Queer Identity From Outside the Queer Aesthetic

#30daysofpride: day 7: Going off book

Today I want to talk about being queer when you don’t fit into the accepted idea of what queerness should look like. 

To begin with I want to step away from the idea that queer culture or queer people are beyond reproach, or that our attractions or social politics exist in a vaccum. We do not, our subculture is just as rife with problematic aspects and oppressions as mainstream culture. As such the expected and accepted visuals that embody queerness are inherently just as problematic and othering as they are in broader mainstream heterosexual colonized white culture.* 

Now that I have touched on that, I want to turn back to something a bit more reflective on my own personal experience. 

When most of us think of or talk about mainstream queer aesthetic what do we mean? Typically within mainstream white american culture queerness is expected to be young, white, thin, abled, neurotypical, cute/sexy/attractive, androgynous, stylish, fun/funny, and hip….however that may be defined at the time. 

So what happens when we actual flesh and blood queers don’t fit that stereotype? We are rendered invisible. 

That invisibility can be complex and is experienced most aggressively, most violently by PoC, and especially multiply marginalized black queer and trans folks. With a huge portion of that violence focused on black trans women and femmes.  

The invisibility, othering, and dismissal that I personally experience starts because I am not young, thin, neurotypical, or able bodied.  

Our local gay and lesbian center, which has a wide range of support groups, is small and extremely smokey from years of second hand smoke. I can’t really go in there without giving myself an asthma attack…so i end up shrugging it off like everything else in life. Most the local community is centered around bars or kids. Bars are also outside of my abilities at this point…and in a different way play groups are as well. Movies and coffee shops are about all my tired body can handle…and even then I am likely to have to cancel.

Because my health so often reacts poorly to exposure to anything and everything out in the world, I’ve developed anxiety about leaving the house, anxiety about negatively impacting my health when I have no easy access to doctors or more medication, when an ER trip would be at least several hundred more dollars in debt. No body wants a friend or lover that can rarely leave the house. This means I carry my invisibility even more heavily. 

Because chronic illness has swept away my body’s assertive swagger, because it has swallowed whole my ability to breathe and bind at the same time…

because my body is to round, soft, and old to be seen as queer, androgynous, or masculine…

because I can’t afford and don’t particularly want a flashy turquoise undercut, geeky bow ties, a universe of button up shirts and sweater vests. It is a fine style, it reminds me of my childhood actually…but preppy geek chic or conversely Desperately Seeking Susan meets Morrissey wide brim hats and suspenders are just not my personal style. (honestly I’m not sure that there is much available right now that is my style but even if there is, I can’t afford it)

because I do not “pass” as male and have a cis male nesting partner who also doesn’t fit the queer aesthetic stereotype…

Because I have children with that nesting partner, whom I grew and nurtured inside my body…

Because my Nonbinary partners are to far away away to touch…

because I am ethically non monogamous…

My experience is often dismissed as heterosexual (or having passing privilege within the cis gay community), an assumption that inherently misgenders me. The cis gaze deciding that because they think I look like a cisgender heterosexual woman to them, that my experience must be that of a cisgender heterosexual woman.**  

 I am told to be greatful for being misgendered…and I do appreciate that I by no means have it the worst. There is so much work to be done, I need to do my part as well to help my more vulnerable trans family live in a world that wants them dead or decimated. 

But I am not a woman, my experience is not a woman’s experience, full stop. My experience has not ever been and never will be the experience of a woman. Because I am not a woman. Being perceived as a cis het woman not only directly misgenders me because I don’t fit that stereotype, it also means I am denied my own community in many ways…repeatedly…exhaustingly. Perpetually outsider, I am further isolated. withdrawn. further stressed and depressed. 

humans were not meant to live alone, without community 

But I don’t pass the rigorous testing I don’t guess. 

I don’t pass. 

Because I don’t pass or fit that stereotype I am subjected to constant microaggressions from people who don’t think I look trans “enough” for them to bother remembering that I am. 

A constant message of never being quite enough 

inadequate

It presses down on me rendering me sensitive and jumpy, quick to defend myself and impatient with well meaning but harmful allies. 

I am far from the only person who is socially othered by the wider queer community for not looking “right”. It is a problem that impacts many queer people, across many identities. 

