This is a 3-part article on queer survival and queer politics.
Part I: Art.
Part III: Failure and Dance.
Item 2: A perfectly functional Gaydar
Gaydar is a pun on the word radar, which refers to the ability to spot who the queer ones are in this overwhelmingly straight world. In the heterosexual discourse, the concept of gaydar is often employed by women to avoid the effeminate men, regardless of whether they are actually gay or not (but funnily enough, not by men to avoid queer women). On the other hand, in our fantastically queer world, it allows us to locate our potential sexual or love interest. However, as important as the erotic function of a gaydar, I want to stress more on its ability to detect those who are not queers – and most importantly, those who are queer-phobic.
As my polyamorous sexual being is slowly calming down, while my colorful fabulous queer self is blooming into its fullness which prevents me from camouflaging as a straight man, I gradually realize the significance of this other preventive and non-erotic function of my gaydar. It prevents me from being verbally abused on the street, from being spat on, from being beaten up on the subway trains. I need to know when and where I should not wear a skirt, not put on make up and not dress in heels so that I do not “offend” any toxically masculine men that I might surround myself with (even though I try my best not to have any of those in my life anyway). I need to know what kinds of clothes I should not pack when I go back home so that I do not raise any suspicion in my family, who are unaware of my sexuality and who might disown me after cutting off all financial ties with me in light of that knowledge. Basically, I need a functional gaydar, or perhaps more accurately a non-gaydar, to simply not die.
Not dying is definitely up there in my priority list, if not I would not be sitting here writing about essential items in my survival kit as a queer (unless you do not care so much about being alive in this world, which makes me wonder why you are still reading this). Indeed, I am aware that there are queer theorists out there such as Lee Edelman who argues for the death drive among the queers, which can be conceptualized as an alternative to the heteronormative system that privileged the reproductive life force. Nevertheless, I am more interested in unapologetically and fabulously surviving than driving myself to a place of nothingness, even if that nothingness appears to be the most radical pathway outside of the straight world. For me, to survive is to resiliently wage war against the injustice imposed upon my fellow queers and to insist that our existence matters. Thus, by carrying with me a perfectly functional non-gaydar, I am proposing a strategic mode of fabulousness that radiates in the right time, right place while camouflaging itself when my physical safety can be compromised.
Item 3: Queer sex
Queer sex is important. Frequent and good queer sex is even more important. In the end, is it not our morally-degraded sex life itself that is at stake here, resulting in us being label as the queers – the strange, abnormal ones in the society? We are only queers insofar as we have queer sex. Thus, queer sex is an inevitable item in my queer survival kit, to constantly remind myself that it is a pleasure to be queer.
Having queer sex is a radical act. It exposes the hypocrisy of the modern society that supposedly confines sex to the private space of one’s own bedroom, exempting one’s sex life from the state regulation or social scrutiny. However, if you are queer, having sex suddenly turns out to be everyone’s business as much as it is yours – it becomes a sinful and unnatural act that is decaying our society morally. Thus, engaging in queer sex has always been a political act, bleeding far beyond that personal realm that sex is supposed to occupy. Queer sex becomes a site of defiance and transgression that destabilizes not only inevitable nature of reproductive function of sex, but it also affirms our desire, our pleasure and our orgasmic truth.
Having queer sex is a creative act. It pushes us into the creative zone because there is nothing “normal” about queer sex. There is almost zero education as to what sex might entails for the queers – everything we know about queer sex comes from our incognito searching sessions on the internet, and from our own imagination. There are no rigid gender roles, no prescriptive sex acts, no instruction as to which orifices we can or cannot use, or if we need to penetrate any orifices at all. While this lack of discourse on queer sex certainly generates some risk regarding sexually transmitted diseases (which cannot be underestimated after the AIDS crisis a few decades ago); on the other hand, this inadequacy in queer sex education serves as a blessing in disguise – our sex life escapes the normative project of this heteronormative society. We no longer operate around what is right, wrong or normal during sex, but we enter the realm of potential, using our own body with its sensation and intensity as the medium to our own sexual truth. Everything becomes a possible sexual organ, leading us into a creative space that allows productive transgression.
