Everybody needs good neighbours

I’ve been thinking again about the importance of visible, available queer community, though in a rather hazy incomplete way, in between bouts of recurring flu. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve not always been a big fan of queer communities. In the small college where I first began being aware of such things, there was a handful of visibly out students, many more men than women, who actively promoted GLBTQ events and ideas, held meetings, started groups, kept an eye on student governance etc. I admired most of the ones I knew personally — they were cool people, with a lot of strength and willingness to work for what they believed in; I wished for their confidence both in themselves and in their ability to change the world. But I never joined the clubs or took part in most of the events because of the way the group invariably became a tightly-knit exclusionary hotbed of incestuous drama, everyone sleeping with or having a crush on someone else, and constantly bitching about it. Of course, given that they were probably the only out people within a hundred miles of our rural college, this is not that surprising, but it was definitely enough to put me off. Things didn’t change that much after I moved to a bigger city. Now there were definitely more people, more possible venues, especially for gay women: bars, bookshops, the ‘gay areas’ of town — but I still found that same blend of insularity and narcissism. I would meet lovely, intelligent, talented people at university and through friends, and again, as soon as they became part of the crowd at a gay bar or reading or drag king show, the whole atmosphere would transform: the aggressive bitchiness at the bars and readings, the complicated dynamics of who had slept with whose ex, the fetishisation of gender roles… My biggest complaint though was the fact that, en masse, they would listen to mediocre music and read mediocre writing and go out to mediocre bars, just because these were gay. Yes, I love a lot of musicians, poets, writers, bars, places, that are queer and that is why I love them, at least in part, but if I were to read, listen to or go to only those, and only focus on their queerness, it would be unfair both to them and to everyone else whom I’m ignoring because of their personal life! At least, I feel like that myself as a writer.

Anyway. I’ve been gradually becoming more involved in actively queer things over the last year or so. I wound up getting roped into a queer writing group, hung out a lot in cafes and parks and concerts where there were a lot of queer men and women, began listening seriously to music by Ani Difranco, K. D. Lang, etc., slowly amassing a collection of books, both queer fiction and theory, reading queer bloggers, and I went to my first Pride. Most of this was incremental, a book here, a song heard at someone’s house there, a coincidental link, which led to another link… but I sort of looked around one day and realised that I am part of a queer community, even if it’s not the visible one of gay bars and readings etc. I also realised that being queer matters to me as a pretty important part of my sense of self, and in the way I interact with other people in any given situation. It’s not something that can be safely boxed into a category like “sexual preference” or “political affiliation” but manages to affect all parts of my life. This is why I use the word ‘queer’ and not so much ‘lesbian:’ it’s not just about who I want to sleep with.

That’s as far as I’d thought when I moved (not exactly willingly), leaving all this behind. One of the first things I did after moving, before I found a job, was search for queer community here. I wasn’t expecting to find much, and to be honest, was pretty skeptical about what I might find, but it’s honestly an amazingly accepting and friendly set of people. My life still revolves around the relationships and friendships I had to leave behind, and there is of course this virtual community of amazing writers and bloggers, but it’s literally a lifesaver to have a tiny set of people in real life, with whom I don’t have to pretend.

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~ by mortarandpestle on February 27, 2008.

3 Responses to “Everybody needs good neighbours”

  1. i have such mixed feelings about the queer community. it is so nice to have a community (any community, not just queer – it’s a lovely feeling to be part of something), particularly somewhere small like this. but it’s also so insular, which i think is simply counterproductive. it bothers me a bit every time i look around and realize that nearly all of my friends are queer. that happened when i moved here; i think it was the easiest “in” to getting to know people.

  2. Not a thing wrong with that! Any time I’m in a new situation I look for my queer brothers and sisters.

    No, we aren’t supposed to love them just b/c they are queer but at least we all come from the same background and, well, it’s a start.

    Blogging rules! 😉

  3. I love the word “queer” too because it leaves the categories open. For years before I found the word, I did not label myself. I didn’t want to be put in a box. I know that “queer” is a category too but at least it is more fluid. This post also spoke to me because I still tend not to hang out only with queer folk. One of my lesbian friends always wants to hang out with other lesbians when we go out together and I never seem to want to. I finally realized that I live and work around queer folk and can have very open and frank conversations all of the time. We even talk about creating gender neutral bathrooms! When I am with this friend, I tend to want to talk about international issues and travel because that is what we have in common and that is what I do not usually get to talk to other people about. She doesn’t work in an environment where there are others who are queer and so she tends to want to hang out with queer folk. When you live and work in an environment where the standard is straightness, I can see why a person would want to hang out with others who see the world like you do.

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