After I commented on MyBeautifulMachine’s post “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” he asked me to write a guest post about identity policing and the term “queer”. I can only speak to my experience in the asexual community, but I hope I can share some insight.
[ A note: When I talk about the “queer community”, I’m using queer as an umbrella term for the entire community comprised of gender, romantic, and sexual orientation minorities (GRSM). While I prefer the acronym GRSM, it seemed more appropriate to use both of queer’s definitions in this post. ]
Opening the Gates of “Queer”
This post is a long time coming. If one thing can get my feathers in a ruffle fastest, it’s people policing who does and does not deserve to identify as queer. I see this aspect of identity policing most frequently in regards to people on the asexual spectrum. When I see people claiming aces, either as a whole or specifically heteroromantic ones, don’t belong in queer spaces… I’ll be honest, I immediately go into “angry mamma cat” mode.
99% of the time, the argument I see against asexuals identifying as queer is this: aces aren’t discriminated against, especially heteroromantic aces, and therefore have no claim to the term “queer” or to safe spaces for the queer community. I’m not going to call anyone out or screen-cap postings I’ve seen as examples, because a) I don’t support call-out culture, and b) they’re really easy to find, especially on Tumblr. If you want the evidence, it’s there for the picking. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of people who vocally oppose asexuals in queer spaces.
I could spend the rest of this post discussing how harmful this kind of anti-ace rhetoric can be for people on the asexual spectrum, but instead I want to pick apart the argument itself. Saying asexuals can’t claim queer spaces or terms because they aren’t discriminated against is flawed on a number of levels, which I’ll (try to succinctly) outline below.
“Queer” as a measure of discrimination
Many people argue that since asexuals have never had the term “queer” used against them, it’s a slur they can’t reclaim or use for themselves. This argument, either intentionally or unintentionally, defines “queer” as a measure of discrimination, not a valid identity. It reduces every person who identifies as queer in some way to a victim, someone who is defined by their suffering, not who they are as an individual.
While I am all for reclaiming slurs and changing them into positive community identities, in order to do so the term’s meaning has to change. Yes, queer has been and is still often used as a slur. However, by telling someone their positive use of that term is determined by how much discrimination they have faced doesn’t free the word from its dark history – it shackles the word forever to that darkness. We should always respect queer’s complex history, but that doesn’t condone the continued use of the word as a way to alienate others.
“Queer” as a fluid, not static, term
The meanings of words change. Language is beautifully fluid, influenced by time, history, culture, and in our current day especially activism. Understandably, queer has come to have many definitions which change from person to person. Queer can, and should, have many meanings; it can be used as an umbrella term for the greater gender/sexual/romantic minority community, or as term for those whose identities don’t fall under the current established labels.
When people rail against the use of queer as either of these definitions, or against the use of the term by certain groups, all I hear is fear. Fear of change. Fear of difference. Fear of compromise. Whether you accept it or not, queer is a fluid concept with different meanings based entirely on each person, or each community’s, experiences and understandings. That’s something to be celebrated, not stifled.
Appealing to (false) consequences
The argument specifically against heteroromantic asexuals in queer spaces often employs a certain amount of fear-mongering. People use the slippery slope concept to claim if heteroromantic aces are allowed in queer spaces, what’s to stop cishet people from invading the same space? This argument lumps heteroromantic aces in with cishet people, effectively denying not only their asexuality as a valid sexual orientation, but their personal experiences as well. What are the actual chances, though, that someone identifying 100% as cisgender and heterosexual will purposefully invade a queer space with the intent to do harm? Is preventing this unlikely scenario really more important than ensuring everyone who needs access to such a safe space can feel welcome there? Turning away a heteroromantic asexual because they are “basically straight” is not only discriminatory, it’s dangerous. Aces seek out queer spaces because they don’t feel safe or welcome in the cishet community – if turned away from the queer community as well, where do they have left to go?
Ignoring actual discrimination
When someone says “asexuals don’t face discrimination,” what they are actually saying is, “I haven’t bothered to look for any proof that asexuals face discrimination, therefore it doesn’t happen”. Because if you want to find the proof, it’s out there. A lot of brave asexuals talk about their experiences, both to educate others and provide support for other aces. So telling an asexual of any romantic orientation that they don’t belong in queer spaces denies experiences common to many aces: feelings of confusion, sorrow, and self-hate, self-harm, alienation from friends, family, and/or significant others, mockery, corrective therapy, and rape. You cannot possibly know what an asexual person, heteroromantic or not, has struggled with on their journey. Until you do, keep your mind and your heart open.
Everyone, regardless of sexual, romantic, or gender orientation, needs to remember one thing: you are not the gatekeeper of the word “queer”. You do not own it, define it, or determine who is worthy of its label. As we continue to reclaim queer, its definition(s) will continue to evolve. Embrace that change! Celebrate and support the various communities and people who fall under that term! We’re in this together – push your energy into healing rifts, not widening them.