing to pull in order to push a hegemonic discourse. I wasn’t intending on doing an extended analysis of the claims within the two main posts that concern me (the OP by wetwareproblem and the reblog by oudeteron). But its been rolling around in my head and I’m going to do it anyway.
The first thing is the joy of having myself erased from discourse that I was one of the primary progenitors. However far its travelled and been warped, the current re-articulation that ‘queer is a slur’ originates with me. Its also something I got harassed for saying. Not unusual for me.
I’m pointing this out because of this:
Its rejection is a relatively recent move by the same homonationalism that brought us “Bi people don’t belong,” the thrilling sequel “Trans people don’t belong,” and the stunning conclusion “Ace people don’t belong.”
In the rush for our place in an oppressive hell, we’ve lost our revolutionary edge, lost our fire, and lost a lot of what drove us in the first place.
Now. Its super interesting for me to read a white trans queer accuse me of being a homonationalist interested in assimilation. And then in the next breath assert that homonationalism first rejected bisexuals and then trans people. And conclude that we’ve lost our revolutionary edge.
This is funny to me because I think on the same day, I saw another post quoting the now well-known footage of Sylvia Rivera screaming at white gays and lesbians, uncovered by the mega-awesome reina gossett. Here is part of the quote followed by something she says towards the end of her speech:
I will not put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way? WHAT THE FUCK’S WRONG WITH YOU ALL? Think about that! … The people are trying to do something for ALL of us, and not MEN AND WOMEN that belong to a WHITE MIDDLE CLASS WHITE CLUB. And that’s what YOU ALL BELONG TO!
Now we know that Sylvia Rivera was part of the Stonewall Revolution. We also know that she was heavily involved with the Gay Liberation Front until they essentially pushed her out in an attempt to mainstream. This, my friends, is the beginning of homonationalism.
Please note how this starts with trans women of colour. Not bisexuals. Not a generic ‘trans people’. But trans women of colour. But I’m using today’s language in ways that might be anachronistic. At the time, I think she was using ‘gay’ and ‘drag queen’ and/or ‘transvestite’.
Prior to this point ‘gay’ was used as a generic community term. More importantly, it is one of the first that the community picked for ourselves. We choose it. It is what we wanted at one point. But then, of course, cis whites (men and women) decided they didn’t want us trannies of colour. So they pushed us out and stole the gay revolution. And, by extension, the term ‘gay’ itself (which also pushed out women bc cis white men are the fucking worst). And so, decades later people generally understand ‘gay’ to refer to a community of cis white men.
This little bit of history becomes relevant in the first reblog when the person is discussing some of the reasons why ‘queer’ is preferrable to ‘gay’ as a generic, umbrella term:
Wide relevance. Queer can be related to gender, sexuality, or both… And replace it with one that again gives primacy to “gay” as the default descriptor, as if the rest of us just don’t matter or should be happy with being “obliquely included”.
So… yeah. Historically gay also has these same features and it has the benefit of not originating as a slur. The OP later points out that its become a pejorative, which is true, but this is straight people taking our language and using it against us, rather than us trying to reclaim a word they’ve weaponized. Its a small but important distinction.
More to the point, since the OP in a later reblog wants to discuss history, gay is still used in its original, revolutionary sense. But you know why OP doesn’t know this? Because this usage is largely confined to communities of colour. Who’ve, despite largely being exiled from the gay mainstream, have continuously used ‘gay’ as a generic term for denoting either sexuality or gender for anyone who wants to use it.
This usage of gay, despite the attempts of white attempts to maintain hegemonic control over the discourse, has never gone away. Not in our communities.
One thing that is true is that ‘queer’ has been a way to mark a white radical discourse. And… well, I find it interesting to think about how for many qtpoc, ‘queer’ spaces are just as full of white supremacy and other oppressive shit as gay spaces. And we can see from this very discussion that these ~radical~ white queers are more than happy to rewrite history to suit their own needs and, more importantly, so that they can shit on the ppl who started the fucking revolution in the first place.
In the end, it amounts to much the same thing. White queers or white gays using historical revisionism to maintain hegemonic control over the discourse. All while more or less accusing me of oppressing them. Ha.
I find myself thinking: If ‘gay’ was good enough for Sylvia Rivera, it sure as fuck is good enough for me. I also find myself thinking that, tbh, reclaiming gay from cis white men is about a million times more meaningful than tryin to reclaim queer as a slur. At least for someone in my position. I don’t much like the idea of conceding the word and the revolution to cis white men just because they have enough power to make it look like they’ve trademarked the word.
They haven’t. It isn’t theirs alone. It was never their sole domain and I refuse to concede this to them. How’s that for resisting gay homonationalism, eh?