On Queer Issues


1. The Problems of Pride

Modern queer politics—mostly taking the form of “queer pride”—have several problem, but activists won’t admit it.

Using pride as a wellspring of political motivation and justification begs trouble: it is difficult to explain, often misunderstood, can be maliciously reworked against us, produces directly-competing “straight pride” events and indirect offshoots like “white pride”.

1.1. Bad Wording

The nomenclature of queer pride suggests we are proud of our sexual orientation. There are those that will debate this, but it’s difficult to challenge a title as plain and clear as “queer pride”, “gay pride”, “bi pride”, etc: a word denoting sexual orientation is right in the name, attached to the word “pride”. The fact that outsiders routinely misunderstand (we’ll go into details later on) shows that queer pride does indeed create confusion. This is not a new problem; the right-wing has asked questions about “pride” for 20 years or more. But instead of doing something about it, queer activists usually accuse anyone who raises the point of being malicious and/or homophobic.

1.1.1. Refusing to acknowledge the problem

So why do we keep using nomenclature that isn’t what we mean? I suspect because it’s easier to blame outsiders for the misunderstanding, than to reinvent our message. Communicating well is difficult; ranting and raving is easy.

I won’t deny that some play dumb and intentionally misinterpret the message, although I don’t think that’s true of all of them. But even if they are maliciously interpreting our words, why do we continue playing into their hands?

Pride is the defund-the-police of queer politics. It’s a spicy slogan that some activists love to use, but it’s not intended to be taken at face value. Activists expect the opposition to divine their subtle meanings, or that listeners will ask or look it up on the Internet. In reality, those things rarely, if ever, happen. So instead, the slogan gets twisted around by the malicious to feed the fears of the uninformed, by taking it literally and pointing out the resulting problems.

But consider an analogy: if there’s a bug in my software and someone finds a way to exploit it, it’s on me to fix my code to prevent it being abused further. Blaming those who intentionally misinterpret or genuinely misunderstand queer pride messages, and refusing to rework the message, is like me blaming hackers for exploiting my software and refusing to fix the code: ineffective and short-sighted.

1.2. Queer pride is a poor foundation.

So what are the problems of queer pride based on our identity, as the title suggests? Combined with claims that we are “born this way,” queer pride is a celebration of something built-in, not something we chose or achieved.

But is this something we can really be proud of? And if we can, should we? If we can be proud of being gay or lesbian or bi or trans for their own sakes, then I might as well be proud that my bones are made of calcium phosphates, that my muscles harvest energy from ATP’s reduction to ADP, or that I’m made of 60% water. Although the biology is interesting, these are, frankly, dumb reasons to be proud.

Personally, I’m proud I’ve overcome my fears of social rejection to more fully explore my identity. I’m proud to have pushed back on society’s marginalization of sexual minorities. I’m proud of the awesome buffering function I wrote last week for some music software. I’m proud at how well I’m doing putting my life back together after a bout with mental illness, even if the process took years. I’m proud when I stand up for my values or face up to truths I don’t like, and every time I successfully repair something that’s broken.

I’m proud of things that I do, not things that I am. That’s an important distinction, and it’s the reason “pride” is a weak foundation.

1.2.1. An invitation to Insanity

If queer pride is legitimate, and we can be proud of built-in attributes, then why not attributes other than sexual orientation? If queer pride is fine, then why not straight pride and white pride?

Focusing on a feeling rather than making an argument takes attention away from what we really want to achieve, and why. When others see us having “pride”, it prompts a question: “If they can have that, why can’t I?” This isn’t limited to queer politics. Pride gets attached to all kinds identity and group membership, arbitrary or selected: nationalism, backing a favorite sports team, fandom in general, belief that one’s religion is the best/only valid one.

For any one of these, you can find an opposing group with the same blind, one-sided “pride”. Are these formed from rational decision making? No. Despite having no intrinsic value, humans seem to think that if somebody else feels pride about something, then those with parallel interests are entitled to pride as well, lest they be short-changed. An as an added problem, we tend to think the groups we belong to are the best groups to belong to; our minds frame things as a competition to be won.

