queer looks, dirty looks

Miscruise: That thing that happens when you think someone’s a hot dyke and you put on your best swagger and suggestively grin at them and then, only then, do you realize she’s actually a 15-year-old babyfaced guy. Or any other equivalent experience, of which there are many. 

My friends D and R came up with that a couple years ago, and I think it is one of the most wonderful terms ever invented. Simple, clear, linguistically evident, hip and even easy to spell. Fucking fab.

Now I think we’re in need of a new one. Misglare? Misbash? Mis… something. (Suggestions are welcome.) The definition would be, “That thing that happens when you think someone’s of a given sexual orientation and then you see them obviously involved with a person of a gender who doesn’t match with your assumption and this upsets you so you give them a dirty look or say something rude to them.”

It’s always an interesting experience to be on the receiving end of homophobia. Yes, I can use the word “interesting” probably because homophobia has never turned violent in my particular case – I might perhaps choose a stronger word if I were, say, the local queer transwoman who got a punch in the face a couple of weeks ago on the Plateau, or the dyke couple who got bashed on Mont-Royal in January 2005. But for now: interesting.

It’s even more interesting when the homophobia is misdirected. Or rather – when someone is accurately directing some sort of gender/sexual orientation-phobia at me, or at me and a partner or friend, but they’ve got the specifics wrong. My not-so-inner editor wants to go talk to the person and explain things: “No, see, you’re using the wrong word. If you’re going to hate me, at least get the terminology right.” So far I have yet to judge it appropriate to actually do so, but it’s damned tempting.

Experiences like this seem to happen remarkably often when I’m with my honey Pepper, who is currently visiting from San Francisco. He’s not the only one, but he’s definitely a convenient vector for them. Let’s see… some context: Pepper is a super-hot guy, and very femmey-looking – you know, cheekbones, luscious lips, the works. He’s lasered all the hair off his body below the eyes. He doesn’t wear pants; only short-shorts and ankle-length raver skirts. He has shoulder-length curly hair, dyed a rich dark blue. He has tattoos of flowers up his arms. He walks like a flamer; he often enough talks like one too. You get the picture. He out-femmes me on a femme day. The only places I can compete are high heels and cleavage.

So, a few examples. When we were together last year in Toronto, we were walking down the street holding hands and a car roared by, coming from behind and passing us. Along the way, someone leaned out the window and yelled “DYKES!”

Um. Not quite. But sort of. I think.

Later that same weekend, we were walking through the Village. Funny enough, gay spaces are often where this kind of behaviour comes up a lot, and this was no exception. We got glared at by a number of guys, one of whom actually leaned forward and spat, “Make up yer fucking mind,” at Pepper loudly enough that even the most oblivious blue-haired happy Californian could hear.

The usual pattern, in gay-village-y places – and this has borne out with me and more than one femme-boy partner in the past – is that the gay men notice the hot dude, give him the up-and-down and recognize (correctly, or semi-correctly) one of their own. They grin, or raise an eyebrow, or just do that deadpan cruising stare. Then (drum roll please!) they notice the female accessory on his arm, yours truly, and become confused.

Sometimes this results in repeated back-and-forth stares and eventual giving up: Is he? He must be. But why – maybe she’s a fag-hag? No, they’re nuzzling. What the fuck? But just look at him! Oh, forget it.

Sometimes it results in pure disgust, as though a guy being with a woman were some sort of abomination, and even worse when it’s clear to anyone who looks that he’s a screaming queer to boot. I’ve been privileged to receive numerous searingly pissed-off glares from gay men, as though I’d somehow contaminated their property with my feminine juices. (Damned straight. So to speak.)

So far there has been the rare occasion on which I’ve noticed a genuine admiring glance untainted by grouchiness, and rarer still, I’ve seen verbal kindness – one specific instance in 2001, if I remember correctly, when I was approached by a gentleman who nodded in the general direction of my guy and said “he’s quite the catch,” before moving on with a beatific grin.

On the days where I’m feeling more boyish myself, it can get even more interesting – odd looks from dykes who aren’t sure what the heck a short-haired gal in a tie is doing with a male, and hesitant cruising from men who generally perceive dykes as unavailable but think maybe they’re wrong in this particular case because I’m clearly with one. (Of course this is even more interesting given that such a cruise presumes some sort of non-monogamy – correctly – but I digress.)

