Being queer-identified is not the same thing as being queer-minded.
While I’ve had variations of this thought since I first encountered the term ‘queer’ two years ago in the LGBT-CRC’s weekly lunch series for freshmen, I was unable to articulate this idea so clearly until last Friday at San Francisco State University.
The conference “works to use Queer as a tool to empower and unite people from all backgrounds to critique and “dismantle” the dominant LGBTQ politics and realize the radical potential of queer community and queer scholarship,” according to its site.
I’d come to know the term ‘queer’ as a noun and a verb. As a noun, it encompasses people with various gender and sexual identities in an inclusive and uniting way that the term ‘LGBT’ does not; as a verb, it represents creating active resistance to multiple systems of oppression that affect queer people: class inequality, racism, colorism, sexism, and national identity, to name a few.
Indeed, the conference sought to “operationalize the concept of queerness that respects and supports the complex intersections of one’s races/ethnicities, gender expressions, religions, socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds, nationalities, languages, abilities, and/or sexual orientations” with a goal of supporting collective and individual empowerment and supporting political activism.
Taking the noun and verb implications of queer together, I thought to be queer meant to step outside of the dominant frameworks of society that privilege white, straight, cisgendered and financially secure men among all other groups.
But, as I’ve written about multiple times this volume, my experiences and others’ of interacting within Stanford’s queer community have not necessarily meshed with my conception of queer.
It was through having a lunch discussion with a SSQL friend that I first articulated the argument that frame’s this column.
I’d mentioned a difference between having a queer gender or sexual identity and enacting the principles queer politics aim to follow.
“You’re talking about being queer-minded and not just queer-identified,” my friend said.
And that’s when the idea crystallized.
Using the term queer alone to refer to queer-identified communities on our campus and in the larger world, I’d experienced a disconnect in realizing that these spaces were not necessarily queer-minded.
So my biggest question is now how can our queer-identified communities work to align more closely with queer-minded politics?
Even though I’m black and queer in a country where being in those minority groups may bring me harm, I still am a man in a world where power and privilege favor my gender identity. It is therefore easy for me to ignore the particular concerns of women or transgendered people by saying ‘I feel generally safe and comfortable in spite of my minority statuses, therefore – even with exceptions – the world is a safe and comfortable place for everyone.’ (It is not.)
In the same way, I imagine, a student who is queer-identified and white – or from a comfortable socioeconomic background irrespective of race – may have difficulty acknowledging the concerns and specific issues that queer people of color (QPOC) and/or queer people with limited resources face.
Difficulty empathizing or comfort with one’s own situation should not preclude actively fighting for the inclusion of groups that do experience discomfort, though. This is especially true for anyone who identifies as queer, because in different contexts or times, we can very easily experience harm or discomfort.
Our society promotes a very localized sense of comfort that ultimately undermines a safe and comfortable society for everyone: we often seek to make sure that we (as individuals) or our family and friends – or whatever larger groups we identify with – are safe and comfortable, but draw the line with people or groups whom we don’t personally know or identify with. These ‘queer’ politics are ones that everyone – regardless of gender or sexual identity – should seek to follow.
Countering this individualized way of thinking seems to be the purpose of the fliers that have appeared around campus with the message ‘Equality is not justice.’ My understanding of this campaign strategy is that having equal rights under the law is not the same as being treated equally in practice (which would constitute true ‘justice.’)
Trying to forge my own role in fostering the synthesis of our queer-identified communities with queer-minded politics, I embark on offering a three-part series ‘’Beyond the Rainbow: Exploring Race in the Queer-Identified Community.”
The following day, I will co-lead a moderated student panel on larger issues of race (and gender and class) in Stanford’s queer-identified community at Terra House. We plan to crowdsource the questions that shape the discussion — by circulating an anonymous Google form before the event and asking people to suggest topics/questions and to share experiences (difficult or redemptive) they’ve had as minorities or allies within the queer community.
Finally, next Sunday, we’ll wrap up the series with a conversation at the LGBT-CRC on how to actionably address making our queer-identified spaces and communities safe, more comfortable and more inclusive for minorities of all kinds.
SSQL, La Familia de Stanford, Black and Queer at Stanford, Queer & Questioning Asians and Pacific Islanders, The Stanford American Indian Organization, and STATIC have agreed to co-sponsor this series, with the LGBT-CRC also providing support. As I await response from other queer voluntary student organizations (VSOs) and ethnic VSOs, I hope to build as wide coalition a of voices represented and attendees as possible.
The most important part of this series is making these discussions ones of collective inquiry – of responding to topics and issues our community has experienced in the aggregate more than to particular instances of alienation.
Let’s queer our minds, yo!
If you are interested in contributing to this series, with anonymous questions or experiences, as a panelist, or just as an attendee, please contact Kristian at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s looking for a strong breadth of voices and experiences on the panel, in particular!