Thoughts on the Discourse (9/8/17)

Twitter has pushed me to examine my standing within the LGBTQ+ community. It begins with the well-regarded Queer rapper and activist, Mykki Blanco (currently going by he/him pronouns), making some now-deleted tweets from his now-deleted twitter. Mykki was expressing some frustrations about the tactical employ of coming out in the music industry.

“But then I STILL see heterosexual artists getting pats on the back for publicly outing themselves as ‘bisexual’”
– (@MykkiBlanco), Sept. 6, 2017

There are varying degrees of charitability with which one can read this take. Mykki’s right – certain artists previously understood to be heterosexuals have gotten credit for coming out as bi. They have also immediately turned tail and explicitly stated that they will be pursuing heterosexual relationships. Hence the scare-quotes placed around ‘bisexual.’ This is a good take. The sight of someone cynically deploying my identity to sell records makes my skin crawl. It is an evil, evil thing to do.

Mykki is also wrong. There is enough wiggle room – even more so, later on – to read this tweet as bi erasure – the notion that bisexuals in heterosexual relationships are, functionally, heterosexual. The notion that they live identically to straight people, and therefore do not “count” as LGBTQ+. That their “straight” lives are free of oppression. This is my understanding of the term, based on how it has been used to silence bisexuals, and how/why bisexuals fight against it.

In this read, Mykki perceives bisexuality as a close relative of heterosexuality. Those scare-quotes are not a judgement on artists, but a dismissal of the Queerness of bisexuality itself. To see a prominent, respected activist in the Queer space dip their toe – intentionally or not – into biphobia alarmed some bisexual people, who sought clarification. Some asked nicely – others, less so. This is when the conversation changed.

“I don’t give a shit about bi erasure, put that on the books [quote tweet from a protected account]”

– (@MykkiBlanco), Sept. 6, 2017

“Because a bisexual Ally never really did shit for the Queer community [quote tweet from a protected account]”

– (@MykkiBlanco), Sept. 6, 2017

Now it was no longer about the co-opting of social justice by heretofore heterosexual artists. These are both explicit attacks on bi people; they seek to dismiss both our contribution to the Queer community and the societal oppression that makes us a part of it.

I don’t need to get into the second comment, because you and I well know that there are a plethora of bisexual figures that have furthered the Queer community in various spaces and manifestations – others have already pointed this out. I’m more interested in the reaction to the first remark. Many defended Blanco’s comment under the flimsy premise that Blanco was specifically referring to ‘het-passing’ bisexual people, or, bisexual people in heterosexual relationships.

I can remember exactly when passing came into my life.

It happened at age 5, after I got in trouble for trying to kiss boys at the playground. My religious parents made it very clear to me that this was wrong, and that I was to never do it again. I was brainwashed into believing that I was a through-and-through heterosexual. For the next near-two decades, I performed the “het-passing” that so many Queer figures seem to treat like a “get-out-of-Queer-jail-free” card. So, you tell me:

When I was spit on and beaten with bamboo shoots by fifth-graders for being “gay” and skipping around the playground, was I passing? When I had to wash the word “faggot” off of my 7th grade planner, day after day, was I passing? When my friend and I felt each other up in the back of a camp van – when I later cut myself because I was taught what I had done was wrong – was I passing?

When girlfriends would mock me for expressing attraction to men; when the head of my college’s QMS tweeted “I’d only fuck Tom Loughney if he was a twink;” when – at age 23 – I realized I could not tell my parents about my newly understood bisexuality for fear for my own safety;

Was I passing?

The answer is yes, in a way. Despite the overwhelming depression, closeted lifestyle, and verbal and physical harassment, I had the privilege to seek out institutional assistance when I was experiencing a life problem – not one of the ones just described, mind you (institutions rarely punish homophobia), but I was tended to when my grades were low, when I was looking for housing, or when I searched for a job. Those in power were willing to provide help because – to their minds – though I was like a Queer, that was not what I was.

It was not “easier” for me to live in the closet than it would have been for a gay man – hiding inside yourself is painful and difficult, no matter the circumstances, and attempting to metrically qualify the intensity of shades of a trauma is, frankly, disgusting – but it was different. I was afforded different institutional options because the personal option of female attraction was available to me. My genuine attraction to women reinforced my ability to seek institutional assistance. That is worth noting, even in the face of the traumatic youth I led.

This is all to say that while “passing” is not a myth, the notion that it does not come with its own caveats and oppressions is. The idea that “passing” negates your lived trauma and frees you from oppression is one of the most toxic and despicable talking points to come out of Queer discourse. Even if Blanco was referring only to those in “passing” relationships, this would still be an incredibly damaging thing to believe.

“I don’t feel in my lifetime I’ve ever been presented with a true bisexual ally who worked hard on my behalf that’s my lived experience. CHILL”

– (@MykkiBlanco), Sept. 6, 2017

There is a conversation to be had concerning the centering of identities within Queer dialogue. Mykki Blanco – as a moderately successful trans HIV+ PoC with (mostly) good opinions and an impactful platform – deserves the center. He does. His lived experience is an important and crucial building block of the evolving Queer narrative. Why is it that we bisexuals have been absent from that lived experience? He is not fabricating our absence. We must engage with that fact. Does that not obligate us – as members of the community we share with Blanco – to approach his hurtful take with more nuance, in light of our direct absence in his life? Now that we know how he has felt abandoned by bi allies, we have no excuse to not work as stronger advocates for him and others like him.

Yes, we must criticize, and solidify our validity in the Queer space. We must reiterate to ourselves and to those looking to listen to us that we do matter, and that our lived experience shares the common ground of patriarchal, heteronormative oppression with Queerness – even if the manifestations differ somewhat. It is important that we add self-affirming voices, rather than remove others.

On this matter, let me make clear – Mykki Blanco should absolutely still be on twitter. Are you fucking kidding me? Of all the things for us to waste our energy on, we lash out and push an important activist off of one of their platforms entirely. For what??? I truly believe that, using the awesome might of our Gay Energy, our tweets could will a Queer god-being into existence, and yet instead we do this. There is a distinction to be made between @-ing a person for their bad take and realizing that 1000s have already done so. Be your own voice – be your own affirmation. Speak to those already looking to listen, not at those who have already heard.

Some will say that I am young – that this is a young Queer’s criticism. That I do not “get” the history of queerness, as I have not lived through many of its (very recent) horrors. This makes me sad. I am lucky to have escaped the traumas of the 20th century – I will never deny that. But should that not excite the Queer establishment? Queerness is not stagnant – as a community or as a history. The dissidence – while sometimes reckless – is not a sign of the destruction of queer identity. It is not – as one incredibly inartful critic once put it – “gentrification.”

The internal conflicts we are living through are the result of shifting manifestations of oppression. The evolving struggles my generation grew up with have given us different perspectives and theoretical approaches to Queerness. This is not to say that our lived experiences invalidate the ones of those that came before us, just as theirs do not invalidate ours. We are not asking to sit at the head of the table – merely that we be given a seat. We want to speak without being silenced by some imagined, invalidating nature of our youth.

This isn’t purity politics. I do not expect Mykki Blanco – or anyone else, for that matter – to be right all the time. But, when the topic at hand directly concerns my identity, I reserve the right to become engaged. This is all that I ask.

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