It’s not that I don’t understand the confusion. If you’re monosexual, rather than queer, the idea of two genderfucked people pairing up might understandably throw you for a loop; when your associations with gender deviance all point in the sole direction of homosexuality, it can surely cause a double-take if you are subject to the realization that perhaps the foundations of your world are not as stable as you might have thought. I think the piece I have a harder time understanding is, why the heck that should result in hostility? Do same-sex-oriented monosexuals really need to stick a rainbow stake in the hill of each individual queer and say, “property of the homosexuals” and bark at any trespassers? Do heterosexuals really require that all technically and biologically heterosexual pairings line up with their ideas of gender upon pain of beer-can-throwing and name-calling? I mean, what difference does it make? It’s your business if you’re sleeping with one of us, but otherwise, go shit on someone else’s lawn.

To me, this speaks much more to generalized gender-phobia than to queerness per se, though admittedly they can be hard to separate at times. If Pepper, or any other hot flamer I happen to hold hands with, were less flame-y and more straight-looking, nobody would glare. We’d be presumed heterosexuals, and perhaps, like many other heterosexuals, we might be passing through the sanctified territory of the gays on our way to, oh, I don’t know, a baby shower or a wedding or some other manifestation of heterosexual hegemony. Just be patient, Bruce, they’re leaving.

It’s the very fact that we look queer that’s the issue – regardless of the genitals. It’s the fact that we disturb the binary from within it. It’s a whole other ball game – the world is slowly getting accustomed to the idea that two men might be together, or that two women might. But the idea that “woman” and “man” are exploding categories, that “masculine” and “feminine” can be applied with broad brushstrokes to people regardless of biology, and that those people may very well want to get it on with one another instead of with an appropriately matched other half – whatever such a thing might be, and do tell me if you figure it out – well, that just messes everyone up.

Luckily the benefits far outweigh the bullshit.

Speaking of which, I’m going to sign off on this here post and pay some attention to the blue-haired boy, who is currently working on his own blog. ‘Cause when you get two kinky queer poly academically-bent theorist writerly types who are totally hot on each other, and you park ’em in the same room after they haven’t seen each other in a few months, what do they do?… They write. Yeesh.

8 thoughts on “queer looks, dirty looks

  1. Hokay, my suggestion off the bat (and I’ll think about this and get back to you with more) is to just raise an eyebrow and call it HND – Hetero (or homo-)normative discombobulation.

    I used to get this with K. Dyke + fag holding hands and smooching = The End of the Motherfuckin’ World.

    Deal, folks.

  2. *Grins* Posts like this always make me want to go and play with peoples head in the exact same fashion you do. In my defense I do it strictly out of curiousity and to see how tolerant any given slice of the pbulic is. I’m also more inclined to throw some bdsm stuff in there too to be a real shit disturber.

    Now if I could only cut my hair short I could really mess stuff up.

    In all seriousness I like misbash for the new term, but I have to say Moderatrix gets my vote because I love long names for things.

  3. Yeah, I’m not generally a deliberate shit-disturber. I know some people take great glee in messing with people’s heads, and while I don’t necessarily discount that as a political strategy, I usually find it easier to educate by making people comfortable (so they’re open) than by making them uncomfortable (so they’re defensive). I just do my thing. The problem is that often enough it does get people in a tizzy regardless of my intentions. Maybe I should learn to enjoy that more…

    Misbash, HND… very cool!

  4. If you’re monosexual, rather than queer

    Whoa, wait — monosexual and queer are mutually exclusive now? Shit, I knew there was a reason I felt vaguely uncomfortable with the word, but it’s never been spelled out so clearly that I as a genderqueer lesbian am not queer enough to be queer. The fact that I’m not attracted to men is a problem for my fellow queers now too? Great.

    I don’t know if you’ve rethought this since this post was written; I hope so. This usage is really… Just, wow. Wow. I understand that you’ve been treated badly by monosexual queers, and that’s awful — I call my fellow homos out on their biphobia and related crap all the time. It’s pervasive and it’s not okay. But having a “multiple-gender-loving people are the only REAL queers” cool kid club is exactly as ridiculous and offensive as homosexuals doing the reverse.

