Queer bodies, society’s eyes
In the lost allies of youth, you have an idea of what your body should be, must be, according the all the media you absorb and what society expects. Too fat, too thin. Too much flab, teeth so crooked. Fix this, feel guilty about that. This is just the cis, straight experience for many teenagers, indeed many adults. Add in the complexities of identities outside of the mainstream, and life gets hella complicated.
Growing up in a straight, cis, white, Christian household has its perks, especially when your mom does not care much for fashion, wears very little make-up, and has amazing long hair she cuts herself. As an identity role model for me she is something of a legend, as me and my sisters pretty much cut across fashion and identity lines. As a teenaged it was easy to see my mom as a weird person, someone who did not fit in with the other mothers at the school gates, yet as I near 40 I realise, with much respect, that she has enabled me to transcend a lot of those societal pressures.
Granted, I am a queer woman who is pretty much hitting a trans menopause that is neither documented or talked about within the LGBTQI+ or medical communities. My body is padding out, filling in all those places that surgery could have fixed a decade ago. My breasts have grown four cup sizes in two years, my clothing size has gone from a UK 14 to 18, and my svelte twentysomething body has morphed into a womanly shape. I am becoming more like my mother, and less like the image projected from magazines. My queer body is slowly entering middle age when to be queerly middle age is strangely airbrushed out from photographs and magazines.
This is why I am increasingly drawing strength from the women around me, cis, trans, queer, who live their lives and embrace their bodies. Body image is hard to reconcile when you’re confronted with an ideal of what should exist on screens, billboards, and magazines. When Photoshop and decent camera angle can make you look like a million dollars, when a hundred likes can boost your self-esteem, and then one comment tear it all down. When the world is built on making you feeling guilty for being your natural self. I look for women who are themselves, confident in their own skin. Yes, they probably have hang-ups and neurosis of their own, so I am not putting them on a pedestal. Rather, I look to find ways of squaring my own identity without overwhelming myself with crippling self-doubt.
The dirty secret of capitalism is that it guilt trips you into buying more. Bring this amazing Coke to bring the world together, then take this fitness class to burn those bad calories. Your skin is too oily, buy this toner and cleanser, then use this make-up to cover those spots. On their own each product can have benefits, and I am the first to say make-up can be very empowering; however, in an age where our identities are dissected and asset stripped on social media, when our very personhood is a brand, is it even possible to transcend and escape from this perpetual circle? If you’re queer, and searching for a community, your identity gets even more commodified and squared away, and if you don’t fit the mould you are ostracised with no likes, comments, or retweets. Your personhood is sold on the premise that just one more like will make you feel so much better about yourself.
Queerness as brand identity makes certain queer identities socially acceptable. Drag Race packages a look, a mode of thinking that is safe for the mainstream. Look at them there queers doing them there things. I admit, I am not a fan of the show, I personally cannot abide the production values or false drama; however, it does matter to a whole lot of queer folk, as it enables conversations and water cooler moments about queer identities that would otherwise not happen. If our queer bodies are sold and packaged in such a way, then surely that is a good thing? Or, as is the case with all mass produced goods, that it is in danger of become THE way that queer identities are accepted for this current generation.
My personal relationship with my body has never been that fraught. I have always fought with putting weight on, as I prefer to be athletic and more muscular due to playing sports and doing a lot of walking. However, I do find myself comparing and contrasting my image with other trans and queer women, not necessarily wishing I were them, but seeing where all my own perceived faults lie. It is a bad habit. I am never jealous, as all the power to them, but when the media bombards us with images of young, trim, mainly white trans and queer people it is hard to find any media identity that fits your own. For me, this is one of the only strengths of drag race, as it has opened up in recent seasons this notion of intersectional queer identities. It is not perfect, but it is a start.
If we want to transcend a narrow definition of queerness, then we need to look beyond the white, trim, slim, tallish, young trans tropes. Personally, I know many queer people who transcend these labels, and they are all living empowered lives because they have embraced their identities after personal battles to get there. The media is not interested in the easy paths, as tranquil rarely sells. Queerness can be tranquil and serene, yet our queer identities need to have struggle to gain attention. If our easy identities are left in the shadows, if the joy of being queer, looking queer, living queer, is forfeit to struggle, then queer kids and teenagers will forever see queerness as a yellow brick road strewn with traps and hazards. Our bodies seemingly must come at a price, our identities riven with discord. Yet, how much of this is ever true?
It is easy to advocate for any identity to break through, to normalise identity and make it part of the mainstream. I am one of those that advocates for normalised queerness and trans identities, that we simply become part of the tapestry of society. Counter to this runs the argument that why should queerness ever be ‘normal’, that our identities are far beyond white picket fences, nine-to-five jobs, and that we should be smashing the patriarchy. Hell, if they reject us, we should reject them. While I very much get on board with feminism and smashing down those Berlin Walls holding us back, I feel by keeping queer identities as separate, but equal, we risk alienating from society those very people we seek to aid. Our bodies and identities have every right to exist and be protected as cis straight ones, and thus why cannot we co-exist? Of course, this comes back to the massive power differential between mainstream society and those on the margins, and by all means we need to fight for every right we can, and fight to protect those rights.
Our queer bodies are our own, and as they become more commodified, we need to find role models that break down any stereotypes that emerge. Ultimately, across our lives our bodies and self-image shift and change, and at some point we shift out of those demographics targeted by social media and advertising. As we do, we need to find new ways of representing ourselves to show that being queer is not just about an elixir of youth, but about life’s journey. We a vibrant panalopy of identities, to show that to be queer is to embrace all ethnicities, genders, sexualities, hights, weights, ages, and cultures. We have always existed, and always will exist, and while our queer bodies are in society’s gaze we must be allowed the space to exist on our own terms without pressure to fit into any particular box.