I don't find myself queer

People I meet regularly think that I am non-binary and queer. I have to say, the more time passes, the more people assign me as woman - especially when wearing a mask for COVID. I have already written a post (in French) about why I am a man. I want to talk here about why I don't see myself in the word "queer".

A friend of mine offered me to co-create a queer open-mic. I said I didn't see myself in that word, to which she asked "Do you have impostor syndrome?". Here it made sense: "Do I really belong in this scene?". But I thought her more general question very interesting.

Back when it was an insult, I'd have totally been called queer: what with my blue hair[1], nail polish, and dresses... But I live in Paris in 2022, although there's been some street harassment[2], I've evidently never heard them use the word "queer"[3]: wrong language and the wrong time. That said, I rarely wear polish and dresses and, if my hair are still blue as I type, that's only because it's not practical to change them all the time. So yes, if I were in the 20th century, I would have been called queer. However, I discovered the word long after it had been reappropriated: I've only ever known it as a positive term that people use to describe themselves So this post is only about why I don't do so.

I guess I am getting old after all, look at me complain about what the words used to be, and what they meant in the old days. For the friend I was writing about, "queer" just meant LGBTQI+, minus the letters. It would be ironic of me to blame someone for misusing the word "queer": Of all the words, it's the one I see the most trying in avoiding being defined and constrained. As I've come to know it, "queer" comes in motto like "not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you". I'm a polite guy, I don't swear or say "fuck you". I used to volunteer at "Le MAG Jeunes LGBT". "MAG" used to mean "mouvement des adolescents gays" (gays teenager movement). It becaume "the MAG LGBT Youth" when it opened to more orientations than gays. There was a vote back then on whether to add the word "queer" or not. It came back negative. The main rationale was that one does not choose their gender identity or sexual orientation, but one does choose to be "Queer" as an identity, as a conviction, and as a political statement. I would find it strange to still ask of the academia and the ministry to approve of our schools interventions, to tone down our discourses so that they are sufficiently "normal" and acceptable, and call this being queer.

At the end of my school interventions, when students knew other genders than "man" or "woman", it was often thanks to an app of which I've forgotten the name of [4] : At registration it would offer more than two choices. The word "non-binary" is very recent, not even a decade old, but before that there were many other terms. I remember in particular people who identified on their blogs as "gender-fucker", and I still chuckle to immagine, had they come 10 years ago, modern apps asking you whether you are "gender-fucker".

Where I work, employees have their own pages with various information about themselves, among which in particular their pronouns. I have chosen "Use any pronoun". From time to time, there are also surveys to find out how diverse the company really is, and here I answer "male". I had pondered about this apparent contradiction. The difference here is that I don't actually care what pronoun people use for me. And so, I'm completely fine if they stick with "he/him". But if someone who doesn't know me greets me in a hallway by "ma'am" and then refers to me as "she". I'm fine with that too. However, I wouldn't want this indifference to count in the company's statistics.

Back to the word "queer". When I discovered it, the word "queer" was linked to a counter-culture, of artistic and intellectual movements about which I know almost nothing about. Queer cultures are diverse, but I've always seen a common thread in these stories: the loss of your family and background to move into a big city where you create your own community. It is almost always related to poverty, to being excluded from the "respectable" job market and often to sex work. This is the story of many people, even in France, even today. This is not my story at all. Yes, I did know some homophobes at school, and I have exactly one homophobic family member[5], with whom we had already burned all bridges anyway, for other reasons. I grew up in Paris, so clearly, going to a big city seems complicated - although before Covid I spent two and a half months in San Francisco to try and get a job there. I succeeded, but then Covid killed that plan. As for work and poverty, not only could I always count on my parents to support me during my long studies, but also today I'm a software engineer in a big multinational company, which is quite "respectable" and clearly well paid. In short, I'm bourgeois, and I can't imagine that "bourgeois" and "queer" are in the least compatible notions.

I imagine I'd be comfortable with performing on a queer stage. I recently discovered one, and given the artists programmed, I think I'm as legitimate as at least some of them. In Nanette, Hannah Gadsby talks about "lesbian comedy 101", i.e. a theme that all young lesbian comedians (but it also applies to gays, to people who don't conform to their gender...) tackle. A bit akin to how straight stand-up comedians make joke about relationships and flirts; every young gay stand-up comedian has a moment where they talk about their coming-out, the reaction of their family and school/university/job, their village (if applicable), and what they know about the local gay community (e.g. the Marais in Paris, grindr...). Along with it, a "political" undertone that only preaches to the choir. I too have done this a long time ago. And I'm glad there are scenes where it exists, all this, this basic gay stand-up content. Cause even though it is not very interesting artistically, starting out with the classics and then creating your own style is a good practice, just like for music or comics. I've seen artists start out who were pretty nondescript, mainstream wannabes, and who have been able to create their audience since and create their own voice. It took them time, it also took them a lot of stage performances to test and refine it, and I'm glad this possibility opens up to young queers as well; though I still struggle with the word.


[1] But blue is a masculine color!

[2] Wery light compared to what women endure

[3] Though if I'm to be honnest, the words are rarely intelligible, and often drunkenly thrown around.

[4] I was sure it was snapchat, but apparently they don't actually ask for gender.

[5] She said she would sue me for being in a dress on my twitter profile picture because I'm "soiling our family's name".

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