Last week say the opening of Canadian artist Allyson Mitchell’s Killjoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House in Toronto. This controversial project aims to exhume the ghosts of feminism past (a.k.a. the “undead lesbian community”) and confront some of society’s greatest fears about teh gays.
This tongue-in-cheek retrospective and critique of womyn-only lesbian feminism perfectly summarizes the attitude of the queer zeitgeist towards our feminist past. We appreciate what our forerunners have fought for, but find some of the racist, transphobic and sex-negative aspects of their feminism problematic.
It’s common to critique 1970s feminism, but not so common to think about the dynamics we are reinforcing in the queer community today. The popularity of my post on hypersexualisation within the queer community obviously touched a raw nerve for some of you. A lot of queers expressed to me that they 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 cool 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 bit already, but what can I say. I’m still not over it.
Last year I attended a zine workshop run by a friend. Each participant was asked to make a page for a collaborative zine for a local feminist festival. We weren’t asked to focus on a particular topic, but given that this was a group of mostly queers, 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 feminist 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 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 more likely to grumble and not want to go. This is because the values I see queer feminism representing are actually ones that I find sexist. Queer feminism, has, for me, come to mean a party where my classic dress sense will posit me as “too middle-class” and I’ll be ignored. A party where my trans partner will feel unwelcome and the odd-one-out, to the extent that he will be pushed out of a space by the animosity of others. A place which is far more focused on feminist posturing and looking cool than real, problematic connections.
I’ve seen these dynamics before. 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 Disney teen 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 queer culture in Canada today? Just like being gay at school was unacceptable, so is being a self-identified lesbian or — worse — woman who sleeps with cisgendered men and hangs out in the queer community.
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 communities 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 whore/virgin dichotomy, not to mention masculinities vs. femininities, right?
My point here isn’t to slate the queer community, anyone’s preferences or identity, or even, really, their art. What I would like to see though is a community that encourages everyone to express themselves the way they see fit and leaves some of the judgment at home with the ghosts of feminism past.
The Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House is open 17-30 October, 4-8 p.m. at 303 Lansdowne Avenue for all you Toronto dwellers who are up for some scary feminism.