Through this effect, queer pride creates its own opposition in the form of straight pride and anti-queer pride, and justifies sociopathic offshoots like nationalism and skin-color prides.

1.2.2. Pride doesn’t last

Pride can be potent, but it doesn’t last forever. Sure, I’m pretty jazzed about a recent buffering function, but 6 months from now? A year from now? I remember being excited about software I wrote in the 80s, and now… meh. A lot like transitioning, and the progress I was making, it’s now a piece of my past, but I’ve moved on to new things.

Pride requires its fires be frequently stoked. With “real” pride this is done with new achievements; I need to go out and earn it in a meaningful way.

But with affiliation-based pride, it requires rallies, events and propaganda, which create an artificial excitement. But if my pride was in my identity, what would I do? Be more trans or more queer, to try to eek out a little more pride? Perhaps go buy a few more rainbow stickers for the car? Ashamedly lame and consumerist, but what is the alternative? Pride in identity leaves you chasing the dragon, because genuine pride is in the journey, not a destination.

1.2.3. Liberty and Equality are better

The liberty and equality messages that lead in the 50s and 60s made it clear we’re trying to get what everyone else already has: we want the liberty to be with the romantic partners of our choosing, with the equality of not risking our jobs, housing, financial security and even lives. We want to enjoy our love without fear and intimidation, just like straight folk.

Demanding liberty and equality makes it clear we’re only asking for the same rights as the mainstream, not something extra or something special. While straight folk are privileged with rights we don’t have, it’s easy to see they need not fight to gain those rights. Pride messaging lacks this clarity.

Furthermore, Liberation can be linked to freedom, to the ideas the Declaration of Independence: that we are all entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Equality can be linked to fairness, a concept we all understand, thus putting our opposition in the position of having to justify the unfairness of treating us differently.

There’s a rational argument behind this approach, and it forces the radical and religious right to have to argue against personal freedom and our country’s founding ideals. Such arguments require logical contortions that make them weak and easy to refute. This beats pride, in which we provide a non-sequitur “because we’re proud” message that’s easily shown as inapplicable, and easily twisted against us.

Queer Pride messaging isn’t new; it goes back into at least the 1960s. But in those early days it was secondary, an occasional rallying call to our brothers and sisters, and a snub to homophobes: we would not let their unjustified name-calling get to us. But liberty and equality were the strategic messages, getting first billing into the 1990s.

We would be better off with Queer Liberation or Queer Equality, than we are with “pride”.

1.3. If the battle is won, when do we stop fighting?

Despite gaining marriage equality through Obergefell and now the Respect of Marriage Act, we continue to hold our annual June events. To an outsider, it begs the question of what more are we asking for, if we’ve already won? And if we’ve simply shown up with new demands this time, what additional demands are we going to make in the future?

We should also be prepared to explain that quieting down too quickly might allow rolling back of progress, of the gains we’ve made.

But it might be time to rethink some things.

1.3.1. Changing needs, changing strategies

Different strategies are appropriate for different times. If we’ve won the political battle and have our rights on paper, is continuing with the same pride events the best way to attain social equality? Personally, I think not.

In the past 20 or 25 years, we brought the majority around to respecting our rights, whether achieved via the ideal strategy or not. Using that same strategy on remaining detractors will provide diminishing returns; they aren’t going to brought around through more bombardment of rainbow-laden pride messages. If anything, our continued fight will make them more suspicious. Instead, these folks need to be reached one-on-one: we need to demonstrate honor, uprightness, compassion, generosity in our day-to-day lives. They need to see us living instead of activisming. In time, our lives will speak for themselves.

1.3.2. Shifting the fight to Trans issues

But then we’ve also got the Trans folk legitimately looking to gain more social acceptance and protection of gender expression. These demands have existed throughout the movement, but were often dwarfed by protections for sexual orientation and then marriage equality.

