A notebook page full of rainbows drawn with colouring pencils

LGBT History Month – I will bring together my genderqueerness and my politics on my terms only

I’m playing catch-up with the posts I’d planned for this LGBT History Month but, hey, at least I’m writing. I’m discussing my gender identity, in the hope that sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences will help people to see not only beyond the gender binary, but that each gender identity can be split into as many different ‘types’ as there are people who assume that identity to describe themselves.

I mentioned in my introductory LGBT History Month post that ‘genderqueer’ is not, for me, a cultural, political or societal statement; however, I recognise that it can be for others. I mentioned that identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I am, or should be required to be, radical in my thought and action, and that I do not identify as genderqueer in order to be antagonistic or polemical.

The irony isn’t lost on me that to write about my gender, sex and sexuality openly on this platform is a political act, albeit an unintentional one; to be political, or to be perceived as political, isn’t my mission here. Depending on a reader’s education and/or experience, they may place the value judgement of ‘privileged’ on my writing, believe me to be privileged or that I consider myself so – this moves the discussion specifically to social and societal politics. Whilst I recognise that there are privileged and circumstances that enable me to do what I do here, I do not privilege myself, and I do not presume to speak for any other; and I’ll leave that there for now. I think that what I call the ‘politics/privilege/pride debate’ might be best left to another post, or else I’ll get off-topic very quickly indeed.

It has been my experience that the assignment of ‘political’ to the way in which I consider, explore, interrogate, discuss and perform my gender, sex and sexuality comes primarily from others within the LGBTQIA+ community; and that any expectation to be radical in my thought and action, to rally and fight against a(ny) ‘common enemy’, is placed upon me by these. I find that it’s rare that I can express a preference to be political or radical on my own terms and not risk being criticised for ‘not doing it properly’, or for ‘letting the side down’, or for ‘failing my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters’.

In addition, it’s been my experience that a significant part of the pressure placed on me to be political and/or radical comes from people who are both cisgendered and heterosexual, and who want to address their guilt that they are privileged by ‘the system’. These people want to ally themselves to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, professing their devotion to the principles of diversity, equality, inclusion and tolerance, and to have members of this community fight for these principles on their terms, validating their progressive thoughts, feelings and actions. Make of that what you will.

In addition, those who choose to never engage in such political activity, or are never able to, are often ostracised or vilified for this. ‘Political’ isn’t a prerequisite of identifying as LGBTQIA+; if we want to be accepted for who we are, this means accepting others for who they are – including the way(s) in which they are, or are not, political. For some people, it’s a straight-up choice to not have anything to do with politics. For others, it’s a method of self-preservation, perhaps due to cultural, social, societal issues, accessibility or wellbeing issues. They don’t need to justify this to anyone, and don’t deserved to be judged by anyone for this.

Presumptions are often made, based on my preference for individual, private action, that I’m neither ‘correctly’ nor ‘sufficiently’ political. This denies me the right to engage in political activities of my choosing on my own terms. Activity is occasionally equated with presence and the presumptions may be made that, if I am not standing literally in protest against something, then I do not stand against it in any way.

I have a peculiar reaction to this: Typically, I ‘refuse to prove’ myself to others, judging my accomplishments and progress by my expectations only; however, in these instances, I find myself anxious to prove that I am appropriately and sufficiently political – I want both what I do and how I do it to be accepted by others, and for these to see this as simply different to what they do and how they do it, rather than ‘worse’ (or, perhaps in some cases, ‘better’). But, then, I work hard to calm myself down.

Not every act of defence, defiance, education or subversion needs to be visible. Not every act needs to be large in either effect or scale. Not every act needs to be catalogued, or proven, or shared. However, I do recognise the need to act, on occasion, in a public and disruptive way in order to draw attention to political matters affecting my/our community, and those of others; or even to force change – but my engagement with/participation in any activity will remain my choice. I don’t think that one type holds more value over the other; or that one should be celebrated and expected more. Is the way in which we work politically as or more important than what we achieve through this work?

For me, the most important thing is that each act moves us all, together, to a place of enlightenment; that I, in my own way, participate in the exploration and support of issues relating to my community – and beyond – and that I lend my voice and actions in solidarity with those for whom life is a great deal more difficult. These things I do on my terms. It’s how I make sure I don’t lose my voice.

And the issue of my voice is another part of this discussion. As a queer genderqueer person, it is often presumed that my voice is part of a chorus. My sexuality and my gender identity are co-opted in activism and discussions about minorities and marginalised groups in these communities; others presume to speak for me or that I speak with them. Often, there’s no detriment to me in these actions; however, on occasion, these actions deny me my autonomy and my agency, and assimilate me into the politics of others. The only thing I know to do is to say, even to members of ‘my’ communities, that they don’t always speak for me, an action on my part that is often unwelcome.

Yes, we all agree that to portray and promote an exclusively cisgendered, heterosexual and heteronormative ‘agenda’ is damaging, insofar as it limits our perceptions and experiences of anything outside this sphere. Yes, we’re all against a dominance or supremacy by any one group based on a characteristic given arbitrary sociocultural meaning(s). Yes, I always feel compelled to take action against these and will always do so when it is possible; however, I am not always able to do so. And, on these occasions, I will not allow myself to be used by another. I will not be forced or coerced. I will not be made to feel guilty or ashamed that I put up these barriers, or deny others the use of my identities on my behalf as the fuel with which to stoke the fires of a(ny) movement(s).

My identities – specifically, here, my gender identity, but extended to my sexuality and my sex, amongst others – are simply a part of the person I am. They are not agents, in themselves, for any kind of intervention. They are not tools or weapons. They are labels I attach to parts of who I am that assist me, sometimes, to navigate the world in which I live by aligning myself with different societal, social or cultural groups. They are not a challenge to decency or morality, and I do not use them to cause offence or controversy. They are neither of nor for another person or group.

But, all the time that others use my identities to classify me as ‘less than’ they are, they will always have to be ‘more than’ these labels. And, yes, that does mean taking action(s) to address this that educate, and enable empathy and acceptance; or actions that directly challenge the status quo or the actions of an individual or organisation. But these actions, those I decide to take, must and will be mine alone.

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