I know I feel it in my bones. 

Queer inclusion needs to change…and if we are not truly doing the work, to change how we think, how our communities work, then we are leaving people behind, doing to them what was done to us. 

*for more information on the oppressive politics of sex and friendship please follow and fund Rhizome Syndrigast Coelacanth Flourishing who’s wisdom and work has forever changed the way I think and talk about social politics. 

**There are indeed some legal protections for being in a legal marriage with a person whom the government sees as being “the opposite sex” regardless of how meaningless that term may be to a nonbinary person. I’m also less likely to be attacked physically if I am misgendered heavily enough-consistently enough that I do not appear to be a threat to those cis people, basically if seeing me cis people think they see a possibly strange fellow cis person. (Whiteness also emphatically protects me from physical reprisals even for being visibly and noticibly trans or gender nonconforming) It is important to acknowledge the complexity of the situation.

Coming Out, In Perpetuity

#30daysofpride: Day 6 : Who was the first person you came out to? 

I’m sure one of the first people I came out to as queer were friends in high school. That wasn’t much of a notable coming out because I hung out within a local punk/hardcore scene that was very queer accepting and because people had been interpreting my masculinity as lesbianism since I was in grade school. It was just generally assumed I was queer, I only had to affirm their guesses when they asked…and they did ask. 

The first notable coming out I remember was unintentional. 

I was 16, and was in the throws of several social awakenings. In the local punk, skater, and stoner crowd I found, for the first time, people who didn’t seem to punish me for my differences. They seemed to like me. I was in love….or something like it. 

One particular new friend I met in an art class. A. was a junior to my sophomore. She was confident, funny, dismissive, and beautiful. She threw her head back when she laughed. She talked about how frustrating it was being the token non tiny femme Korean girl in a subculture that objectified Asian women. She wore oversized houndstooth pants and doc martins…and she absolutely and embarrassingly knew I had a crush on her. I was so smitten. I wrote her love poems in secret. 

One weekend I came home, to my mom, who was inebriated as usual. I can’t remember now what precipitated my emotional state specifically, but I asked my mom in a hushed fervor, how I could tell if I was in love. My moth was immediately on high alert, wanting to know who I thought I was in love with. I was to nervous and embarrassed about the potential for being wrong about my feelings to answer. After many shouted demands in a shrill panicky voice she pounced on me, pulling my hair and wrestling me into the living room. She screamed, “Is it A?” 

 I was so shocked and surprised all I could do was whisper, “how did you know???” I must have been talking about her a lot.  

 Once she calmed down, she told me that it likely wasn’t real love, both practical advice for a teen with their first crush and advice heavy with homophobia. For years after that she referred to my queerness as a phase and outed me to both my father and step father in ways that had multiple negative impacts for me. 
The first people I likely came out to as trans was an online parenting group I was a part of. They were as accepting as they could be. 

When I told my then husband he paced the living room anxiously. 

 “But you aren’t gonna get the surgery are you?” he asked, more or less. 

People were often superficially more accepting of my being trans, than my being queer…however that was actually because people categorically didn’t understand 95% of the time. 

 “you’re just you honey, you’ve always been a tomboy” they would say laughing in a conspiratorial and dismissive manner. 

As trans narratives have become more mainstream, people understand a little more, though their understanding is still limited and problematic.  Still they are therefore much more disgusted, awkward, anxious, or offended then they used to be. 

 Today, as a transmasculine enby who doesn’t fit the stereotyped queer aesthetic… who isn’t young or thin, who is unable to bind, who’s disabled body is no longer able to communicate in carriage and gate, my inherent queerness…who can’t stand the sensory input of button up shirts and can’t afford an elaborate wardrobe, who has children in arms, I am forced to “come out” constantly. 

The dominant colonized, white, queer narrative doesn’t allow for my existence, for the existence of people like me and so here I sit, shouting it from the roof tops at all times.*

I am here. I am Queer. I exist Dammit. 

I’m also pretty fucking tired, but being complicit in my own misgendering and erasure (and the misgendring/erasure of my peers, friends, and chosen family) is no longer an option. So on I plod. 