Along the way, though, groups like HRC happily threw Trans folk under the bus whenever it seemed expedient in gaining protections on sexual orientation. They’re happy to talk nice to us when fundraising, but we’re a dirty little secret easily forgotten about if it serves their interests.

Considering both of these, I think there’s a better way.

1.3.3. Form coalitions with outsiders

Instead of fighting this fight only for our sake, we should seek alliances with those outside the queer and Trans community.

Trans folk, for instance, often run into headaches dealing with insurance company bureaucracies. But this isn’t unique: if you become sick with cancer in the insane US health insurance system, there’s a good chance you’ll need to spend a good deal of energy fighting with your insurance company to get them to cover medical bills. Even if you do, co-pays and reduced income will hurt your finances, perhaps even bankrupt you. Forming coalitions with folks concerned about that, we can work together to be more effective than either group working independently.

As another example, wealth and income inequality impact younger GLBTQ folks when they are kicked out by queerphobic parents. Instead of just looking at queer kids, we should look at the bigger problem of inequality: how housing prices skyrocket because of housing shortages, how living on the street relates to drug, crime, and disease risk; how car-dependency promotes and locks-in inequality. Instead of helping just queers kids, fight to improve the lot of everybody currently being screwed by our financial system and way of life.

Too often we are focused only on queer-specific goals. While things aren’t perfect, our inclusion has dramatically improved in just a few decades. Instead of continuing to myopically focus on our issues, we should push for changes addressing queer- and non-queer folk alike, as these will improve conditions for those that most need them among our ranks. And it shows that we’re interested in more than just ourselves.

1.3.4. Open the celebration up to everyone

To the extent that June is a celebration of rights we have won, we need to be clear we are celebrating rather than laying out new demands, because pride already seemed like a celebration, a festival of rainbows. But once again, I think we can do better than this.

Identity Liberty Celebration Day. Because it’s always hard figuring out who we are, and we should revel in anyone and everyone achieving so, and offer encouragement and help to anyone—queer or otherwise—who is in the slow, arduous, painful process of self-discovery. Because all humans deserve to live life being who they know they are, not just queer folk.

1.4. Summing up

I can’t deny that queer pride has effectively rallied the troops, helping get more queer folk out of the closet and into the streets than old-school liberation & equality approaches. Pride is a kinder, gentler activism with less demands and more celebration and more rainbow crap.

I understand it’s supposed to get people through a hard time, but as an argument it comes with some real problems. I think it’s prudent we contemplate other strategies and reconsider the continued use of “pride” as our primary message.

2. Protecting Straight Marriages Through Queer Liberty

It’s 2022, and although overall the queer community has been making positive gains, there’s been a backlash this year. So far, gay and lesbian rights have mostly held their own, culminating with the Respect for Marriage Act. On the downside, experiments by religious folks using “Jesus” as a legal equivalent to the sudo command, allowing them to veto any rules they don’t like, are showing success. Trans folk took the brunt of the political backsliding this year.

Socially, though, this year has been tough on all of us. Right-wing propagandists have brought back and aggressively pushed the idea that queer folks are pedophiles. They say that queer marriage is unethical, ungodly, sinful, dirty or some random other pejorative. Basically, the same nonsense from decades long past is now back, being spread anew.

Adding to that, threats and violence continue to be used to try to intimidate us back into the closets.

If you’re one of the folks trying to do this, perhaps in your mind you’re just trying to protect your children by hiding us, erasing us. But I’d like you to consider for a moment why that’s not in your interest, because I don’t want to see your children suffer the horrors I’ve seen.

While transitioning in the early 1990s, I met dozens of others in upstate New York (where I attended university) and in New England (where my family lived). My peers were almost exclusively male-to-female, and shared many common experiences: like me, they felt conflicted about their assigned gender; like me, they’d tried to conform.

Unlike me, though, they had tried desperately for decades to conform. Instead of acknowledging early-on that it wouldn’t work and giving up, like I did, they did anything that sounded like it would “make a man of them”: going into the military, getting married, and having kids—often all 3, in that order. And that meant that unlike me in my early 20s, they were all transitioning in their 40s and 50s.

