Oh to be a Pharisee — The need for public queer performativity

Last week a Reddit commentator asked me why a particular post did not cover trans men within the boundaries of queer sexuality. I found it odd, because I was certain I had, though after re-reading my words I could see their perspective. The whole conversation got me thinking about the performative nature of public queerness, something that Contrapoints has been circling back on for quite some time in her videos. This expectation by the wider queer and trans community that anyone with a public platform who talks about sexuality and gender issues needs to be on a particular page about particular issues. The need to be seen as well as believing.

I preface this blog by stating that everything I write is from my own perspective, and that I never speak ex cathedra for anyone else. This is precisely because I understand, or at least hope I understand, that my experiences can never be carried over onto anyone else’s life. Indeed, I should hope not, as a lot of my life as been simply finding the best way to get from point A to N. There is a challenge for me in engaging in queer conversations in the main because while I am queer and have a trans background I am not essentially within queer spaces. I know the language, can talk the talk, but the public performativity is complicated by my outsider status.

This is not to abnegate my responsibility to learn and understand from those in the trenches, while is part of the reason why I love doing research so much. Indeed, queer public performativity is as much about the nuclear fission within queer spaces as it is about talking to cis/het folk. The dialogues, the innate tensions, exist as much as to rescope and reshape what queerness actually means as much as it is about finding a hill to set up one’s own identity. Put five queer folk in a room to discuss queerness and you likely get a riot.

I am of the age where my language and mode of understanding is starting to pass into queer history, outstripped and outpaced by the internet’s removal of graphene from the queer discourse reactor. Queerness has primarily been defined in its opposition to the oppressive practices faced within wider society, with urgent needs for clarity of message and purpose. To say the wrong thing could have set the movement back years if not decades. The 2020s is not such a time, as queer voices of all stripes talk and exist openly, each expressing their version of a truthiness. They performativity is both fighting back again continued oppression and a normalisation of a certain version of queer truth.

That everyone on social media can now be the arbiters of a truth both democratises queer speech and potentially utterly confounds it. Publicly performative queerness sets ‘standards’ of expectation, where any deviation from a certain perspective can lead to shaming, cancelling, and dethroning. The expectation is that public queerness is practically Pharisetic in nature, except the dogma is continually evolving in the social mediasphere. Obviously, there is no excuse for queerphobia in any shade or hue, and we all need to educate ourselves without the expense of someone else’s emotional labour, but there is need for reflection without condemnation and to give folk a chance to develop their understanding rather than castigating them.

One of the central reasons why queer spaces are places of fission is both due to the external pressures exerted by the community beyond and the fears that inhabit all of us. We are afraid that if our version of a truth is not the version of the truth then somehow our identities must be invalid. Added to this that the media portrays queer lives through very selective lenses, that the Youtube algorithm washes up young, slim, white, intellectual queer folk into our streams, that queer spaces are dominated by the cult of youth and incessant need to reinvent and re-mould queer identity. None of this is intrinsically wrong, but if the same narratives, same voices, same attitudes are reinforced, is it no wonder that those who fall outside of those boundaries invariably kick back against it? We all want a voice, all need a voice, yet the pressure to simply be a Pharisee is immense.

All ideas need to be discussed, churned over, and dissected; those found laudable certainly need to be aired and made public canon. To be publicly queer is to walk through a landscape where worthy ideas have been torn down and replaced, often with literal blood and fire. In this social media age the litany of queerness is morphing almost daily, with communal memory stretching back into the 90s thanks to the internet never quite completely deleting things. Say something off hand in 2009 when you were a baby tweeter and suddenly in 2021 when you become big it is an original sin because meaning and understanding have, rightly, shifted. Where once amnesia and personal growth would have smoothed over, the community holds people to account. This is the edge of queer public performativity, the need to sand away our rough edges and conform to a future self that we do not quite know yet.

My platform is miniscule compared to headline queer folk, and I have by no means been attacked or called out for ill behaviour. But this is only the current version of me. It has taken me 25 years to get to my current understanding, via making some pretty spectacular queer missteps along the way. Thankfully, I have been able to work through and learn from them, but only because of the grace and help of those around me. My hardest lesson was learning to stop being ex cathedra, to see my experiences as simply my own, and with I can certain empathise and seek to understand, I cannot talk for everyone. Ego, much, but it helps humble me and frame my writing in a certain style.

I am very much aware of the performative nature of queerness and why being a Pharisee is necessary for some folk. On this blog I am very much my own canon law, always evolving and seeking to understand, but as soon as I loose it on the world it becomes something more. I don’t agree completely with the notion of the death of the author, but because you do not have a full contextual knowledge of who I am you will frame my words through your own understanding. All writers get that, and I know that as soon as I hit publish you will contextualise my words through your own map of the world. There is no perfection, only refinement, and this blog is very much part of my process of better understanding my own map of the world.



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Writer, researcher, and generally curious