*it is worth noting that this silence and erasure  is even more violent and oppressive for IBPoC who are othered by the very nature of not being white, while inheriting a generational murder and appropriation of their own indigenous cultural sexual and gender identities 


Leaning Acewise

#30daysofpride day 5, who was your first celebrity crush? 

I’ve never really had celebrity crushes in the same way other people do, but it has taken nearly forty years to figure that out for a convoluted set of reasons. 

I do develop aesthetic crushes on certain people, strangers or celebrities. But that is where that ends. I don’t imagine having sex with them or even having long emotionally fulfilling relationships. I feel like some people are pleasing to look upon, and I like that just fine. done. yay. where are the cookies? 

As a child I spent hours looking at the posters of boys I had default chosen for my walls, tracing their long eye lashes and full pouty mouths, trying to figure out if I was actually attracted to them…why they made my stomach slightly unsettled, why I didn’t think about kissing them or marrying them like my peers did. But there was something… 

when I was young I always chose the pretty bad boys of that era for my public crushes, Johnny Depp, Richard Greico, Judd Nelson, and Corey Feldman…as well as semi secret fascination with women like Vasquez from Aliens, martina Navratilova, kd lang, etc…women who didn’t have long hair, or seemed less flowery to me. I wasn’t sure what it was about short haired assertive women exactly but I was fascinated, magnetically drawn. It would take another fifteen years for me, while semi obsessively watching Merlin, Veronica Mars, Smallville, and Doctor Who, to realize that those “crushes” were because I felt some connection to those people in regards to their gender presentation or personality. 

These days I can tell the difference between an Aesthetic crush and an oh my gosh, that person is so much like me why couldn’t I have just been born a little more like them, fascination…occasionally a person might fit in both categories, but that is pretty exceptionally rare. 

Aesthetic crush examples:

Agent May from Agents of Shield

Ronan Dex from Stargate Atlantis

Amanita Caplan from Sense8 

Maggie Sawyer from Supergirl

Zoe Washburn from Firefly/Serenity

Yo-Yo Rodriguez from Agents of Shield

Damon from Vampire Diaries

My aesthetic crushes tend towards tough, self confident, assertive women. 
My current Wishful thinking fascinations:

Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beast

Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One

Hernando Fuentes from Sense8

It’s rare that I find characters I relate to in that way anymore, as I have aged and matured I find I relate less to any characters at all. Characters I have related to since I recognized I was transmasculine included Lex Luthor in Smallville, Spike from Buffy the Vampire slayer,  Merlin from the BBC show Merlin, and Freddy from the third and fourth season of Skins. 
I think the only “person” who currently inhabits both lists is Dean Winchester…I still haven’t quite outgrown him though I think that is happening to a deg as well. 

Most of the time these fascinations or “crushes” don’t translate to the actor or actress as well because I don’t “know” them. The exceptions to that tend to be musicians because of the false sense of emotional intimacy. 

Also strong singing voice will give me at least a temporary “crush” on just about anyone. But that is actually a stim related situation. 

So who was my first celebrity crush? I guess it depends on how you qualify such things but Punky Brewster and Rainbow Brite might loosely qualify. 

I seem to have a lot to say on each question, since I will be writing a lot regardless, I decided to go ahead and put this on my blog rather than Facebook. 

1. Share your name, age, and how you identify. Share a picture of yourself that you love.

I’m Salem or Selissa, I’m 39, I’m a bi/multisexual/queer, transmasculine enby. I also identity as greyromantic/nebularomantic, and demisexual

2. How old were you when you first knew you were LGBTQ+?
im not sure how to even explain that, I remember at five or six understanding that I wanted and needed different things out of my friendships with girls than they wanted or needed from me, feeling nebulously misaligned with the universe from about four. But was that because of my burgeoning queer identity or because I was autistic? both? I have no way to know for certain, still my sense of difference started at a very young age. I remember at five or six asking my mother why I hadn’t shown my boyness yet, which I would need if I were to grow up and be a daddy and father. I remember my mom telling me i couldn’t grow up and become a husband/daddy because I was a girl, and being devastated. The whole universe loomed unwelcoming over me, how could this be true? How could I be stuck in this girl form? It was a mistake surely. Still, I had no reason to disbelieve my mother, whom I believed to hold all the worldly wisdom possible. Though it made me sad and confused, I resigned myself to this accidental girlhood. 