But it wasn’t limited to us: I met gay men who went through the same things, tried the same things, hoping it would “cure” them. Lesbians too.

It didn’t work for any. Not the transgender folk, not the gay men, not the lesbians. They tried for years, some even decades. For those who had children—most of them—the responsibility of raising children made it easier to manage. Their romance with their spouse might have been a sham, but parenthood was genuine. If there was a blessing in the heartache to follow, it was the children they’d had along the way.

These folks had married thinking it would set them right, it would turn them straight. But decades of family life didn’t change their hearts, and years of sustaining the illusion eventually became unbearable. Others managed to hold on until children grew up and moved out, but when the responsibilities of parenthood diminished and they had time to reflect on their own lives, they found themselves confronted with a long-running lie that could no longer be tolerated. And so, in the end, their marriages inevitably failed.

And that’s when we see how this affects straight folks. All these queer folks had mated with straight partners, who believed they were in straight relationships. They had built lives, bought houses and made plans to grow old with someone—but after decades of investment, those relationships failed.

It wasn’t the first heartbreak, though. The straight partners had already sensed there was something wrong, but didn’t know what; they wondered what they were doing wrong, why their husbands and wives weren’t sexually interested in them. They’d chosen good providers, and were often good friends with their spouses—but they spent years living without the spark of romance.

Maybe you don’t like queer folk. Maybe you think we choose our lives. Maybe you think we brought any suffering on ourselves. I don’t know how to change your mind on that, but I think we can agree that the pain of these sham marriages isn’t borne only by us queer folk.

Imagine your sons and daughters investing years of money and energy into a relationship, only to have it fall apart because of an incompatibility that was there from day 1, and was only covered up because of wishful thinking. What could you do to prevent that happening?

Even if you don’t care about us, is adherence to anti-queer ideology so important that you will make more generations of straight young adults suffer?

The alternative is to choose to not be actively anti-queer. You can let us live our lives as we see fit. You can refrain from slandering us, and choose not to to spread lies and misinformation that create fear of us. You need not demand conformance with straight ideals at any cost. I am not saying you need to encourage kids to be queer—that would be creepy—but I am suggesting that the damage done by anti-queer propaganda is not limited to queer folk, and thus it is worth considering the ramifications of pressure and propaganda on people that do matter to you.

By allowing queer folk freedom to pursue relationships with each other, fewer will try to conform by getting into sham marriages doomed to fail in pain and angst. Instead, these queer folk will get to make the most of their lives. That meets my goal of reducing others' pain.

Every avoided sham marriage also means there is a straight person spared pain and angst. That further meets my goal of reducing others' pain, and I believe it should meet yours too.

2.0.1. Video version

This is an earlier, video version of this essay. But frankly, I write better than I speak.

3. Heteronormative Culture and the Role of the Oppressor as Cisgender… Huh what?

October 22, 2018

I want to raise an issue with the way some argue for equality. It’s not that I’m arguing with the idea of equality, but instead that the form of the argument is difficult for others to grasp, and probably drives opponents further into their beliefs, or at least frustrates them into not listening.

If you’ve encountered something like this, you know what I’m talking about:

The primary issue of the heteronormative culture in the role of the oppressor as cisgender is that being queer implies that we have to choose between textual subsemiotic gender identity and sexual orientation. The premise of trans identity holds that class, somewhat ironically, has significance even in the face of third-gender deconstructivism, and furthermore the gender quality paradox promotes the use of non-binary masculinity to perturb entrenched social pressure of conformity.

When I encounter this, I tend to ignore it. “I don’t know what that means,” I think, “but it sounds like they’re on my side.” But I’ll be honest: I have no idea what this means when I hear it. To me, it sounds like nonsense constructed by the post-modern generator.

Now, I’m not dumb. I’m an engineer. I write code. I’ve got understanding of electricity. I’ve studied psychology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology. I’ve fixed cars, refurbished bathrooms, sweated pipes and hung doors. But when I hear this stuff, I still can’t figure it out.

