One of the best parts about being queer is having a community of like-minded, often equally oppressed people to have your back. You get to choose your family – the people who understand you, support you and love you through everything. But sometimes, even your chosen family fails to show up for you in the ways you need them to. Sometimes, even you may slip up in being there for someone in the ways they need you to. These slip-ups may be naive or, perhaps, intentional *cough* TERFs *cough* but, they end up further marginalising certain groups of us, so that some of us can feel better in the moment. We’ve all been there in one way or another. We, at Gaysi, asked you if and when you’ve felt like this and the responses make it clear that we all need to do better!
Let me introduce you to N*Sync’s lesser-known track Bi, Bye, Bye – ‘tis a heartfelt pop song about biphobia in LGBTQI+ circles. Jokes aside, biphobia is rampant and plagues a lot of support groups and queer communities. One of our respondents said, “bisexuals are called half-straight by some queer people” while another said, “my ex-friend looked me in the eye and said I’m bisexual for attention.” Bisexual folks are often not taken seriously, characterised as greedy and perverted, and their identity is invalidated again and again as not being “ queer enough.” This is anything but true because no one except you gets to define what queerness means for you. Queer experiences are distinct, unique and diverse. Bisexuality is no stepping stone towards homosexuality or a straight-passing ticket to the “best of both worlds”; it is its own identity. You’re valid!
Similarly, pansexual folks are criticised for invalidating gender identities and deemed overly sexual. “I’m pan, people assume I’m a whore,” a respondent confessed. This kind of invalidation and gatekeeping is exactly what queer spaces should be trying to dismantle, not contributing to.
Patriarchy and its Sons
One of the testimonials we received lamented that “There are very little lesbian creators in LGBT spaces and very little lesbian content. So many lesbian experiences like comphet, gender identity crisis that comes with being a lesbian never get discussed in LGBTQ+ spaces.” Even in queer spaces, the strongholds of patriarchy are difficult to ignore. Little light is thrown at other genders while male privilege continues to revel in it’s one-too-many-cis-man show. This results in more visibility of male narratives in queer spaces. Not that these stories aren’t important, there are simply so many more stories to tell!
Beauty and Aesthetics
Something that is scarily common across social media is the amplification of select queer narratives – dominant caste, dominant class, savarna, fair, skinny, urban, pride-going stories. Among these emerges a queer aesthetic of ‘beauty’ biased towards individuals whose stories have more visibility and social capital than others. A respondent remarked, “My fatness is often not celebrated/ seen as sexual.”
The beauty of queerness is in its diversity of experiences, and harmful, conventional standards of beauty go against the multitudinal spirit queerness aims to celebrate. Queer persons do not have to fit into boxes, standards or any expectations of ‘beauty’ – being queer is about being different!
BVF: Butch vs. Femme
If there’s one thing the queer community is tired of repeating, it’s “No Binaries!!!” Binaries are gross simplifications of the world around us and can never truly capture complexities. A respondent recalled: “Mocked for not being femme enough or butch enough. No room for us androgynous?” while another said, “Have been mocked for identifying as gender fluid and not sporting androgyny.” These testimonials illustrate the incompetence of the binaries that force us to pick a side. As queer persons, we are allowed multitudes! Queerness is often gauged according to looks, which is untrue, exclusionary and completely undoes the purpose of organizing queer-specific safe spaces. You do you and let nobody tell you otherwise.
Of Faith and Religion
A respondent said, “when your religious identity is considered ‘either/or’ with your queer identity instead of ‘and’.” Religion and queerness interact with each other in complicated ways and resultant identities are complex – a lot of us don’t easily understand it. Setting aside biases, prejudices, and stereotypes then is an important exercise in building a space that is safe for all.
Don’t touch me, don’t touch me, don’t touch me Soniya…
Chosen families become a source of happiness and stability for queer persons and rightfully so. What do we all do when we’re happy? Hug! Only…not all of us do that. One of our respondents said, “I often feel ambushed by hugs and non-sexual touch.” It is admissions like these that remind us that even in safe spaces, one mustn’t take consent to touch as a given. The give and take of consent transcends strictly sexual spaces and must be respected at all costs. Give hugs, have sexy times, drop a kiss on the cheek ONLY when you have clear consent of all involved parties.
Trauma and Mental Health
The costs of poor mental health are sometimes simply out of sight, but one thing’s for sure – it truly doesn’t discriminate. Trauma can occur regardless of your financial status, even if therapists, medication and everything that comes with dealing with it is beyond access for many. Notwithstanding that, it does disproportionately affect certain sections. A testimonial confessed, “My trauma was not taken seriously by community folx because of my monetary BG,” which is a reminder that the manifestation of trauma is complicated and must be treated with sensitivity.
Besides, LGBTQI+ individuals experience bullying, stigma, discrimination, legal challenges, abuse, institutional violence which often leads to worrisome mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies that are often ignored or downplayed by friends and family – even in queer spaces. When we organise or participate in safe spaces for queer persons, we must consider the importance of mental health and show up for each other with care.
Like all public spaces, a robust system of accountability and transparency is crucial even within queer circles. Any space that supports abusers, bigots, prejudices of any kind is no safe space at all.
At the end of the day, there’s no one way of being queer, no one-size-fits-all formula and that is exactly what a safe space should address. Queer-specific spaces are meant to accommodate unique experiences and always make space for uncomfortable realities that individuals bring to the table. Support groups and communities are after all no bureaucratic organizations but democratic institutions built on the foundations of care, support and reciprocity.