By my teens I knew i was sure i wasnt straight but was confused about the details, I resonated most with the butch lesbians, was drawn to butch identity but didn’t mind guys so much. I wasn’t attracted to them particularly but wasn’t sure that my feelings were strong enough to qualify as being a lesbian. I spent the next decade struggling with the imbalance of my gender identity and sexuality without language to separate the two. 

I didn’t realize I was actually transgender until  I was 27 and pregnant with my second child, up until recently I hadn’t realized it was a possibility…i sincerely believed I was doomed to being a girl failure forever. Pregnancy exaserbated my dysphoria, though I didn’t know that word at the time, so when an innocuous conversation turned to gender roles and women, a bell rang in my head. That fog that had descended so many years ago cleared away. 

I was not a woman. 

It would still take me another 5 or 6 years and a shift in cultural gender language to figure out the details of what that meant for me specifically.
3. Are you out? How did you come out? Was it a positive or negative experience?

In my personal experience, there is no such thing as a yes or no closet, there is a revolving door of constant education. Yes I talk openly about my sexuality and gender identity, to all the people in my life. 
because I am unable to bind or pass due to health and financial limitations, my gender identity is often taken less than seriously, or not recognized at all, even within the local queer community. That means my sexuality is often not taken seriously either, as a transmasculine queer partnered to a cis queer man, I am made invisible. I am perpetually coming out. 

4.who is the first person you ever had a crush on? 

This is another complicated question for me to answer. As a demisexual who was years away from that language being invented or reinvented in colonized white america, I didn’t develop crushes on celebrities. I remember being told I had to choose an actor to crush on, or people would think I was weird. I chose Corey Feldman, practicing the list of traits I was supposed to be attracted to in my head. 

I was drawn to more masculine coded women and feminine coded men in media. Having nothing to compare it to, I interpreted it as the sort of crushes I was supposed to be having, though in truth it was more that I identified with them. Wistfully dreaming of being a person who was like them. 

The first possible crushes I had were on my friends, who were mostly girls due to the highly gendered nature of how americans raise their children. 

I remember Kira who was the girl next door, with big blue eyes and all the demure grace I lacked…she was the first probably.

As I got older, my attractions only got more confusing to me, I didn’t seem to fit properly into any category…I loved my friends to much and barely noticed strangers other than as sources of anxiety. 

More confusion came as my attractions seemed to change, ebb and flow, from no one to everyone, and most aligned with my own gender Identity….even before I realized gender Identity was a thing. Since my understanding of my gender changed, it inevitably shifted the focus of the people I was most attracted to. 

I can’t even begin to make a list of traits I am attracted to in my fellow human beings, it is a broad swath, as deep as the ocean. 

Actually Autistic Mourning 

Or, Myself and My Relationship to Socially Mandated Performative Mourning. 

Today I was going to write about how gender identity and gender presentation differ, and also how they impact my life. It is an important discussion to have, but I not sure if i can handle it today. personal life stuff is happening, and i feel old emotional overwhelm washing over me. 
So instead i want to talk about mourning as an autistic person…or rather how I mourn as an Autistic Person. There is a public perception that Autistic people never have empathy or lack a theory of mind. For myself I find find both of these things untrue, I have plenty of all the various forms of empathy people try to break it down into, I have a complex and thorough theory of mind. Which is not to say we all do, or that the way that I am is in some way more valid. All the ways that we are different and autistic are all equally valid. 

What I personally don’t have is a social bullshit language dictionary, I never see or am able to notice what people want me to take away from a conversation. What I see is how they feel, broadcast bigger than life via body language and facial expressions. This is why I personally am uncomfortable with eye contact from strangers. It is to much information that they most likely do not want me to have…and I can’t tell which parts are the off limits parts. 

This also means that in certain common social situations, I never got the correct social programming of acceptable responses. 

