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Bildung

15 Dec

Pic26jpgI am borrowing the title of this post from Clarissa, who wrote: “what pleases me the most about my life is that every aspect of it was carefully constructed by me. I didn’t let things just happen to me but created a vision of how I wanted to live and then set out to turn that vision into reality. By the fact of my birth, I was supposed to lead a very, very different life and be a very, very different person.”

I found this very inspiring because I, too, am struggling to envision a life that departs from what was handed to me at birth. Doing a PhD, being queer, or developing an independent spirituality are some of the crucial aspects of my experience which in many ways work against what my parents or extended family has in mind for me. The past exerts a strong influence, as does education into a certain social class and a particular religious perspective, and it takes strength and determination to take bold steps towards emancipation from these external forces, steps towards self-determination. Even though it seems quite stereotypically American to me (think self-made man), I am attracted to the idea of creating a vision for one’s life and using it as both inspiration and guiding principle.

Incidentally, I stumbled upon this article on HigherEd about black dandies who are fashioning academic identities. I loves the self-conscious effort involved in the process of carefully constructing one’s identity – dress offers a practical, material way of stepping into a crafted persona. It provides a way of reaching out of oneself to effect change on one’s environment. I recognized Sharon Holland, whom I’d met before and whose style had made quite an impression on me. This isn’t surprising since I also love Elisha Lim’s Illustrated Gentleman and wish I had the courage to dress like that more often. I am reminded that one grows into a new social identity, but that the first moves can be taxing.

Back to Clarissa, who added that “the reason why academics so often get depressed is that they allow their identities to be molded by forces outside of themselves.” Although this is by no means specific to academics, it does remind me that unless one learns to be self-assertive, one will usually end up being manipulated into submissiveness. This is true, at least, for people on whom power was not imparted at birth, in other words, to those of us who want to make progress in life even though it strays away from what we were “meant” to be originally. As Joseph Jacotot once said: “L’éducation, c’est comme la liberté: cela ne se donne pas, cela se prend.”

Crazy Queers

20 Sep

According to the Bisexuality Report, bisexuals have poorer mental health than both hetero and gay/lesbian populations: “Of all the common sexual identity groups, bisexual people most frequently have mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidality. This has been found both internationally and in the UK specifically, and has been linked to experiences of biphobia and bisexual invisibility.” When I think of the bis I know, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It looks like we’ve all been through some sort of therapy, or are currently undertaking treatment, or are badly in need of help (this is especially true for people who come to the group for the first time). I don’t think we’re queer because we’re crazy, nor that we’re crazy because we’re queer. I believe that we are queer AND crazy. It is true that when you sense that you do not belong, you are more likely to suffer, and we are often made to feel like outsiders, not only in society at large but also within the LBTIQ “community”. What is important though is that this creates opportunities for healing. I have already observed that process at the bi group, and in fact have been through it myself. Craziness and queerness may often go together, but they can also be disentangled together, and queerness can, in my view, ensure that healing – by which I do not imply getting rid of craziness, but learning to integrate it  more skillfuly – does not occur at the cost of individuality. Too often, therapy leads us towards conformity and forgetfullness. I became depressed as a teenager because there was too much pressure for me to conform to gender roles, religious prescriptions, and adults’ expectations… It is not therapy so much as queerness that eventually saved me from that, by allowing me to accept myself as I am so that I could just be.

Reimagining queer community

15 Aug

“What makes the so-called queer community so incredibly exclusive that almost nobody ever seems to feel as though they belong? I was […] curious as to what exactly everybody in my group was looking for in the ideal queer community.” Rachel

I read Rachel’s perzine on the train to the anarchist gathering last Saturday, and it helped me reflect on the notion of alternative communities as home over the day. Queer communities, but also other subcultural communities in my experience, nurture the ideas that a deep sense of connection unites their members and regularly use the words “home” or even “family” to describe such ties. However, like Rachel, I have often felt like I wasn’t elligible for this particular kind of belonging, or perhaps that I didn’t know the proper code for entry. I have sometimes attributed this failure to the fact that I am part of a bisexual group which occasionally has trouble being acknowledged as viably “queer” by other LGBTIQ people. However, Rachel questions the very foundations of these assumptions by asking: “If this so-called queer community were accessible, why do all the queer-identified people in my life keep telling me that they don’t feel as though they are a part of it?” Interestingly, she admits that what has helped her develop a sense of validation in such spaces was to write and distribute zines that give her a voice and provide recognition. Further, what I understand from the rest of the zine is that by the same logic, leaving aside identity politics in order to resist assimilation into corporate culture makes us more powerful and leads queer communities out of their self-referential questioning. “Our Pride is NOTE for sale”, she claims, and I take it to mean that fighting side by side brings a stronger sense of solidarity which, perhaps, could redifine queer participants as comrades struggling together rather than as brothers and sisters in an idealized family controlled by corporations or the state.

On finding community

28 Jul

Following my last post, I have been thinking about the ways I do or do not belong to certain communities. I am the sort of person who needs to be related to groups of people but is always wary of being absorbed by the group, so that I tend to stay somewhere on the margin most of the time. My ideal community would be one that favours a certain cooperative individualism and refrains from imposing its norm on its members while still facilitating exchange and a sense of belonging. Contacts I have had with subcultural groups, however, tend to show that once safe from mainstream normativity, the group quickly establishes its own norms of prescriptive behaviour and often remains unnecessarily biased against other minorities. While a certain level of group identity allows more cohesion among members and defines the group’s purpose, I believe that anyone who identifies with the group’s politics should be made welcome. In reality, I have often witnessed the emergence of a restrictive in-group which will then police the out-group. Thus, discovering that you are not straight, you may join a GLBTIQ group only to find that they do not believe that bisexuality exists. Once you have found the bi group, you may realize that its members are not educated about transgender issues. And what if you happen to be disabled? Is racism addressed within these communities?

It is very difficult, therefore, to develop a true sense of belonging in any given community. However, coming back to the idea of creating your own subculture, I would suggest that the internet is a great resource to locate culture, though it implies putting bits and pieces together yourself. The solution I have found is to use all sorts of ideas to create a (hopefully) coherent view of the world which in turn informs my sense of belonging to different communities as well as my participation in them. This blog is a way of doing just that, of attempting to answer the question: what new meanings does the word community take on when it is composed of scraps coming from distant sources?

Creating your own subculture

24 Jul

Creating your own subcultureLast Friday a friend said that following his coming out as a bisexual he had to create his own subculture. I know what it means when the references readily available in mainstream culture fail to match your self-perception and start to provoke a sense of dysphoria. I had to go through the same process of gathering new references by finding fiction, music, theory, and social contexts that would not only tolerate who I was but also validate the new set of values I was taking on, provide me with a lens through which to view the world, and allow me to express tentative opinions freely. Acknowledging that I was queer did much more than determine what my future relationships would look like, it changed my perception of my environment andmy way of functioning in it. As I integrated a minority group and came into contact with new communities, I became more acutely aware of social injustices of all kinds, uncomfortable in situations where I was assumed to be hetero-normative or expected to take on conventional gender roles, and unwilling to go along with  what is generally defined as “the norm” when it denies my right to self-define or my friends’ identity.

My new-found subculture, then, is made of many things including bi/queer theory, the riot grrrl and queercore movements, anarchist discourse, education for critical thinking, freedom, and transgression, and the concept of self-determination for both individuals and political groups. What is really interesting is to see how all these elements intersect and what will emerge from them, which is the purpose of this blog.

Did you create your own subculture, and what is it made of?