Hello long-lost friends! I’m sorry for abandoning you this summer and hope that you’ll forgive me. This summer was filled with many exciting firsts: first time teaching my own course, first time going to camp, and — perhaps a little less exciting but definitely an experience — my first time using Tinder! I’ll be sharing my experiences with all three either today or in the next week. The other super exciting thing that happened this summer is that Floral Manifesto got a new look. Not that there was anything wrong with her before — but when a friend knocks on your door and says “hey, I love your blog and would love to redesign it — FOR FREE — turning into the blog of your dreams” you can’t say no. I hope that you’re as in love with the new look as I am. Mega thanks to Christopher Elkin for understanding my teen-girl-meets-grandma-aesthetic and nailing the design! And to Scott Campbell for working behind the scenes to make this all happen (and for patiently answering a whole slew of questions that demonstrate how I know nothing about computers, technology, and the internet).
As you’re poking around, you’ll not only notice some aesthetic changes, but some content changes as well: take a look at my Reading List page for my Top Favourite Books of Now and Forever. But the thing that I’m the most excited for is the BOSS LADIES PAGE! This page serves as a directory to so many amazing ladies who are their own bosses (in some way, shape, or form) and whose politics infuse the work that they do. So if you’re looking for awesome feminist events to attend or wanna buy a cute gift for a friend, or need some help sorting your life out, or wanna find a dope event planner — look no further. You’ll find some of my favourite feminist boss ladies and links to the work that they do in the world. Each month I’ll interview a Boss Lady so that you can learn even more about her/them and the work that she/they do in the world. This page is currently a work in progress as I work to add more and more ladies to the directory. If you are a Boss Lady or know one, please contact me @ margeaux[at]floralmanifesto[dot]com.
For my inaugural welcome back to blogging post, I want to tell you about my queer summer. It was the best. But it was also challenging. I had to confront a narrative that has made me feel like I can’t call myself queer. This narrative is similar to the imposter syndrome that academics feel, but it looks like “I haven’t been in enough queer relationships or done enough queer things to call myself queer.”
What I love about the word queer is the way that it captures the fluidity of gender and sexuality; the ways in which it refuses to be pinned down.
For those who may not know the history of this words, here’s a super simplified history lesson:
The term was first used in the 16th century but its origins are unknown: the etymology can be traced back to both Old German and Middle Irish. Linguist Robin Brontsema explains how “[q]ueer’s original significations did not denote non-normative sexualities, but rather a general non-normativity separable from sexuality.” The shift from queer in the first two senses of the OED definitions – a strange person or object – to the last – that of denoting homosexuality – occurred in the 20th century.
The word queer began to be reclaimed with the Stonewall Riots in 1969. An anonymous manifesto, distributed as a leaflet at the New York City pride march in 1990, the same year that Queer Nation formed, notes how “queer can be a rough word but it is also a sly and ironic weapon.” Queer theorists Michael Warner describes the term “queer” as a rallying cry against “the regimes of the normal” (Warner 1993: xxvi). Activists felt that the words “gay” or “lesbian” were exclusionary, that they restricted the limits of gender and sexuality. And I think that I totally felt this when I was first coming to define my own sexuality. As someone who’s been with men and women, I would technically fall into the category of “bisexual” — but I always felt uncomfortable with having something that I felt to be so fluid pinned down by a term.
It wasn’t until the word “queer” became a more common umbrella term and/or substitute for the different LGBT identity categories that I began to feel more comfortable identifying my sexuality as non-normative. Instead of “gay” or “lesbian,” the word queer, argues linguistic Robin Brontsema, “welcomed a multiplicity of sexualities and genders” and suggested “a radical, confrontational challenge” to normalcy, rather than a drive toward it (Brontsema 4).
The history of the word queer that I just laid out was something that I taught my students in the introductory lecture to the Queer Writing course I taught this summer. And yet, despite deeply identifying with this word, I felt stuck when it came to claiming it. I was getting caught up in my queer imposture syndrome which told me the following:
- It doesn’t matter that the first person I ever fooled around with was a girl or that as an adolescent girl the only porn I liked to watch was sans penis…because so many straight girls experiment with their girlfriends.
- It doesn’t matter that I’ve dated many women…because that was back when I was 18 and 19 and since then all of my relationships have been with men.
- It doesn’t matter that my research is super queer and that my pedagogy is super queer…because that’s just academics.
- It doesn’t matter that I prefer to go to queer dance parties and queer events and queer plays…because the people that occupy these spaces share my politics and so of course I feel more comfortable/have more fun there.
- It doesn’t matter that I spent my undergrad volunteering at my university’s queer student organization and that this was the one place on campus that I felt like I could explore my sexuality…because…well…I don’t know.
None of this matters because everyone else is living a much queerer life than me. It’s as though there was some invisible queer checklist and you needed to have X number of boxes checked in order to claim that you were queer. And I simply didn’t have enough boxes checked. Why oh why did I feel this was the case? The only reason I can think of involves going back at least 3 years. I was out for drinks with some pals: all of whom are queer. We were talking about the first queer dance party we went to and I was telling them about my first queer pub night in my first year of university. One of my friends said, “But you’re not queer.” I was taken aback. Her statement felt like an erasure. And given that I was there having crushy feelings for our gender-queer friend, who also apparently had crushy feelings for me, I felt like there was no way that this gender-queer friend was gonna have crushy feelings for me anymore.