I have never felt I feel sad enough when people die. What I feel when people die is a hollow place, the place where their potential ceased to exist…and that is sad…for me. They are, as far as I am able to understand it, either in their afterlife or just not existing anymore. So I am not sad for them, nothing or exactly where they believed they should be doesn’t seem sad to me personally. I may be sad for me, but it feels selfish to really wallow in that. I am often sad for the people who knew, loved, and lost that person. If I were to take their pain and make it about me so that I may be seen to participate in the mourning, be included in the loss….or to communicate what a good person I am seems harmful, performative, and frankly selfish. Instead I try to productively offer support to those more actively mourning, for them I truly hurt.

It can take months or maybe even years for that empty feeling, that cessation of potential to resolve into a concrete sense of loss. For me to miss that person in a concrete manner, to miss their voice, the way they smelled, all the big and small ways of them. 

I also seem to mourn people as they are leaving my life, before their life ends, whether it be illness, life choices, or life circumstances. I often mourn my loss of a person’s physical presence, as they are slipping out the back door of my life…usually long before their lives end. This seems to leave me, with less specific loss trauma when their lives do end. 

When celebrities die, this feeling of inadequacy is at it’s peak. I have no script for public mourning. I don’t know how to do it “correctly” and I don’t really grok why I should have to do it at all. The sadness of others, if sincere, is of course sad to me, suffering is sad no matter the reason…mostly. But I don’t know how to display the socially acceptable level of sadness for a person who was never in my life…who has no snipped thread of potential in my personal tapestry. Their cessation, is still sad, their unfulfilled potential, the hearts breaking on their behalf. I hurt for those hurting, but it rarely expresses in overt displays as our culture seems to expect. 

So I am at a loss, am i perhaps lacking in expressive empathy? perhaps I am just an asshole. I’m willing to accept that as a real potential possibility. 

Today this is all I really have. 

Composition

my body is made of rusted iron and heavy shattered rocks. 

my right ankle is a half rotten turnip

my skin throbs

my muscles moan like elder trees in the wind 

fooshfooshfoosh

ahhhhoooooooooooooo

my head curls in on itself
a half realized defensive posture. 

i dont have the energy to cry

cold, dry, despair rolls down my cheeks

whispering its sweet sweet nothings 

desperation reframed 

for more empathetic consumption

innocuous smile and always gracious 

appreciative

inspirational

the yard stick my dignity is measured by 

right to thrive hammered out in meandering prose and brief spurts of productivity 

whatever that means

im to tired to even guess 

Allowing Myself to Flourish

Recently I bought myself a pronoun bracelet.* 

I dithered over the decision for weeks. Could we afford something so “frivolous”? Was I being selfish? What if I spent the money and then found the sensory experience off putting? Or I just didn’t end up wearing it to often?

Still I couldn’t stop looking as my dysphoria was creeping back into the edges of my life and whispering, always whispering painful things in my ear, until the weight of my sadness started crushing me. 

I have social dysphoria mostly with a smattering of physical dysphoria thrown in for good measure. I have developed a tenuous truce with my body over the years. It is lumpy, bumpy, and not congruent with my self. It is sick perpetually, weak, tired. I feel these things in my bones but it has also grown and fed four magical children, for this I am eternally thankful. 

Still the inability to bind due to my health combined with having small in arms children often means I get immediately socially coded as a woman even among close friends and family which causes me a deep and permeating despair. A despair so deep that when I do get inevitably misgendered by a loved one often all I can do is cringe internally. 

My hope is that with the bracelet I can simply point at it to remind people rather than trying and failing to navigate spoken language in that moment of high emotion. Even if that doesn’t always work, making my identity more visible, when generally I am invisible, gives me strength and peace. 

So finally I found this simple and perfect solution. It was six bucks with shipping, which was a price I could afford even with my heavy spending anxiety. I chose both pronouns and the colors. It isn’t fancy, and it probably is a bit to delicate for how rough I tend to be on jewelry but I love it. It allows me to feel more authentic and in charge of myself when illness and disability often takes away my sense of personal agency. I may not be able to many of the things I want to do, but I can do this.

 I can be me. 

I am me no matter what.

And now I have a way to remind you too even when the words twist up and hide behind my toungue. 

* I got the bracelet here. They sell Queer Pride, Autistic Pride, and Spoonie/Disabled Pride jewelery. I want so many more things from them.