This post was originally written in 2012 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing. My gender has further morphed since the time that I wrote it, however.
Can straight be queer?
I run into this debate sometimes. It’s a debate that I really want to not take seriously because… hey, you know what’s queer? QUEERNESS. By definition, it should be impossible for something straight to be queer. However, now I’ve sat down and done some thinking about what is ultimately a semantic problem, and my answer is still, “Fuck no,” but it’s a complicated fuck no.
The catalyst— can cis people be trans? Many in the trans community who are obsessed with rigid lexical categories would like to say, “No,” but I— someone trans across the board— feel obliged to say, “Yes.” That is, if you recall that cis- and trans- are prefixes that can be added to -sexual or -gender. When we talk about an overarching collection of people who are trans, then of course the exact opposite is cis, but if we place the prefixes fully into context, then yes, there are cissexual people who happen to be transgender, and cisgender people who happen to be transsexual. My personal guess is that there are a lot more people in the first category than in the second, but that’s a topic for a whole other post, and still, plenty of both categories exist. There is also a lot of fluidity that some people are scared to acknowledge. I myself would say I’m a lot MORE transgender than transsexual, but that’s just how things are right now, and when you say that I’m transgender re: my assigned gender at birth, that transness is much different from the transness of how I attempt to transcend presentation and behavioral aspects of my currently chosen gender (yes, I call it a choice, on my part), which is why I also choose to say I’m a transvestite.
All that aside, of course it is impossible for people who are both cissexual AND cisgender to be trans in any way, but I raise this situation because it’s complicated. My random self-query now has been whether it is perhaps just that complicated for straight vs. queer.
Think of it this way: just as some trans people are both transsexual and transgender, but not all are both (or either, depending on self-identification), not all people lumped under the umbrella of non-hetero orientations will readily identify as queer. This is for somewhat different reasons, the most important one being that queer has a prominent history as a slur, and not everyone wants to reclaim it. Another reason is that some people are “turned off” by the strong radical associations of the word and it simply doesn’t match their liberal or conservative worldview. Others just like being more specific— some f*gs are just f*gs. Queer is clearly a political category as much as it is a sexual one. I myself use it frequently as an umbrella term for “LGB” because I find it LESS problematic than the holdover from that insultingly useless “LGBT” acronym, speaking for myself as part of that T, but that choice itself is very politically motivated. I also fervently believe that my strongest allies for gender & sexual liberation do not simply need to pass the requirement of not being straight. They need to pass a certain threshold of radical political understanding, which I will argue is fundamentally queer even if they do not want to use that label.
So might straight people have the ability to access queerness as a political category if they manage to transgress the norms that queerness does? Thinking along those lines, I must initially say yes. Because queerness, to me, is not about which body parts are fucking which other body parts. Queerness, to me, understands sexuality as going beyond that. If being straight were simply about penis in vagina, then plenty of sexual encounters involving one or more trans people would be “straight” when they are patently same-gender. Likewise, there is also something subversive about sexual encounters involving “opposites” on the sex-binary that happen to be straight if you acknowledge the real identities of the parties involved, if the body parts involved are still something that would upset the simultaneously transphobic and homophobic majority. Queerness understands that sex ≠ gender, and in my view it should routinely question the way that we talk about sex acts, even the way we talk about orientation itself. Shouldn’t there, for instance, be a difference in discussing “homosexual” vs. “same-gender-attraction”? Queer people are divided on this, but it’s a topic of discussion in the first place, and that’s a good thing. To the degree that straight people are capable of challenging many sexual & gender norms, I would therefore like to say they can have a place at the queer table. Straight people are capable of challenging many norms.
But straightness is still, of course, a norm itself. And that is why I draw a line. Language has, even requires, social context. If you wish to be queer, but you say you are straight, you insist you are straight, why do you insist on that? Why is it important to maintain that you are one gender on the binary, that your partner is the other gender on the binary? If this extends to your sexes as opposites, why is it important to establish straightness there as well? If you ask me, it’s only important to maintain those things for the sake of acknowledging that you ARE what society expects of you, in terms of sexual pairings. It’s only important to maintain awareness and acceptance of your straightness as a way of owning the privilege that comes with being straight. And if you are really aware of your straightness, if you really accept it, if it really extends down to every level where we can talk about straightness, then I cannot fathom how anything that you do sexually or romantically is queer. And if you are as transgressive and subversive in your sexuality to the degree that is clearly queer, why would you wish to continue calling yourself straight instead, wearing the label of an oppressor?
In other words, very short words, the only way for a straight person to be queer is to stop being straight. And yes, if you’re straight by every possible definition and you want to say you’re queer, then you actually do have to make a choice.