PoMoSexual Pioneer

Exploring the limitations of queer identity politics

| September/October 1998

Gender Section:

The Gender Blur
Where does biology end and society take over?

Drag Net
From glen to glenda and back again...is it possible?

Indefinable Heroes
The ancient art of gender-bending

This time the revolution will be absolutely fabulous!

Excerpt: The GLAM Manifesto

PoMosexual Pioneer
What good is theory when you're not getting laid?

Gender Aptitude Test
Just WHO do you think you are?

I don't look like a lesbian. Maybe this statement is politically incorrect, but it's honest. It seems to me that the more emphasis queer theory and politics place on the endless multiplicity of sexual personae, and the more postmodernists dissect what exactly a gay man, lesbian, or bisexual "is," the easier it gets to describe what one looks like. At least in New York City, where I live, there is a clearly defined gay community with very explicit ways to declare that you are included or excluded.

In college I called them the "short-hair fascists." I just don't look good with short hair, and from the age of 6, I rebelled against my crunchy feminist mom by preferring frilly dresses and Mary Janes to cords and sensible shoes. (I've since come around to cords, but I bought my last pair of shoes solely to match my nails.) I know that queer theorists insist that you can't have the "butch" without the "femme." But the fact remains that if I try to make flirtatious eye contact with a butch woman on the street, she looks right through me—or worse, averts her eyes with a pained look that says "Why is that straight girl staring at me?"

Many people I know count queerness as a definitive part of their identity. For those who grew up in heterosexual families, coming out must have been a declaration of having found themselves, of discovering their true identity. Queerness didn't play such a role in my development, because I grew up with a lesbian mom. In my hometown, Quincy, Massachusetts, a predominantly Irish Catholic suburb of Boston, homophobia was rampant, and my mother's complete openness about her sexuality often made me uncomfortable. It took a while for me to feel OK about the fact that I didn't have a "normal" family: In high school, my form of rebellion was sleeping with boys and being as reactionary as I possibly could. For me, being different from my mother meant being antifeminist.

But I gradually came to terms with my mom's (and my own) sexuality, aided in part by my decision to go to college in New York City, a decidedly more "progressive" environment than Quincy. By my senior year, I was a born-again lesbian feminist and adopted "girl power girl love = revolution" as my mantra. The idea of existing within a tight-knit lesbian community made sense to me; it was a source of support, a framework within which to organize my identity. The first time I fooled around with a girl, we joked to each other that we could now go out and get our membership cards.

But after I graduated into the "real world" and got a publishing job that took up most of my time and energy, I realized that it wasn't possible to be visually perceived as a lesbian unless I adopted a butch look that didn't in any way reflect who I really am. To "fit in" with a lesbian community, I'd also have to organize my social life around meeting and dating lesbians. Off campus, it simply wasn't that easy to let my life revolve around sexuality in that way. I don't have the time, energy, or money to go to bars—gay or straight—all the time; nor do I envision myself finding a meaningful relationship in one.

It's true that going out to bars is not the only queer lifestyle available to me in New York, though it sometimes seems that way. I've considered becoming more involved in politics, but beyond the occasional pride march, political rallies aren't really my scene. Maybe it's because of all the demonstrations my mom dragged me to as a kid. I'm just not the activist type, so involving myself in politics feels like a forced way to meet people and integrate a queer identity into my life.

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