I’m in Queer Theory with Julie Abraham, and we’re reading a pamphlet called “QUEERS READ THIS: I HATE STRAIGHTS.” (As I’m sure you can deduce, it is a highly moderate and non-confrontational text.) The pamphlet was published “anonymously by Queers,” and activists from Queer Nation–a then new radical queer organization–handed it out at NY Pride.
The first line of the pamphlet is this: “How can I tell you.”
Let me tell you, I lost it right there. There’s no question mark after the sentence–I’ve quoted it verbatim. I feel like that’s important, that there’s a period and no question mark, that the writer knows that they’re not asking a question. I’m hesitant to even call it a statement. It’s a lament. They’re lamenting the unspeakability of something. They’re hearing silence, wanting to fill it, and being unable to do so. What is it that can’t be told? Why can’t we tell it?
The pamphlet goes on to talk about how queers live in a war zone, but the very real physically violent nature of that often metaphorical war remains unspeakable. We cannot get to it. We cannot quite wrap our heads around it, let alone our minds or our various writing utensils. What keeps us from speaking of this war zone except in metaphor?
“I HATE STRAIGHTS” was written in response to the rising assimilationist queer movement. White rich monogamous cis gay men had realized that they could get their rights by leaving behind queers of color, trans queers, poor queers, disabled queers, poly queers, kinky queers, anyone with an identity that wasn’t strictly “gay” or “lesbian”–often even lesbians!
“Come on,” these white cis gay guys were insisting, “Assimilate! Be just like the straight people–I mean, that was our problem all along, right?”
These cis gays are still in charge of powerful organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, still trying to convince the straights that we’re just like them and if we aren’t we will be soon, still telling all the other queers that we just have to wait a sec, we’ll get our rights as soon as they’re done.
And these cis gays are and always have been participating in an important project with straights: convincing queers that the situation isn’t too bad. For queers of color, trans queers, etc., to accept that we can wait for our rights until the cis white gays get theirs, we have to accept that our situation is endurable.
The truth is that our situation is not endurable. But once we’ve been conditioned enough to believe that things aren’t so bad, how can we even express how bad they are? Can we even know how bad they are?
I don’t remember most of 2007. It was the year after I came out as trans, the year of my life that involved reparative therapy and enforced isolation based on my queer identity. It’s not like a block of lost memory, more like a movie I saw drunk: scenes and lines stick in my head, but the cohesive narrative that once tied it together is gone.
I believe that part of why I do not remember large parts of that year is that I have been conditioned not to recognize fully the most terrorizing elements of the queer experience. I am not supposed to know how bad it gets for me. If I did, I could tell you, and if I could tell you, we could do something about it together.
How can I tell you? I can’t.
But I can keep saying fuck you to the It Gets Better campaign’s declarations that happy queers must have 2.5 kids, a dog, and a yearly vacation to Lucerne. I can keep caring about and fighting for the queers in my life who the assimilationists refuse to care about or to fight for. I can keep refusing to believe that our system works and that queers must rise up within it. I can keep demanding a new system. I can keep believing that this world is a war zone. I can keep believing that a better world is not only possible, but mandatory.
I can tell you those things, and if I tell them enough, it is possible that I will one day be able to tell you the rest, the part the anonymous Queers who published “I HATE STRAIGHTS” lament for, the part that is now unspeakable.