I talked with my friend about her comment the next day and she apologized. But somehow I’ve felt like I’ve never been queer enough for her — and because I’m not queer enough for her, I’m not queer enough period. It wasn’t until this summer that I had to confront just how much I’d internalized her comment.
So why this summer of all the summers? Well this summer I secured my first course instructor position teaching “Queer Writing.” For 14 weeks, I got to walking into a classroom filled with queer students and queer allies and introduce them to some of my most favourite queer texts, films, and theories. I was living the dream. I realized that my students probably assumed that I was queer. And that realization — whether it was true or not — felt AMAZING! At the end of the summer, I asked my students to bring in their favourite quotation from the class for a final activity. I wanted something to remember the class by, something tangible. So I went to the Dollarstore, bought some art supplies, and had my students create this piece to add to our queer archive:
Teaching this course was the first step in tackling my inner “you’re not queer enough narrative.” The next step was recognizing that, while I’ve been lucky to date some super awesome cis straight feminist dudes, who were definitely queer allies, I realized that I kinda wanted to be with someone who was…well…queer. Thanks to the powers of the Internet and online dating, I met a super amazing gender-queer/gender non-conforming person, who I’ve been dating for 2 months. They are awesome. It’s the most magical.
And then another magical thing happened that helped me get rid of this narrative that “you’re not queer enough”: I went to Queer Camp. That’s right. I said QUEER CAMP! I never went to camp as a child. Despite feeling like I never really had the desire to spend a week or weeks away from my family with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, who might be mean to me because kids can be mean, I’ve grown up with a serious case of FOMO. Was something missing from my childhood/adolescent experience? I would never know.
When I received an email from the Sexual Diversity Studies collaborative program that I’m a part of, advertising a weekend retreat called Queer Camp, I applied IMMEDIATELY! This was a weekend away, at farm, with a bunch of other queers, where we would read and talk about queer theory!!! When I received the email telling me that I’d been accepted, I may have made a squealing noise. So two weekends ago, I packed a sleeping bag, my theory books, and headed to the giant yellow school bus that would drive us all to Queer Camp.
But I almost didn’t go. My anxiety has returned with a vengeance this summer (stayed tuned for a forthcoming post tentatively titled “Everything in my life is amazing and I’m more anxious than ever”). After returning from my solo vacation to NYC post-teaching, I started to worry that people wouldn’t like me, that’d I’d feel super awkward and anxious and it would be the worst time ever. Luckily, that super awesome human that I’m dating gently encouraged me to stick with the plan. So as I sat on the bus and received my Queer Camp swag (pictured below) I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude.
Reader, Queer Camp was the most magical time ever. I swam in the most magical pond, had an intimate karaoke (or “queeraoke” as our queer camp organizer called it) session in the evening, hung out around a bonfire, ate amazing food, and got to talk about my favourite thing ever: Queer Theory! I came back from the weekend feeling an overwhelming amount of joy. I’d found my academic queer community. And I returned to Toronto feeling pretty darn queer.
Figuring out and forming our own identity/identities is, well, probably one of the most challenging things that we do as humans in the world. This is made all the more difficult in a neoliberal capitalist world that measures one’s worth (and one’s identity) in checkmarks, boxes, and hierarchies. And the fact that so many believe that we are living in a post-racial, post-queer, post-feminist, post-identity, post-everything world doesn’t help either.
Perhaps I may never fully own my queerness, and maybe that’s crucial. In her essay “Critically Queer,” Judith Butler contends that: “If the term ‘queer’ is to be a site of collective contestation, the point of departure for a set of historical reflections and futural imaginings, it will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes, and perhaps also yielded in favor of terms that do political work more effectively” (19).
Another of my favourite queer scholars, José Muñoz talks about how queerness is not yet here because queerness belongs to the future.
For Muñoz, “Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.” Muñoz acknowledges the polemical nature of such a claim that “what we will really know as queerness, does not yet exist.” But he explains why such an understanding of queerness is necessary: “I suggest that holding queerness in a sort of ontologically humble state, under a conceptual grid in which we do not claim to always already know queerness in the world, potentially staves off the ossifying effects of the neoliberal ideology and degradation of politics brought about by representations of queerness in contemporary popular culture.”
If we believe that queerness is something that we long for but is not yet here, then that longing, according to Muñoz, is what “propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing […] Queerness is essentially about the rejection of the here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.”
I find Muñoz’s articulation of queerness so moving. So much so that when I ended my Queer Writing course with the introduction to Cruising Utopia, I couldn’t stop myself from making guttural noises after each quotation. While I think that it’s super important to feel comfortable claiming whatever identity categories you feel describe the person that you are in the world — a gesture that brings queerness into the here and now — I also love the idea that my queerness doesn’t need to be fully known, that my queerness is potentiality, that queerness represents not just my present desires, but my future hopes and longings.
This post was written by Margeaux