I am queer in a variety of ways. From my sexuality, gender concepts, romantic orientation, relationship status, to my presentation. I became aware of my being queer throughout years of discovery and over- and under-thinking it. But I also became passionate about this field of my life, and being a part of the queer community, for just that – the community it gave me. It is a community I didn’t have before because of the intersections of my privileges and lack thereof. I was weird, strange, too loud, too butch, wore too much yellow, didn’t have enough friends, didn’t comprehend gender norms, and more. Because of these ‘societal flaws’ the queer community was the first one I had.
As a community that lacks privilege in many ways, conversations about privilege are abundant and complicated.
It’s often easy to fall back and say, “This is how privilege works,” and when something falls outside of that narrative, it’s labeled an outlier. This, however, is not how to have a comprehensive conversation about privilege, because you’ll notice most people are outliers in some way. That their privileges in one area fall short – such as the privilege of being cisgender – because of the lack of privilege in another – such as being assigned female at birth. These intersections are important to talk about wholesomely, and not refer to them as outliers.
Talking about being queer versus being heteronormative with there being outliers creates problems. Privilege is always in flux, depending on observable factors about a given person. A person on vacation has more privilege than when they are not, regardless of their actual situation because of assumptions we make about people on vacation. Someone on vacation must have a job, a home, enough money, and people to return to. These assumptions affect the way we interact with somebody and give them more or less privilege.
In the world at large, I gain privilege because I’m educated (graduated high school in 2013 at 17) and in a decent economic situation, but I lose privilege because I’m queer. In the queer community I gain privilege because I’m white, but lose privilege because I’m trans. Within the trans community I gain privilege because I’m on testosterone, which is considered a traditional step in one’s transition, but lose privilege because I’m agender. On days I dress masculinely, I have more privilege than days I dress femininely.
Because privilege is relational.
During high school I attended a camp for queer youth and allies. There were two weeks of camp every summer, with different themes each week, and I always attended teen week for lgbtqiap-etc. teens and their allies. That week of queer teens and allies became my assumption of how queer versus ally worked. Then I worked at camp, which entailed being present for both weeks. The other week of camp is family week, for children and teens of lgbtqiap-etc. parents, and I was very startled at first when many of these people who identified as cisgender and straight also identified as queer. But of course they did! They identified as queer for the same reason I do – because it’s our community. They grew up queer in a way I’ll never understand or experience, just like I’ve grown up to be queer in a way they’ll never understand or experience. And I need to be their ally, just like they need to be mine.
The concept of ally intersects very awkwardly with our concept of privilege. We make assumptions about what it means to be an ally, and what it means to be queer, and don’t talk about the overlap. Ignore that being queer in Washington is nothing like being queer in New York or Wisconsin or Indiana. That being an ally while white is very different than being an ally while also a person of color. That being bi and in a heteronormative relationship is entirely different than being bi and in a nontraditional relationship.
When we take the voice away from these people, we stop talking about these intersections, which creates problems. I am privileged to be in a situation and live in a place where I can be loud about the varieties of my being queer and not get punished for the most part. I worry about it – wonder how my relationships are perceived, or if I’ll get called something because of the ‘LGBTQIA GEEK’ pin on my bag, or what pronouns my waiter is going to use – but I feel fairly safe because of my situation. I need to hear the perspectives of trans men and trans women who are scared to use the bathroom. Gendervariant folk who have their pronouns denounced. Butch lesbians and femme lesbians. Gay people who just want to adopt. Asexual folk who are still trying to be recognized as queer. Bisexual folk who feel they are being erased or are called cruel names. Pansexual folk who are told they’re just overcomplicating it. And presumably heteronormative pastors who worry about if they’re being accepting enough. Inclusive enough. Loving enough.
When I was in seventh grade, there were two ninth graders I knew via choir who ended up dating. Catch? They were both girls. This was before I had started exploring my own being queer much. I was just an ally as far as I or they were concerned. In choir one day somebody said to me that I should ask if I could move seats. When I asked why, she said, because “A” is a lesbian. I asked, so? She then, horrified, asked if I was a lesbian too. I said “No, but it doesn’t matter anyways.” I continued sitting there. That initiated a new tangent of bullying, with cruel phrases I won’t repeat here targeting the fact that I was an ally.
No, I don’t want to be patted on the back for standing up for them. For not caring that my tangential choir friends were both girls and dating. But there needs to be space for the fall out of that. Space to talk about getting bullied for being an ally. About worrying about being loving enough. About how this could impact your job. About how some allies are bullied for being supportive of LGBTQ people. About being an ally and poor. About being an ally and a person of color. I need all of the puzzle pieces so I can support them and they can support me.
That’s how you build a community – with support and love of all the bits and pieces.
All voices in the lgbtqiap-etc. spectrum are welcome and valid.
You are enough.
I am enough.