Having queer sex is a necessary act. The more sex I have and the more people I have sex with, the more queer people I get to interact with and the less lonely I feel in the world with this publicly-detested identity. For me, it was not until I had sex for the first time that I could viscerally register that there are real queer people out there – they are not the mythical creatures that I have been socialized to detest. Even now when I am very comfortable with this identity, I still need queer sex to remind myself that I am not straight, and I never will be. This might sound redundant; but with recent changes such as the legalization of gay marriage in 2015 in the U.S., sometimes I get caught in the illusion that one day I can finally be like “them” – the proper white heterosexual subject.
Last but not least, having queer sex feels good. When I succumb to the orgasmic force, heavily panting to the rhythm and vibration of pleasure and intimacy, struggling for survival does not seem so bad after all.
(to be continued… Part III)
 Lee Edelman. No future: Queer theory and the death drive. Duke University Press, 2004.
5 thoughts on “A Queer Survival Kit: Part II”
Thank you for this kit, my friend. It is beautiful and necessary. I especially appreciate the emphasis on dance, of course! 🙂
One thing I would push back on is the idea that we are only queer insofar as we have queer sex. As a queer femme, my abstinence from compulsive heterosexuality with men has resulted in pushback. It is ‘queer’ of me when I listen to own desires, even the desire not to share my body with anyone – especially when there are many straight men who have tried to force me to do so for their pleasure. My queerness has a lot to do with who I love, not necessarily who I am physically intimate with. My love is often in my heart and spirit as well as my body. I show love through time, gifts, words, and acts of kindness. Frequent sexual activity on a capitalist schedule (i.e. Friday/Saturday night to release tension from the work week) doesn’t feel good to me, so I don’t engage in that. That choice, to me, is political and queer because it is authentic – it comes from within me rather than obedience to external norms. (Of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who engage in sexual activity more than I do! Especially since the TLGBQIA+ community already faces so much stigma. I am commenting to expand the definition of queerness beyond queer sex, for those in our rainbow umbrella who are asexual, demisexual, abstinent, or for any other reason choose not to be sexually active at any given time.) My queerness is in my soul whether I’m single or searching, sexually active or not.
I think when I wrote “We are only queers insofar as we have queer sex”, I was more referring to the social stigma of the word queer than trying to define queer = having queer sex. If I were to modify it a little bit I perhaps would write “We are only [seen] queers insofar as we have queer sex”.
I did think a lot when I chose to include sex here, because I was aware it would exclude a lot of folks who do not hold sex so close to their identities. However, in thinking of historical turns that have amplified the implications of queer sexual practices such as the AIDS crisis, I do want to reclaim a sexual space that has been historically demonized by the heterosexual society, which labels queer sex as a kind of abomination, a sacrilegious act. Thus, amplifying the place of sex in my queerness is first and foremost, a personal choice, and second a historical and political choice, in order to counter the heteronormative narrative.
And frankly, I do not write from a place of inclusion, because I see unconditional inclusion as a neoliberal tool that absolves oneself from self-criticism and self-examination. Rather, I write from my own experience of negotiating with these identities, which means I cannot speak for the transexuals, the asexuals, the abstinent or the demisexuals. I can’t claim my queerness is rooted in such identities because, it is not. And that is the beauty of queerness for me: it is less inclusionary than it is personal. It proliferates and can never be defined. I do not think of queerness in terms of expanding it beyond my own space, because that borrows the rhetoric of colonization for me. If anything, I see queerness as a vanishing process, a constant degradation that approximates the singulars, and not the mass.
Thank you for this thoughtful reply! I appreciate the time you took to address my points and explain yours. I’m interested in more detail about “unconditional inclusion as a neoliberal tool that absolves oneself from self-criticism and self-examination” and the ways queerness “proliferates” if you choose to write more about that in the future.
It’s interesting to me to think of collective “queer” identity as a colonizing force. My experience of being a gender/sexual minority is often isolating, and I find solace in kinship with people who may not share my exact identities. I don’t seek to expand an imaginary nation of queerness beyond my own space, but closing my eyes and knowing I am not the only one helps me stay true to myself in a straight, cis world. But I am a US citizen in the global north, the Ivy League, able to pass, and descended from colonizers as well as colonized people, so it’s good for me to consider the imperialist dynamics of group identity formation.