Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The sanctity of queer spaces, or, how many lesbians does it take to neutralize straight privilege?

The recent piece I had in xojane turned out to be a huge learning experience for me. The commenters online were split positive and negative (maybe not evenly, I tend to remember the negative comments a bit better). I had to stop myself from trying to respond to all the comments because I do feel really invested in being understood on the issue. And I don’t like to think I had offended anyone. I had taken the precaution of sending the piece to the friends in question, and their feedback was really kind.
Far from being angry or feeling betrayed in any way, two of them actually pre-emptively apologized for their role in any unpleasant feelings on my end. I told them both the same thing, the piece I had submitted was a bit lighter in tone than what got published. The message and meaning weren’t changed in any way (the editor there is amazing, and an amazing writer), but there was a subtle difference. There were more details about context but also the ending was quite different, I confessed my desire to be a ‘Golden Girl’ (not a euphemism, I’m referring to Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia), and kind of said, if that’s gay, so be it. Regardless, these two friends both expressed that they didn’t mean to disrespect my sexuality but rather to express their acceptance of me.
I do think that in our culture, any affinity or preference for things labelled ‘feminist’ or womanist are often coded gay. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be an inconvenient or annoying thing.
Yet another friend reflected that living in Toronto is such a unique experience in terms of ‘gay acceptance’ that we really can’t put ourselves into another context adequately. Meaning that the comments the article got regarding ‘queer spaces’ were largely not applicable to this circumstance.
But it did get me thinking a lot about queer spaces. In one comment a woman said that queer spaces may not be obvious, and mentioned hanging out with 3 dykes in someone’s home. It did make me think of a really well attended craft night I had last year where about 20 women showed up, at least a third of them were gay. But it kind of begs the question of how a queer space would evolve organically, and how a straight woman is supposed to navigate that space. Are we advocating segregation? How many queer people are needed to drive out one straight person? It just seems a bit ludicrous.
There was a really good article in the latest Bitch magazine **** about queer spaces. The point was made that the sanctity of the spaces needs to be preserved so that queer people have safe spaces to go to. Which I agree with completely. Everyone needs safe spaces to be themselves, whatever that looks like. Again, I feel I’ve always been aware of this stuff, even when I couldn’t articulate it. Many years ago, on the rare occasion I would go to a gay club, I would purposely NOT go to a lesbian club, because I’m not a lesbian, and I would not want to mislead anyone. There is no question of me creating ambiguity in order to embarrass anyone.
It was Pride last weekend in Toronto. I haven’t gone to pride in many years. On occasion, in the past I would go with friends. Since the xojane piece came out, I’ve been assured that Pride is not considered a safe space, or even a queer space. It seems to be more of a celebration of diversity. But I went out for a beer with a straight female friend last week, and in discussing the article, the fallout, and then Pride, she told me she was volunteering in the beer garden at the 519 as a bartender. Now, I will confess, even I find that a little odd. This woman has a male partner, and to my knowledge does not identify as queer in any sense. She said a lesbian friend had recruited her. Surely the job of bartending in the beer garden would be an amazing one for a lesbian who wanted to be flirted with all day, not for a straight girl. In a way I think it’s funny that I got myself into ANY hot water about queer spaces when I haven’t even done anything as ludicrous as this volunteer bartender gig. I mean, come on!
Further to the foolishness last week , another lesbian friend had invited me to a feminist reading group being held at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. We looked at the attendee list together on facebook, the majority were lesbian as per my knowledge or my friend’s. And given the negative reaction from the piece in xojane, I decided not to participate. It strikes me as exactly what I was talking about, that I’m now feeling like I would be an outsider if I were to join a reading group labelled ‘Feminist’.
I did learn that you really can’t, ever, comment on a subculture from outside that subculture. It just doesn’t fly. And I guess that will have to be okay for me.

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