What does queer mean to you? It is a word that means many things to many people.
Perhaps the earliest exposure I remember having to the word/concept was a song by a band named Garbage:
The music itself was not your standard radio fare, it had this slightly unsettling but not totally scary vibe. Just enough to make you uncomfortable if you weren’t sure (and that was probably the point). And of course the lyrics were pretty dramatic for my young naive brain at the time.
For me back then, “queer” became synonymous with mainly a look, a visual aesthetic. It wasn’t strictly punk, it wasn’t strictly goth, it wasn’t strictly glitter, it was some strange melding of these and other things. It wasn’t even “obviously” gendered (I put that in quotes on purpose because it’s a silly concept to begin with).
When I was young, if you had asked me “what does queer look like?”, I’d have pointed to something like this:
Basically, it was people who felt distinctly different/unique, who didn’t desire to “fit into” society (at least, not on the terms society demanded), and wanted to broadcast that loudly to anyone who would be within visual distance.
And that was how my conception stayed for years.
I grew up in a city where I there was not many distinctly “queer” people. Most people who did dress differently seemed to fall more squarely into one of the more commonly known/defined categories (such as aforementioned punk or goth).
Looking back, I really think it takes a ton of guts and confidence to be openly queer at a young age, especially in a smaller locale. There is so much pressure on you, right up until you’re basically 20 (and beyond in many cases) to still present yourself “respectably” (again, silly concept), not embarrass or shame your parents/family, and not ruin your chances of employment before you even go to college.
I wish I had that kind of confidence when I was young. I had to grow into mine, and it took the better part of a decade to do.
I still remember the first time I ever dated an openly queer person. It was in 2010. I remember being in awe of them. I was still pretty young and naive at the time (I was a very late bloomer in several ways). The way they spoke, the way they thought, it was just refreshingly different, and it was fascinating. I remember thinking distinctly “I can’t imagine ever being on the same level as this person in terms of worldview and interpersonal relationships”. Thankfully, I ended up being wrong.
But as I said before, I feel I had to grow into it. And that’s totally OK. I have felt a little different my whole life, but until I developed the confidence to be my true self and own it, I did spend a lot of time mostly trying to “fit in”. But I had what I’ll call “queer potential”, that seed of uniqueness and character, that just needed the right fostering to bloom.
Part of me really does envy people who know who and what they are from a very young age, whether it’s gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary, polyamorous, whatever. Just knowing how you feel and following that even though it’s not the path society encourages, that’s character. But just because someone doesn’t “know” these things about themselves from toddler-dom, doesn’t mean it’s invalid if they feel it later.
This is something I’ve struggled a lot with in the last year.
I was very hesitant to claim that label for myself, because I felt like I didn’t have a right to it. Queer people spend their whole lives being marginalized and putting up with society’s shit. I’ve only been dealing with it for a little while. I didn’t feel like I’d paid my dues yet.
Most of my life had been lived as my assigned gender and with the privileges that came along with that, and being white/able bodied/etc. This is not to say that white able bodied cis people can’t be queer, but the majority of queer people I know have lived most or all of their life marginalized in one or more ways.
I think I became queer largely because I really started to question and deconstruct things. I learned how to do that by example at first, and I have my queer friends to thank in large part. Similarly I have primarily the women and feminists in my life to thank for helping me learn and become an intersectional feminist.
I’ve also come to learn that queer is most certainly not just a look or aesthetic style. I sent my mom an article a few months ago, the article was about “the queering of gender” and she replied “this is a bit confusing for me, I’d always thought queer was just a synonym for gay, and how do you make gender gay?”
Like I said, for the longest time I thought queer was just a certain kind of look/personality. But I’ve learned that it can refer to many things. It can encapsulate gender, sexual orientation, aesthetic, politics, and more.
But less traditional, more “queer” looks are becoming ever more common. That is to say that things that used to be considered strange or questionable (and thus what I think the uninitiated defined as queer) became more commonplace. I still remember being in a bank 5 years ago and one of the tellers had blue hair with shaved sides, had “tattoo sleeves”, and even piercings. That sort of thing was unthinkable for a bank employee not that long ago.
These days anyone can dye their hair different colours, and personal expression in general is opening up more and more and becoming more varied. From hairstyles to glasses frames, to people wearing pronoun necklaces, pins, or badges, and more.
I realize that I live in Toronto, a pretty liberal city with it’s own dedicated “gay village” (and definitely a solid “queer community”), so I’m definitely within the bubble now and things that don’t even trip my radar would probably still make my family do a double take. I have actually talked to my sibling about their kids growing up in a more “white bread” community and not being exposed to as much diversity, and I was told “you’d be surprised”. My sibling also does work in Toronto (but more near the suburbs) and says the kids have met a variety of people of different cultures and “styles”.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between people who are “OK” with the standards of society and don’t feel them limiting, and those who do. Like, so many people are raised in the gender and sexuality binaries, and just accept them. I did for a long time too.
I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who has queer potential and just needs the right inspiration or moment of courage to embrace their true selves more. I just hope that more of us can keep finding that catalyst for ourselves. And meeting other transgender people has certainly been an inspiration in itself.
And that’s definitely part of why we need more (and better!) queer representation in media. From what I’ve seen and read, there’s a thriving and growing LGBTQ novel space. More and more authors are writing stories with LGBTQ and non-binary characters. I’m really pleased to see this. The more examples there are, the more people of all ages can find their true selves.