My partner Carri and I were pretty early in our relationship when we started to wonder if we were “gay enough.” It wasn’t a new question for me; as a bi-identified person, more than a few lesbians have over the years questioned my queer credibility with a curious insistence: do you think you’ll end up with a man, or a woman? I remember this one woman who asked me this question so directly all I could think was: are you flirting with me? Like, is that a dare? Or an insult?
It was the 90s, before we had language of non-binary, and when ani difranco was singing about the pressure to pick a side making all the bi folks feel seen.
But this was more than just bi-phobia that Carri and were running into. This was a complicated tension that happens in the queer community.
In those days, we were hanging with an amazing group of queer friends, most of whom were poly, some in the kink and/or leather scene, and were all creatively pierced and tattoed. They were experimenting with different ways to make and claim family. I say all this in the past tense because I’m describing a time in our collective lives, but these things all continue to be true for all of them. They were and are powerfully and beautifully queer.
No one ever said anything, and it wasn’t that we weren’t all close. But there was a day where I remember Carri asking me if maybe we weren’t gay, or really queer enough,or if this group didn’t think we were queer enough to be their friends.
Despite the fact that Carri and I both have both long identified as queer – not gay, which is important. To us it meant feeling in our core a sense of being an outsider, of not fitting with the expected norms, in all sorts of ways, including in terms of sexual orientation. It is claim of both loyalty, and love.
It’s just that, unless you count having a very extensive costume bin (we were so good at costumes back then), we were not all that “outside the norms” in a lot of ways. I mean, we were both totally open to the idea of poly relationships, but mostly realized we didn’t have the time. Not to mention, we only have one tattoo between us, and Carri doesn’t even have her ears pierced.
Sometimes we have cherished our stealth mode, like I talked about in my earlier post. It’s a privilege to be able to pass, especially in a unsafe communities or settings. Not to mention it can be a kind of fun chance to catch people in their cognitive disonance thinking that they are just talking to a couple of suburban moms, only to realize they’ve been hanging with the queers. (A party trick we unintentionally play many Saturdays on the sidelines at our son’s football games…)
It’s just that when we are out of suburban mom mode, and actually wanting to be seen and affirmed in our own community, stealth starts to translate into suspect. For all the ways we reject the policing of gender and relationships in straight culture, the queer community has its own versions. Especially for those who fought hard for the right to be as far far out of the norm as their truest selves call them to be, our slippery signaling has at times made us seem less trustworthy, like we were spies for the straights rather than the eager partners in mischief and magic we longed to be / are.
It can be really painful, and confusing, especially for baby queers. You finally make it out of the closet, only to encounter this gatekeeping and judgment from within the community you worked so hard to claim.
I’d like to imagine that this whole idea is as dated as ani’s binary bi anthem, but spending any time on queer Tik Tok makes it clear that it isn’t – if anything, it’s expanded. Just today I saw a video someone seeking affirmation because they’d just been told by a group of queer friends that their relationship was not a queer relationship, even though they are non-binary and queer identified – because their partner is cis and straight.
I’ve been thinking about all of this lately as we’ve been planning this idea of a Be More Gay Campaign. Which is, basically, a celebration of being fully yourself, in your whole truth, and being loved exactly as you are. Where some right now are admonishing teachers to not “say gay,” we’re like, go for it, celebrate it, bring it.
And, along side this, I think we need to be extra clear that this campaign is definitely not an attempt to measure if any of us are gay enough. Just like it isn’t an attempt to see if we are good enough, or activist enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, or….whatever message any of us have gotten that says we need to be more in order to be worthy of love. It is instead a wild embrace of the most wildly you parts of you. And if those wild parts of you come embodied in a suburban mom package, you go girl. That’s you being more gay. Or rather, on Saturday mornings on the sidelines of the middle school football game, that’s me, and Carri!
One other note. I also think it’s important to lift up that if you are authentically totally straight in all the ways, then this campaign can be an invitation to hold the sign that says be more gay! Especially on the sidelines of football games! ….and also on college campuses, and in school open houses, and in grocery stores, and at family reunions, and wherever else you might run into a queer person wondering if who they are is compatible with being loved. Be willing to stand out and make things a little less comfortable for yourself, on behalf of the kids wondering if there is a place in this world for them. In other words, be more queer in your welcome of queerness, even if you aren’t queer yourself.
Original artwork by Willow Sedam