Reminder: Being Queer Means Being Queer

Did you read that recent Modern Love story about how being single is “queer”? Well, if you haven’t, you are in for a treat.

The story was written by Helen Betya Rubinstein and came out on Halloween, a typical New York Times ideological trick and treat. It muses over how much it can suck to be single, which is very true.

At the campground, a young couple frightened me by virtue of being the only other people around. They had tethered their barking dog to a stake and hung a set of prayer flags from the open trunk of their S.U.V., but now they were packing up — silently at first, and then with hard, fighting words.

I shut my door and pretended I couldn’t hear.

Awww: yeah, that’s bittersweet. Love rubbed into a single face, even when imperfect, is salty.

Rubeinstein continues with this scene.

They could see me as clearly as I saw them, though, and when I looked at myself through their eyes, I saw a person who couldn’t possibly be having a good time. My aloneness eclipsed everything else about me; I lacked even the company of a series of “thinking of you” texts to convince me otherwise.

I felt conspicuous, as odd and unsettling as a mermaid in the desert. I felt queer.

Awww: yeah, I get that – wait. What the fuck?

Let’s continue on, a few paragraphs down.

Later, when new friends in that town effused about having me over for dinner but failed to follow through, I felt queer again. I suspected they felt awkward inviting me when everyone else would arrive in twos. I was the only single person among 11 at a dinner I did attend.


Maybe that was it?

When I heard of an acquaintance who, running for local office, worried that her singlehood made her untrustworthy in voters’ eyes, I could empathize. There was something queer about being single: queer in the sense of “strange,” yes, but also in the sense that connotes a threat to the conventions around which most people arrange their lives.

uhhh…Huh? This is just absofuckinglutely absurd. Who gave this the go ahead? Does Modern Love operate from a “love is love” and therefore love dissolves all identifying differences of people? What?

Of course, the story preemptively pays penance, shifting to “define” the use of queer in Rubinstein’s world three quarters through, to qualify that, “The history and the present of queer people’s marginalization are far more severe, but the strides they have taken toward having their lives recognized are proportionally as vast.” Rubinstein concludes this point of view with, “Queer or not, single people are treated with a mild exclusion and a bafflement that feels centuries past.”

Like. OK. I get being an outsider. I get it. Love, romance, intimacy and the lack there of affords you an insiderness and outsiderness. But being single: does that by default make you queer? As if one has to ask. Being single does reshape how one views the world for the moment that you are in but, unlike queer people, this reshaped view of the world is quick to change, only informed by encounters with love and relationship as Rubinstein defines. A “queer” worldview doesn’t come with the caveat of being able to change how you are or from being able to bring yourself from down and out of society to the top, to “normalcy,” by a relationship shift. In fact, the relationship shift of a queer person makes them even more queer since the ability to pass under the umbrella of singleness lifts, to reveal you are in fact “not normal” because you have exposed the world to how you love.

Yes, you could make the connection that singleness means fruitlessness and childlessness in terms of heterosexual “successful” imaginings of life. But to be queer is to not compare your sexuality or lifestyle in comparison to successful heterosexual “success” but to build and rebuild what life is because your life, as invisible as it may seem, was never designed for and must be invented. Being single is a change of state versus the state you are: that’s the difference – and that doesn’t make it queer.

And, really, what Rubinstein is searching for as a co-opted identity might more accurately be akin to the way asexual persons are pushed out of love, left out of conversations for being invalid and “made up.” It’s dehumanizing. That may be the queerness Rubinstein feels, similar to that of erased bisexuals in the queer landscape. Still, the term sought isn’t queer: it’s outsider, left out, misunderstood. It is not “queer.” Straight people cannot be queer.

Thankfully, this feeing of wanting to spoon my eyes out in response to this a week later isn’t singular: a lot of us queers (and non-queers) had this reaction. Let’s explore some comments. “The comparison of being single to ‘feeling’ queer is inappropriate,” Lizzie Henry of Massachusetts wrote. “Queer people do not feel queer, they are queer, and they often suffer significantly because of it.”

“Please be careful how you go about your discussion,” Jeff from Brooklyn commented. “Appropriating the word ‘queer’ for a mainstream straight problem is wrong at it’s core, please know that…Don’t equate your struggles to ours. We’re not in the same boat. We’re not [even] sailing the same sea.”

“I’m sorry you’ve felt awkward about being single,” M from DC commented. “But perhaps don’t try to put it in the same category as people who have been murdered and assaulted for our differences.”

The majority of comments echoed Rubinstein’s main point, that singleness sucks, that it is something to revel in and be proud of at a certain point. None echo the queerness claim and most seem to come from a similar assumed straight, cia point of view. That difference makes one thing clear: singleness is not synonymous with queerness.

As Gillian Wenzel wrote for The Ithican, the story has no actual concept of queerness.

Where Rubinstein views queerness as the sadness of not being invited to a dinner party, I view queerness as a force that seeks to flip the dining room table on its head. In being queer, femme and nonbinary, I have much bigger issues to worry about than being excluded from spaces that I wouldn’t be invited to in the first place. In coming out as queer, I lost friends. I had to build and rebuild understanding with my parents and family. I still struggle with the ways in which my varying gender presentations lend themselves to visibility and vulnerability. Making friends with straight people is often sabotaged by their lack of respect for my humanity.

This is why this story is frustrating. This, as Wenzel notes, crashes actual queerness with a patheticism afforded to assumedly straight and cis people looking for a way to trouble themselves. It’s a White Lives Matter move.

It kills me. Not in a way that makes me sad but in a way that confuses being oppressed with being an ally. I’ve been seeing this repeatedly in 2017, where allies “try to help” but instead assume the role of the oppressed rather than let the oppressed be or to speak for themselves. It’s the asymmetrical haired person who claims non-binary pronouns but is straight and presenting as cis. It’s the person who volunteers at immigration courts but writes that their seamless immigration is akin to the issues faced by undocumented children under Trump. It’s the person seeking their own identity but using the stories of true others to project and propel their own. These are step ladders of self-congratulation. Some could even call it “Dolezaling.”

It’s frustrating — and it has to stop. Who knew a little Modern Love musing would open a very 2017 window to co-opting the plight of the victimized? I didn’t. Then again, I’m entirety unsurprised. This is yet another example of the liberal and left acting just as terrible as their conservative, right wing counterparts. It’s a noted trick by the right: claiming to be victims of normalcy, a tactic personified by our current president repeatedly claiming to be victimized.

It has got to stop, on all fronts.

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