To be fair, it may actually mean something. It may be domain-specific terminology, similar to technical jargon: talk about grepping, throwing an exception, forking a thread, IRQs or interrupt requests, or pushing a context in daily speech. When talking among each other, we techies often apply technical phrases to our personal and daily lives. Even among non-techies, we salt our language with a few phrases, but often context provides a sense of usage.

But if you’re a non-techie asking a technical question, you may get an answer loaded with jargon that means specific stuff to us, but to you appears to be unintelligible gibberish. Understanding techspeak requires indoctrination to really understand it. That’s true of all domain-specific language.

I suggest that those who write in—well, to be fair, I’m not even sure what it is: women’s studies jargon, gender-theory speak, or something else?—but whatever it is, those who write or speak it, need to learn to shut the jargon off and translate into plain language if they want others to listen and understand.

And that matters to me, because I think we are on the side of the issues. I think we agree that women are equal to men. I think we agree that male and female categories aren’t enough to describe all gender experiences. That racism is a bad thing. That wealth and income inequality is a real problem. That mass incarceration has spiraled out of control in this country. And so on.

There was a lovely lady some years ago—pretty, with a great smile—that I was attracted to, and seemed to take an interest in me. Unfortunately she often used such double-speak in her speech and e-mail conversations. It wasn’t long before gibberish formed a wedge between us.

So I fear it’s not just that your efforts are going to waste: I have seen jargon-filled nonsense break down communications channels, and I suspect it also works good as fodder for those complaining about elite lefty liberals. You have a better chance of reaching those on the right by learning to speak their language, than expecting them to understand yours.

Please think about it. Yes, it’s hard translating out of a domain-specific language; jargon provides short-hand or special meanings. But if you don’t, you’re probably not reaching many outside your own little niche anyway.

4. Thank You

December 28, 2022

In the aftermath of the 2022 elections, I want to thank the sane Republicans who chose to vote against party lines.

  • Those who voted against all the election deniers who were running to “fix” Trump’s loss by rigging future elections in favor of their preferred candidates.
  • Those who voted against radical-right and MAGA candidates in favor of sane ones.
  • Senators who voted for the Respect of Marriage act, protecting gay and lesbian marriages from being annulled by angry, radical-right MAGA types.
  • Those national representatives that voted for the Electoral Count Act Reform, to close the exploits used by Trump and friends to try to overturn the will of the people.

I’m really glad to see that there are Republicans that put Country above party. I did not expect this; I really thought America was headed for the scrap-heap of failed democracies. I don’t think we’re out of danger entirely, but these are far more positive steps than I imagined possible.

Nevertheless, spending a month in The Netherlands in 2022, my eyes are open to the madness that is the US way of life. The Democracy may be girded anew, but it does not fix the policies and politics that pander to Wall Street, corporations, and the plutocrats. Wealth and income inequality have been bred over decades by policies disempowering workers from fighting for wages. The middle class us struggling, poverty has worsened. Sadly, the people have blamed taxes, instead of wages that haven’t kept pace with costs even as the rich increased their portion of the take from 30% to 40%.

So I continue looking forward to emigrating to Europe, to Nederland, although I will admit I am intimidated and nervous about it.

There’s a better life there. Better work-life balance. Less religiosity. Public and mass transportation are still priorities. Walking and biking treated as first-class transportation options, not afterthoughts; fewer painted bike gutters. They are not so beholden to their ideologies that they are prevented from having sane gun policies, nor prevented from stopping a madman nationalist liar provoking more division and hatred every night on television. There’s less consumerism, less disposability. Race relations aren’t perfect, but they’re nothing like the racism in the US. Fewer mass shootings. Less out-of-control, abusive policing.

I am glad the US is no longer poised to imminently fall into authoritarianism. Nevertheless, I think my best shot at a better way of life awaits me elsewhere.

Related Reading

On Trans Issues (on-trans-issues.html)
Thoughts on all things Transgender.