What does queerness look like? Can straight people have gaydar? What does it even mean for you to code yourself as queer?
These are questions that I’ve been asked and pondering the past few weeks, and this is my attempt to parse through them. Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert; I am just another queer woman and this is my take.
Throughout my time here at Macalester, I have met more LGBTQ indentifying people than I think I’d ever met before. Compared to the few queer kids in my high school, Mac’s LGBTQ community is thriving and diverse. Because our community is filled with so many different kinds of people, I have met folks who present their sexualities and gender—who queer-code, if you will—in all kinds of ways. I’ve met lesbians who have cut their hair short and wear men’s clothing; nonbinary folks who embrace androgyny; and bisexual men who prefer to paint their nails, wear makeup and rock skirts. On the other hand, I’ve met queer women who preferred to be dolled up, nonbinary folks who lean more towards masculinity and gay men who are athletes and as traditionally masculine as any straight peer. Some people embrace stereotypes, others reject them and others sit somewhere happily in the middle. I give all of these examples to say this: queerness manifests itself in all kinds of ways, none of which are good or bad; they just are. Femininity, masculinity and androgyny belong to no one of any gender or sexuality, and the idea that someone can be visibly queer without outwardly saying “I am gay/bi/queer/etc” is based in stereotypes, heteronormativity and cisnormativity.
So what does this mean for us? What does this mean for those of us who intentionally try to code ourselves as queer? And what does this mean for folks—straight and LGBTQ alike—who claim that they can tell when someone isn’t cishet (cisgender and heterosexual)? Well, here’s what I think…
For those of us who want to intentionally code ourselves as queer, I say: keep doing what you’re doing! Wear whatever makes you comfortable, whatever makes you feel as queer as you want to feel, and rock it. Since I came out my sophomore year of high school, I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how I wanted to express myself and how I could let other people in my community know I was queer without having to expressly say it. I shopped in the men’s sections of stores for a while—PacSun’s tank tops became my favorite items of clothing. After realizing I didn’t like men’s jeans, I moved back towards femininity. During college I got an undercut, pierced my nose, stopped wearing makeup, stopped shaving, cut ten inches of hair off, decided to grow out the undercut, got three tattoos, and gave up on ever wearing heels again. Who knows where my expression is going to go next. I often wonder (read: worry) how people read me, and whether or not I look “queer enough” to be seen by my LGBTQ peers. At the same time, I wonder how straight people might be stereotyping me and what risk this might put me in, especially when I walk off Mac’s campus. Queer-coding is complicated; it can be both intentional and unintentional, but it is always meaningful and always important that the individual is expressing themselves in the way that makes them most comfortable.
“Femininity, masculinity and androgyny belong to no one of any gender or sexuality, and the idea that someone can be visibly queer without outwardly saying “I am gay/bi/queer/etc”is based in stereotypes, heteronormativity and cisnormativity.”
When it comes to the question of gaydar, I believe that as a queer person, because you hold the identity of “not cishet,” you can sometimes correctly read other people’s personal queer-coding. It’s often meant for you! When it comes to making community, sometimes queer-coding helps signal to one another that we have something in common—that we can create community with one another if we so wish. On the other hand – and please excuse my bluntness here – I am tired of hearing “what good gaydar” some straight/cishet people believe that they have. When I hear a straight person talk about their accurate gaydar, I hear someone bragging about their reliance on stereotypes. Because you have no investment in building community with queer folks—on that axis, at least—I just see this as bragging about your ability to identify people of a minoritized group. Please stop! We don’t care what your record is; we don’t care how accurate you’ve been in the past—it does not matter to us. It’s incredibly important that you don’t assume people’s sexualities and let people come out to you on their own terms. If you genuinely believe you have gaydar as a cishet person, keep it to yourself.
Questions? Comments? Qualms? Disagree with me about part or all of this? Email me and let’s chat!