The Sweet Queerafter: What's in a Word?
Shall we stash the powder keg in a flameproof closet or light the fuse?
By David Estlund,
5:10PM, Thu. Feb. 13, 2014
Once a playground slur and epithet that would doom those to whom it stuck, a certain word has since come to mean something very different and very dear to a lot of people, and that word is having a party.
Queer. The word as used to refer to sexual- and gender-variant people dates back to the late 19th century, around the time these identities began to be defined by society. Fast forward to the mid-20th century. By the time the Mattachine Society (FBI file here) started its calls for a "homophile movement," homo- and trans-phobia had developed beside these new identities, and "queer" had become a slur with the same power as "faggot," "dyke," and "tranny." After the Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall riots of the sixties, the LGBTQ civil rights struggle began to reach critical mass. Harvey Milk's election in San Francisco showed how gays could reach a level of acceptance, and pride parades started sprouting up in New York, Houston, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Milk's subsequent shooting, apparently not actually brought on by a Twinkie, brought a sobering sign of things to come.
Then the AIDS crisis hit. Gay communities were decimated; tens of thousands of empty homes were bought up by development companies, gentrifying the gayborhoods to the point where only the wealthy elite among our community could live there. An economic line began to divide our community into the gentry and the rabble. At the same time pride parades became ubiquitous, organizations like Act Up and Queer Nation sprang up to take radical action with the rallying cry of "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!"
As better treatments for HIV were released (in part thanks to these radical actions), the focus returned to civil rights and gay acceptance. Media representations like "Will and Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" began showing a very specific segment of the LGBTQ spectrum: affluent, primarily white, witty, catty, and desexualized men. Pride parades began to follow a similar motif, and Austin's was no exception. The emphasis on presenting our community as respectable, acceptable, and harmless began edging out the weirder, wilder, and often poorer among us.
By 2010, Austin Pride faced tremendous discontent, with many (your AggreGAYtor included) dismissing the event as little more than a parade of PR expenditures by corporate brands and money pit for local charities. Rumors flew of toplessness bans and disinvitation of the dykes on bikes, and part of the community coalesced to form Queerbomb, a guerilla movement "to reclaim the radical, carnal, and transgressive nature of our community."
To drop the queer bomb means to come out of the closet. It sounds simple, but there's more here than meets the eye. The new definition of the word queer is captured in the old Queer Nation slogan: "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" We are as good as them, just the way we are. We do what we do, love who we love, express ourselves as we see fit, and we will not disappear or sacrifice our true selves for the privileges afforded by assimilation. Because we will not, and because many of us could not if we wanted to.
The price of invisibility is counted in lives, in teenage suicides, in trans murders, and in the silent killers of disease and substance abuse. Silence=Death. Our outspoken heterosexual cisgender allies may be some of the kinkiest people we know, but even the most vanilla among them is representing queerness in ways those who stay in the closet to preserve their privilege simply aren't.
The good news is this: we are here, we are many, and we will speak out for one another. We protest, mourn, and celebrate together, sometimes all at the same time. Austin doesn't need Austin Pride to remember the pride parade's roots as a memorial protest honoring the Stonewall Riot, and neither does Queerbomb need the stamp of corporate approval. To keep the main event safe, legal, and free of corporate influence, Queerbomb does, however, need to get them dollars, girl, and what better way than a rockin' party? The party is tomorrow night at Elysium. Details here.