Hey lovely readers, just wanted to give you a heads up that I have a brand spanking new article up on awesome feminist website Feminists India. It is a summary of my arguments that question group norms in the queer community. What do you guys think? Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the realities of lived queer lives? Go check it out.
Why queer feminism is sexist, queer snobbery and, somehow, the Grand Prix.
Well, that was a bit ugly wasn’t it? All that fighting about the Berlin Femme Show. Meow, meow. I admit, swearing publicly on my blog wasn’t the best move, but it was the accumulation of years of femme hatred and misunderstanding and I was just sick of it and lost my temper. However, just like Nina Simone, I am a fluffy little kitten on the inside and I don’t want to be misunderstood. Oh well, on to the next topic.
Earlier this week I wrote a review of queer porno Mommy is Coming. It’s a pretty straightforward film with lots of sex and solid, quite funny, storyline. If you feel so inclined, I think you should go see it. However, something about it irked me a bit, and I’d like to talk about it more here.
The popularity of my post on hypersexualisation within the queer community obviously touched a raw nerve for many of you. A lot of you agreed that you felt pressure to want to and to have a lot of sex in order to fit in the queer scene. It seems, that in order to be a hip queer in the 21st century, you need to be very sexual and sexual in a certain way. I know that I’ve talked about the hypersexualisation of queer and the privileging of polyamory a fair bit already, but what can I say? I’m still not over it.
“Queer is an ideal that none of us feel we can reach”
Last year I attended a zine workshop run by a friend. Each participant was asked to make a page for a collaborative zine for Lad.i.y.fest Berlin. We weren’t asked to focus on a particular topic, but given that this was a group of mostly queers at a feminist festival, nearly all of us wrote about our queer identities, which, of course, we probably all see as feminist. It was really fascinating to see a group of people, with hardly any prior guidance, all create pieces about their struggle to fit in the queer community and coming out as queer. One person wrote about feeling outcast as a bisexual, another a celebration of polyamory. I, of course, went on an angry femme rant. Diverse as they were, it took my friend’s perspective to see what all of these pieces had in common. She summarised – lifting her hand above her head – it seems that queer is an idea we think of as up here, and we – she moved her hand down to her waist – feel that we can’t get at it and are stuck down here. Queer is an ideal that none of us feel we can reach.
This idea has stuck with me over the past year and come up again and again as I keep hitting wall upon wall within the queer community: femmephobia, the privileging of polyamory over monogamy, queer masculinities over queer femininities and BDSM over so-called ‘vanilla’ sex. Although we queers congratulate ourselves on living by radical ideas that eliminate sexist and patriarchal hierarchies, we too create hierarchies that cause us to push away individuals who don’t conform to our standards.
Can any of us, as queers, say that we feel 100% comfortable in the queer community? I certainly don’t.
Of course, I know that many of you lovely readers are super intelligent. I know that many queers understand that the queer community can never be a happy patriarchy-free bubble, because this is the world we live in. And the trouble with the patriarchy is that it gets everywhere. But I do think we rest on our laurels too much. We are a bit too self-congratulatory and too quick to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit the queer bill.
Over the past few months I have come to distrust the phrase ‘queer feminism.’ In fact, when I hear an event described as queer feminist, I am most likely to grumble and not want to go. This is because the values I see queer feminism representing here in Berlin are actually ones that I find sexist. Queer feminism, has, for me, come to mean a party where I will be the only femme and I will be ignored. No one will hit on me and I will struggle to find anyone who looks like me. I’ll smile if I see anyone wearing a bit of make-up, a hint of colour. The only trans represented at these parties will be transmasculinities.
“I started to notice that calling myself a lesbian was distinctly uncool”
When I came out for the second time as bisexual (I had come out as a lesbian before, and then promptly fallen in love with a guy), I did so not because I really felt bisexual (I thought of the guy moment as a freak accident rather than a possibly recurring event) but because it was the cool thing to say. As a girl, it was OK for me to come out as bisexual because that wasn’t seen as threatening to the heterosexist status quo. As a bisexual woman, I still had one foot in the hetero pond, and everyone knows that girls can’t really fuck each other anyway. It took a lot of courage, and it was a very slow process, for me to later come out as lesbian, an identity that I found fitted me better.
Later, moving to Montreal and getting my first taste of living within a queer community, I started to notice that calling myself a lesbian was distinctly uncool here too. Real queers have fluid sexualities and don’t focus on such unimportant things as gender. Real queers love the person, not the gender. It became very fashionable to say, “Man, I experience my sexuality as fluid” (except without the ‘Man’, because actually if you were cool you wouldn’t sound like someone trying to imitate a rap star from the 90s, like I do). I get the whole sexuality is fluid idea. My own sexuality has changed faster than a tyre in the Grand Prix and I don’t think it’s my job to dictate someone else’s desires for them. However, I don’t like snobbery and such statements, with their implied I’m-a-better-queer-than-you, really piss me off.
