One of the first thing I remember hearing when I came out as bisexual was “but bisexuality isn’t real”. I didn’t realise it at the time but this statement, fresh out of the mouth of a naive, pimpled 14-year old school friend, was a deeply foreshadowing moment. Since then I have lost count of the number of time’s I’ve mentioned my sexuality (in both straight and queer spaces) and been greeted with 99 questions revolving around “Just how queer are you then? If you had to put a percentage on it? Well, how many same-sex partners have you had? Are you in a ‘straight’ relationship right now?”.
And since coming out as non binary? Oh boy, that’s a whole other essay waiting to happen. What I will say is that I’ve observed, with growing despair, a minority of white, celebrity trans women using their position of privilege to actively advocate for the erasure, discrimination and exclusion of non-binary genders. We are literally being told by other trans people that our identity is “made up” because it doesn’t fit into the strict gender binary structures enforced by society or, and even worse in my opinion, that non binary and gender fluid identities are actually doing a disservice to trans rights because they are just “too complicated” and are muddying the water.
My story isn’t unique. The issue of ‘not queer enough’ is one which faces so many in our community, and we’re the ones doing it. Ask any trans woman, and she’ll tell you about being barred from a female-only space for “not being a real woman”. Chat to an asexual who has felt alienated thanks to our overemphasis on sexdrive as a passport stamp to queerdom.
Gatekeeping and point-scoring within the queer community is, at best, an absurdity which demonstrates such a staggering lack of self awareness that it would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. At worst, it prevents vulnerable people from accessing much-needed, and sometime life-saving, support. For those among us who have, comparatively speaking, reached a general level of societal acceptance that allows them to live their day-to-day lives free from fear to then kick away the ladder from those still struggling to find their footing is hurtful, harmful, and discriminatory behaviour. It’s shortsighted and selfish, and it needs to stop.
There is no group of wizened queer elders who have the final say on who is and who isn’t queer enough to be part of our community. No LGBTQ+ person should have to pass a test to enjoy the level of solidarity afforded to other, ‘acceptable’ queers.
As Kelsie Brynn Jones so astutely phrased it when writing ‘Outside the Binary: Where Gender, Race and Privilege Collide’, no gay man is too feminine, too masculine, too gay, or not gay enough. No lesbian is ever too butch, too femme, too lesbian, or not butch, femme, or lesbian enough. Just as no trans is too trans or not trans enough, no one is too black, too asian, too latin, too native, or not black, asian, latin, or native enough to have their gender acknowledged, respected, and celebrated.
The problem is deeply entrenched within the psyche of our community, and it’s going to take a concerted, pro-active effort to tackle it. It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be profound. To appropriate a well-known adage from the glorious Audre Lorde, we are not free while any queer is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from our own.
[This article was originally published in DIVA’s January 2018 issue. Read my latest column in DIVA, on sale now at divadigital.co.uk]