  5. I’m sorry for the tone of my first comment — thanks for digging up the link for me, and overall I enjoyed the post. It’s a touchy subject for me (clearly), and it was sort of too much to see written out plainly what I’ve heard implied for so long. Though also sort of a relief that someone actually came out and said it.

    : /

  6. Hi Daisy – Thanks for pointing out my error, and no worries about the tone – indeed, touchy stuff for many of us, and understandably so. I think I was, and am, just facing a lack of appropriate terminology. There is, in my opinion, a difference between monosexual people who don’t have queer politics, and monosexual people who do – hard to express in simple words, and my attempt was clumsy. I know plenty of queer monosexuals. Hell, I date them. 😉 And certainly I’ve also met some very un-queer bisexuals, though I admit I usually don’t date them.

    So, to make it really clear: I’m really not into the idea of bi- or multi-sexuals as being the only real queers. I’m also not into the idea of automatically associating queerness with same-sex sexuality of any variety, homo or bi, because the political differences are so vast between the simple starting point of sexual orientation and the reality of queer existence, identity, politics and practice.

    We have the word ”queer” available to connote a certain conceptual richness – but what term would we use to indicate its lack? Must we resort to defining something by what it isn’t, as in, ”un-queer”? Is there an opposite to ”queer” that isn’t itself directly linked to sexual orientation? I still don’t know how I might have phrased things in order to properly express that, but I recognize that my shorthand fell short. I’m definitely open to suggestions.

  7. Ah, I understand. My friends and I usually deal with this in the opposite way — by using “straight” to mean, well, un-queer, such that we often talk about “straight gay people” and say things like, “Well, she’s heterosexual, but she’s not straight.” I agree that it’s a concept we need, and that it’s a place where our language is lacking.

    As for how you could made the distinction in the sentence in question, though — is what you meant really “If you’re monosexual, rather than ‘queer'”? Did you simply mean that monosexual people might have trouble understanding such gender-fucked pairings? In that case, you could have said “If you’re monosexual, rather than bi- or pansexual….”

    Or did you mean that people without queer politics, homo, hetero and bi alike, wouldn’t understand? in that case, “If you’re someone without queer politics…”

  8. Daisy – Option B, definitely. I really don’t think that a monosexual orientation per se makes someone unable to understand pairings that fall outside the standard gender norms. One could argue that there’s more room for monosexuals to get stuck in a monosexual AND un-queer worldview, because their own erotic inclinations don’t necessarily force them to challenge that view, whereas a bi/multi/poly-sexual person would in theory have a much harder time avoiding the political questions that surround unconventional orientations. But as I mentioned, I’ve definitely encountered a lot of bisexual people who come from the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus… I just happen to like both, and it’s not political” school of thought, which I have a hard time wrapping my head around. And I’ve definitely encountered a ton of monosexual people who come from a distinctly queer viewpoint, which – though far be it for me to espouse reductive definitions of any kind – generally means they have some degree of understanding about questions of gender (and its potential fluidity), as well as the potential fluidity of erotic attraction, at the very least. (I’d like to add that they have an understanding of oppression, privilege, power, monogamy/non-monogamy, BDSM, trans issues properly speaking, and so forth, but that’s not always true…) Such monosexuals are most often gay or lesbian, but not all of them – definitely a lot of “queer heterosexuals” have done their work too.

    You’re right; “straight,” as a political descriptor in opposition to “queer,” is a good one, and I use it myself fairly often. I think it still needs to be used in specific ways and contexts, though, because without added explanation it can very easily be read as a direct synonym for “heterosexual.” (“Queer” can also be read as simply a descriptor of orientation, and a reductive one at that – I’ve read some unfortunate works in which it’s simply inserted as a direct substitute for “gay and lesbian” with all the inherent conceptual limitations you might expect when the term’s expansiveness is thus reduced. But at the very least it’s also commonly used in its political sense, so I’m comfortable using it with its political meaning intact and no further explanation, for the most part.) Anyway, in that sense, I’d probably opt for your last suggestion as a correction to the original sentence, to make it explicitly about politics.

    Thanks for engaging, Daisy. 🙂

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