So, how does all this relate to Mommy is Coming and queer porn? In my review of the film, I noted that although it showed some fine butch-femme and butch-butch sex, its view of what ‘queer sex’ is still felt pretty limited to me.
As queers and/or lesbians, what you will, we are starved for representation in film. There are still very few films out there about us, and even fewer that don’t pathologise us completely in order to ease heterosexist angst about queers taking over the world. Mainstream films about us portray us as fucked-up power lesbians who have non-penetrative sex on flowery beds next to our teddy bears. So it’s not surprising that our community-made queer films tend to go in the opposite direction. BDSM, dildos, public sex and leather. However, just like being a lesbian is uncool, it feels to me like the prevalence of these types of sex and relationships in queer films show a one-sided view of queer life. They seem to be saying that this is the epitome of what it means to fuck and love as a queer. If you’re a cool queer, this is what you’ll be doing in your bed/dungeon/swing tonight.
As a reader commented on my latest article:
“In the same way rad fem lesbian separatism did a fine job of ostracising certain women based on an essentialist reading of bodies, I find that far too much ‘queer’ culture and porn is doing exactly this again under a different banner”
Thanks, supernaut, for summarising so well. It seems that, instead of living in a happy-go-lucky world free of sexism and social norms, we queers are enforcing social norms in exactly the same way as the big evil Patriarchy Dude does ‘out there.’ Queer films promote polyamorous relationships, public sex and BDSM as a privileged viewpoint.
Contrast this with the fluffy-bunny-rabbit version of lesbianism we see in mainstream L-films, and you get a kind of kinky devil versus innocent angel version of gay life. Queers are leather-touting bois, lesbians are asexual little girls. It’s pretty interesting that these two images mirror the virgin/whore dichotomy, (not to mention masculinities vs. femininities) right?
My point here isn’t to slate Mommy is Coming, or to write a harsh critique of the few queer and mainstream lesbian films we have. I just want to point out that, yes, we do put too much pressure on each film to represent how we live our lives, and, yes, there aren’t enough films about us. So, budding queer filmmakers, who’s ready to take up the challenge?
Did you like this article? Then stay tuned for: Radical vs. Queer feminism; the showdown, next week.
James had long curly brown hair and a beard – he looked like a musketeer. His curls were carefully brushed out and fluffy, longer than most people’s hair; well onto his chest. Once he flicked it in an affected way back over his shoulder. I had consciously avoided doing this with my hair when it was long. The girls at school and on American teen shows, with their long dyed blonde hair, used to flick it to prove how light-hearted and playful they were. I hated it. To me it was a sign of conformity, of being forced to be something that I wasn’t. A sign for boys to watch them.
James had 2 piercings, one in his ear and one in his nose, which made him look more beautiful. I assume that a man who is comfortable enough to wear a nose ring is comfortable enough in his masculinity to play with femininity a little. I like that.
Meeting James tied in with a lot of questions I have been having recently, about whether or not I am attracted to straight, cis-gendered (non-trans) men. He was certainly beautiful, and his beard made him masculine in an old-fashioned dandy way that made me expect to find an Épée in his belt. I appreciated his caustic sense of humour, which was a match for my own. He responded to my intellectual challenges with word games until we were fencing, flirting around the ideas of gender and sexuality. James had been strongly criticised, my friend Claire told me, by some of her lesbian feminist friends, for producing a dance which was orientated, as far as I understood, around BDSM and straight sexuality. James and I talked about whether a ‘mostly straight, mostly cis-gendered’ man could understand the feminism that comes from living, or having presented, as a woman. That maybe he was also overcriticised because he was a straight man – that these women wanted to attack him for making any kind of sexual performance that involved both a man and a woman.
Such conversations as these remind me of the complicated nature of things. Of everything. I am standing here, talking to a man I have just met, flirting as a lesbian with a man who has a girlfriend. Flirting as a feminist with a man who has been called misogynist and who I think is really lovely. The world turns on such delicate axes.
An older man walks into our conversation, pushing past James to the bar, suddenly coming into my field of view. He is dressed in normal, scruffy clothes and looks completely out of place, like he has wandered off the street into this party which is trying to convey an atmosphere of sexual decadence. James makes a face. Both of us are annoyed by this typical intrusion by a seemingly-straight, white guy into our personal space. The intervention of the sexist, again, in our safe haven. The man takes up so much space at the bar, it’s as though he is asking us to challenge him. He stares at us. I step backwards to let James come forwards and move out of the other man’s aura. James flicks his hair back in a diva move that says, eurgh, thank God we got rid of him! And I think, does he really get it, this straight German guy? Does he really feel what I am feeling? Acknowledging the different dynamic, the intrusion of the sexist into this party. And do I, a lesbian, really want to fence, flirt, fuck this man or is it only a game to me? A game of intellect and power? It’s so hard to tell. It’s complicated.