Stop calling me queer: On language in the LGBT community

Charlie Mangas

I came to Macalester in 2014 after 18 years in the deepest corners of the closet. I had recently graduated from a school at which we had to get permission slips signed to so much as acknowledge the existence of gay people in class, and where the closest thing to LGBT culture was Glee. Walking through Macalester’s campus in flannel, Dr. Martens and rainbow buttons was heaven compared to this prison of my high school-sized closet. Macalester was a different world. It was a safe world; it was a fresh start for me. I quickly decided that my days of hating myself and being hated for liking women were over.

Except, I quickly learned, they weren’t. This place that I had chosen to make my home based largely on its status as one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the country was, and still is, as hostile to same-gender attracted and trans people as every other place in which I’ve ever despised myself. The first red flag came within five minutes of the Lavender Reception, an event during orientation for new and old LGBT students, when I found myself being welcomed as one of the “newest members of Mac’s queer community.”

I dismissed the pit, which immediately materialized in my stomach at having a slur that I had learned to fear the same way that I feared the physical violence I associate with it, as culture shock that I would get over. I reasoned that I just wasn’t used to being in a place so progressive that mass and individual reclamation were not only acceptable, but expected. Disliking the word was, it seemed, regressive and a remnant from my old world — my high school world that I was trying so hard to leave behind — so I pushed through my discomfort and adopted the word for myself.

It didn’t stop there, though. In my over-eager exploration of Queer Union, gender and sexuality-based identity collectives, the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center and other spaces geared toward LGBT (or, rather, queer) folk, I quickly picked up on the views that I would have to adopt if I wanted any part in these communities. First of all, hating gay people is okay as long as you’re clever enough with the language you use to express that hatred. It’s perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to yell about how you hate “monosexual queers” (i.e., people attracted exclusively to their own gender). Lesbians, gay men and other exclusively same-gender attracted people who protest this or try to bring any attention to the issues that we face precisely because we are not attracted to other genders are deemed simply ignorant of their “mono-privilege” and condemned. The idea that lesbians or gay men hold any privileges on account of their sexualities is an absurd contradiction of the material reality that is the daily violence we (and all LGBT people) face.

Similarly, people believe that wanting to have sex with others of your own gender somehow gives you structural societal power on par with that of straight “allosexuals.” Not a single thought is given to how we “allogays” face violence that, again, stems specifically from our sexual behavior and desires — do the AIDS epidemic or violent male entitlement to the sex that women have with each other ring a bell with anyone on this campus? Does nobody recognise that gay people’s “PDA,” sex and affection is condemned everywhere, and that it isn’t “progressive” or “inclusive” to condemn it in LGBT spaces too?

The list of offenses against LGBT people on this campus within our supposed “safe spaces” goes on. We talk about not policing other people’s identities while non-consensually calling lesbians “queer women” or “homosexual homoromantics” (again proving ignorant of the violent, medicalized history of the h-word). Concepts like “binary privilege” and “horizontal oppression” that come from gross misunderstandings of intersectionality fill our discussions without even brief mentions of Kimberlé Crenshaw or any of the other black feminist theorists who have laid the groundwork for much of our modern discourse. Kinkshaming is considered a more serious offense than the tone-policing of working class LGBT people and LGBT people of color that takes place all over campus. We pride ourselves on making our spaces trans-“friendly” without discussing the ways in which these spaces and campus as a whole are unwelcoming to trans women.

Above all, we talk about the importance of creating “safe but brave” spaces while punishing those who publicly disagree with popular opinion. Vocalizing my discomfort with the unquestioned use of the slur “queer” as an umbrella term on campus led to me receiving anonymous hate and losing friends.

Macalester, you’ve let me and so many of my LGBT siblings down. A lot of us came here looking for a place where we could safely exist openly for the first time in our lives, and instead you’ve given us more rejection and fear, from the very people who are supposed to be our family. This place is not LGBT-friendly, and we need to stop pretending that any of the stuff I mentioned above is radical rather than just a new spin on the same old homophobia and transphobia that’s been killing us since the beginning of time. We have to shape up, or we are going to continue hurting people who come here seeking refuge.